“I guess you know by now we’re leaving,” he says, tears freely falling down his face. My son, barely twelve years old, stands on a step-stool in front of a bookshelf full of knickknacks, a frayed yo-yo in his hands that he fiddles with, rolling it up and letting it fall before rolling it up again. He keeps his eyes downcast but can’t entirely hide his sobs or the glistening on his cheek.

Of course I knew. I’m not stupid, despite what my wife thinks. I knew before he did. I’m pretty sure I’ve known for months, ever since I got sick the first time. Maybe I’ve known this was coming for years. But knowing doesn’t make it any easier.

How do I comfort a crying boy packing a suitcase? How do I tell him that he’s my life, and I would do anything for him? How do I tell him it’s killing me that this is happening, that if I could could go back and change the last several months or years, I would? That all I want, my only goal, is for him to be happy and successful. How do I tell a boy that I can’t imagine my life without him there?

I can’t. All I can do is stand there silently beside him, hands in my pocket, rocking slowly back and forth. Maybe I am stupid. Maybe all the awful things she says are right. Maybe I don’t deserve to be a father or a husband and this is for the best.

He’s now dropping things carelessly into the suitcase. I’ve told him a hundred times to keep better care of his toys. I lean over him and pick a random object up, a wooden whistle that he got in the first grade. Kneeling down I tuck it in his suitcase between a pair of socks. Wordlessly he hands the next thing down to me, and together we pack.

I’m not a crier. Except for old war movies, those always set me off. But I don’t cry at funerals, I don’t cry as penance, and I didn’t cry while my wife lied to me about what all the suitcases and boxes were for. But not crying now was tough. I need to stay strong for his sake, to set an example. He was leaving, being taken away, and not sure if he will ever see his dad again. It won’t do him any good if the last image of his father is a fat sobbing baby. I need to set the example. I can be tough, for him.

“She’s making us go,” he says as he hands me a peewee baseball medal, the last item on the shelf. “I don’t want to leave.” He says it without adding to his tears, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been prouder of him.

“I know,” I say softly. My throat chokes as I struggle to speak. I want to add more, something profound, but all I can do is repeat myself. “I know. It’s okay.”

We stay there awkwardly for a few moments in silence, neither of us looking at each other. There has to be a way to make this okay. There has to be. Maybe I’m not the quickest person, or the most emotional, but there is no way I could let what might be the last moment between my son and I be like this. I heft myself to my feet. “I’ll be right back,” I say, my hand on his shoulder and he nods.

I walk into my bedroom next door. It’s not a big room, and the space is mostly taken up by a large king-sized bed. It has been a long time since anyone besides me had slept in that bed. There is a dresser next to the bed, on top of it my own assortment of knickknacks, pictures, and memorabilia.

In between a picture of my parents and a small statue of a horse is a paperweight. It’s a wooden tray with a curved glass dome that magnifies everything inside. I picked it up while going to school in Arizona, and inside the tray are objects that remind me of that time in my life. There’s a snake’s rattle, a few sandy rocks, a shell. It’s not really anything special, just something anyone could buy at a souvenir shop, but my son had always liked it. I think the way the glass dome distorts what is inside appeals to him.

I take it back into his bedroom. He has climbed off the stool and is shuffling things around in the suitcase. I kneel next to him. “Here,” I say, handing the paperweight out to him. ,Again, I know there are more words to say, but I can’t think of them. I never was a great speaker, and besides, what good are more words right now? His mother is good at words, and this is where it got us. I’d rather let him know I love him though my actions, not my words.

He takes it carefully and sets it gently in the suitcase. Suddenly he hugs me tight around my neck, his face buries itself in my shoulder. Neither one of us can stop our tears this time.

In his pretend life, August Baker is a retail monkey who channels anger and loathing into something vaguely resembling literature. In his real life, he is a Space Pirate.

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