My daughter doesn’t know what I mean when I say, “Family party.” She knows the two words, but together they don’t make much sense. She’s more familiar with family disaster and family emergency and family troubles, words often headlining her absence notes.
Close your eyes and imagine, I tell her: “Imagine a fire pit with people around it. No one with anything to burn, just things to say. Imagine a basketball hoop that’s seen more skyhooks than jump shots, more granny shots than layups. Red peppers filled with provolone cheese and bacon, a pool filled with kids and inflatable flamingos. Balloons popping, dads pretending to take bullets to the chest, kids laughing. Grandpa telling that one story again, no one listening to the words, but everyone listening to his soft voice. Men saying I love you to other men. Women doing the same. Grown-ups hugging. That’s real. They really did. They kissed one cheek, then the other. Then the kids, we’d yell au revoir, not knowing what it meant, but knowing that it made grandma happy. Grandma would let the tears roll down her cheek so she could use both hands to wave. You only wipe away the bad tears, she used to say. ‘The good ones don’t hurt, they just tickle.’ Can you imagine that? A family enjoying each other. We really did. That’s just how it was. Promise.”
My daughter opens her eyes. “A family party,” she says incredulously.
“Yes,” I plead.
She uncaps a red marker tucked behind her ear. It’s a good one. The type of marker the teacher makes you check-out and return. The marker your teacher buys with her own money and lets you know she bought with her own money—not the marker you’d find in our junk drawer at home. “Family party,” my daughter says again. “We learned about that today in English.”
“About what?” I ask.
“I forgot what it’s called,” she says. She brings the perfect red marker to her recess stained left shoe, and she writes the two words on her white soles: family-party.
“It’s like jumbo-shrimp,” she says.
Darren Nuzzo is the coauthor of I’ll Give You a Dollar If You Consider This Art (Tallfellow Press), a collection of stories, essays, and comics. He has work anthologized, featured in, or forthcoming with Wigleaf, Gone Lawn, and Crack the Spine. Sometimes he wears a hat.