When I come back to the conscious world, I am greeted by the feeling of an unyielding grip on one of my legs as I stretch out in every direction. I rub the sleep from my closed eyes and crack an eye open and see Alysa holding my leg with a wipe in hand.
It is so very weird that I can sleep through that. I sigh. I guess I really am stuck like this in some weird alternate reality that I have to assume is being conjured up by my brain. If this is like a coma dream, I really hope this is over soon. I shut my eyes tight and pray that the doctors can wake me up soon.
When I open my eyes again, I notice that Alysa already looks put together. She has on a nice blue dress, and her hair is pulled back into a really neat bun. I smell her floral perfume, and she even has on makeup today. Oh, yeah, she did say we were going places today. Yay us.
Alysa whisks me away to the bathroom and sits me on the counter. I see her pulling a small toothbrush and kid toothpaste from a drawer, and I cringe in anticipation of what’s coming. I was hoping we would skip this and just have breakfast first or something. Of course, I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to get the opportunity to brush my own teeth. Nope, I know better than that by now.
“Alright, it’s time to get your teeth all sparkly and clean,” she says. I watch her squirt the paste, and my body unconsciously leans away from something I know isn’t going to be fun. But Alysa is already on top of that and slides me closer to the sink.
Alysa holds my chin with a grip firm enough that I can’t turn or wiggle away even if I tried really hard. “Jason, say ahh.”
I mumble, “No,” under my breath and avert my eyes.
“Tut, Tut, Tut” she taps the tip of the toothbrush on my nose with a jovial but serious expression on her face. “Is Jason being a grumpy little boy this morning?”
I lock eyes with her, and I don’t miss the warning tone in her voice. I know I have one last chance to back down before she uses Mr. Tickles to coerce me into submission, and it’s too early in the morning for tickling to feel like anything but pure torture.
I pout. “No,” and I bring myself to follow her instruction, “Ahh.”
“Good boy,” she praises and gets straight to work. She thoroughly cleans every tooth in my mouth, and I barely get a chance to breathe let alone spit. Only when I whine and try to wiggle away from her does she relent and give me a break. I spit and reach for the cup on the other side of the sink to rinse, but instead Alysa turns me back toward her for a second round.
After about 40 more seconds, I have had enough, and I know I have reached the limit of what I can take. I feel the anger beginning to boil in my chest, and my ears are getting hot. I think Alysa somehow senses it too. She stops abruptly, leans me over the sink to spit and even holds the cup up for me to rinse my mouth.
As usual, when I think she’s done, I’m wrong. She takes me chin in her hand again and this time runs a wet rag all over my face. God, people treat kids so horribly. She didn’t even warn me or anything. How do kids take this day after day? I can’t believe this is the shit I’ve got to look forward to when I wake up for however long I keep waking up like this.
She starts on my hair, and I’m grateful the assault on my face is finally over with. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a clean palate and fresher breath, but that whole experience was so oddly invasive and made me feel too much like a brainless brat. Brushing your own teeth is like tying your own shoelaces. Those are the daily activities that make you feel independent even when you’re still a kid. Now, I don’t even get that.
Alysa makes quick work of my hair, whisks me to the kiddie room and sits me next to a pile of clothes she has pre-arranged on the couch. She pulls a light blue polo shirt over my head and slips me into some khaki shorts. I also get some white socks and brown shoes. As if she remembered at the last second, she stretches over to grab a bottle of baby powder and squirts a puff under my shirt. Lotion is also rubbed into my elbows, arms, knees and legs. This lady is so meticulous about getting me ready that you’d swear I was a child actor getting ready to go on set or something.
“Jason is being such a good boy for Mommy,” Alysa beams and swings me in the air. She plants soft kisses all over me, and I can immediately feel the blood rushing to my face. I never thought getting this much attention from a woman could consistently inspire as much embarrassment as this does.
“Aw you just look so cute, I want to eat you up,” she growls in a playful but menacing voice. Before I even have a chance to brace myself, she lays me on the couch and tickles me everywhere. I laugh and giggle, twist and turn and try my best to squirm away from her. When I’m somewhat tired out, she finally stops and scoops me into her arms.
Even with all the happy chemicals swirling in my brain, I have to say I am a tad miffed. I can’t believe she would break our contract like that. No resistance, no tickles. I thought that was the deal we had going. Now I find out being too good gets tickles too. Noted.
We enter the garage through the kitchen, and it’s so nice. They’ve got a lot of stuff and tools and it’s all so organized. There’s so much on the walls and the shelves are packed with labeled bins. It looks like Alysa is taking me out in a spacious, silver SUV. It’s a recent model within the last 5 years for sure. The thing looks so darn nice.
When she opens the door, I can see there’s a car seat already ready to go, and Alysa wastes no time in buckling me in. She even slightly adjusts the straps, so they are as restraining as possible. She hands me a bottle of what I assume is chocolate milk, and this time I don’t hesitate to lean back and chug. Last night taught me how great bottles are, and I didn’t forget. The milk is nice and warm and rich. I relax and stretch my legs out in my surprisingly comfortable car seat. Even with all that’s wrong with me being treated like a kid, I have to say this is one of those moments where it does feel pretty great.
When I finish my bottle and open my eyes again, I notice it sounds like we’re on the highway. I don’t get to see much in my car seat since it’s one of those rear-facing ones. It’s not high enough that I can see much outside of the windows either. I swing my legs, and my feet barely touch the seat in front of me.
Shifting in the seat, I tug a little against my restraints. The belt buckles have those red big buttons on the release mechanism, and I know they say the new car seats are made so little kids don’t have the strength to unclick them. My curiosity is piqued, so I try to unbuckle myself. I fumble with it for a little bit, until I hear, “Jason, you know better than that. Leave your seatbelt alone.”
I freeze and look up. I have no idea how she knows what I’m doing when I’m facing completely away from her. Eyes at the back of her head wouldn’t even be enough. What the hell? I scan around until I see a mirror attached to the headrest above me. We make eye contact, and I read the seriousness of her expression. I know she’s not kidding around.
I move my hands back to my lap. I swear I don’t get a moment alone with Alysa around. I bet maximum security prisoners get more privacy than I get with this woman as my warden.
“Good boy,” she sings. “Do you want to listen to some of Mommy’s favorite music?”
I nod. It’s not like I have anything else to do.
She turns on a song and after the first few notes, I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere before. “This a song by the Beatles,” she says. “It’s one of their more popular songs, and Mommy has loved it since she was a kid.”
While Alysa hums along to the rest of the song, I can’t help but wonder why I’m stuck like this. It really doesn’t feel like Isaiah or Alysa are acting, aside from how weird they were being after I hit my head. For the most part, they act like they think I am a normal kid that they have had for a while now.
I don’t know how long time passes in coma dreams. I wonder if people can even have continuous dreams that last as long as this has. I sigh and cup my face in my hands. The hardest part about all of this is that I don’t have any memory of what happened between the last time I went to bed and when I woke up like this. I can’t help but wonder what really happened the night before.
We arrive and Alysa parks the SUV, but when she gets out, she walks past the door to the backseat and opens the trunk. I wonder what she even keeps back there, but with the personality she seems to have, I bet she has basically everything an overly prepared person keeps in their trunk. Once she opens the door to the back seat, I see a large black stroller next to her.
I guess she doesn’t plan on carrying me anywhere for too long. Interesting. She unbuckles me, and I have to admit that how easily she pops open my buckles reminds me just how weak I am now. This really takes a whole new meaning to the phrase, “I didn’t know my own strength.”
She sits me in the stroller, and I expect that to be all before we go on our way, but again I’m wrong. She slides me until my back touches the seat and clicks more straps in place. Man, this lady is absolutely obsessed with restraining me, and I’m not even big enough to run away from home.
As we go through the plaza, I look around for anything that will give me an idea of where we are, but after we pass three of those trendy clothing shops, I sure that I’m not going to have a clue where we are. I never really ventured into places like this. There wasn’t anything I could afford, and I don’t think hanging out in this kind of area as a young brown guy with worn clothes and beat up shoes would go very well.
“Oh my gosh! Alysa!” I hear from somewhere ahead of us.
I see Alysa look over and smile wide. “Rachel!” She waves and I can feel Alysa’s walking pace pick up.
As we get closer, I can hear other women talking among themselves.
“I’m so happy she brought him.”
“Alysa is just living her best life as a mom.”
“I can’t wait to hold little Jason.”
“I hope Jason remembers his Aunty Angie.”
When we come to a stop, Alysa turns for a hug from so many different women. I notice how almost all of them sneak a peek at me while they hug Alysa.
One lady stoops in front of my stroller. She pulls back loose strands of her long black hair that hide her face. She’s an Asian woman, probably in her early 30s. I notice she has a few piercings on her nose, lips and tongue. “Jason! Do you remember me?”
Because I feel like being a cheeky little bastard, I shout as loud as I can, “No!”
They all laugh, and I laugh too. I might as well have some fun within the circumstances.
Alysa, can I hold him?” she asks. “I know you probably just put him in the stroller, but oh my gosh, look at his cute little face!”
Alysa laughs. “Sure, Christina.”
Quickly Christina unbuckles me and lifts me into her arms. “Well, since you don’t remember me, we had better become friends again.” She pulls me into a tight hug. “I’m Auntie Christina.” She holds me in the air in front of her. “Can you say Christina?”
I see that all the others are watching us chat. I look at Christina for a moment and I decide on, “Joose!”
That one makes everyone burst out laughing. I hear a few snorts. At Christina’s side, I can see Alysa who looks so embarrassed but amused.
“I see we have our entertainment for the afternoon,” one of her friends, a Black woman dressed in an oversized white shirt and capri jeans, manages to say between laughs.
We head inside when a hostess comes to take us to our table. The restaurant is nice but also pretty casual. The place isn’t too busy, but there is still a good amount of background noise and chatter.
It’s funny how differently Christina carries me compared to Alysa. Christina holds me so gently like she’s worried she’s going to squish me, compared to Alysa who doesn’t seem to ever worry about that. I suppose Christina does make me feel a little more like a baby, but in the arms of a beautiful woman, I see it more as being royalty. I am the king in this house.
When we sit down, Christina sits me on the table and pulls out her phone. She snaps a picture of me, then tells me to smile. She makes a crazy face, eyes wide open with her tongue and it does make me crack a smile. People do the wildest things with kids. I can’t remember the last time someone made a silly face like that with me.
She pulls me back into an embrace with one hand and takes a selfie of both of us. “I want a picture too!” Another one of Alysa’s friends says. “Let me have a chance!”
I laugh as they fight with each other, and I am passed around while they chat and order food. After Christina, Rachel, Megan, Sam, Nicole and then Angie all take their turns taking selfies and pictures of me. I guess this is why Alysa made sure to get me all cleaned up today. I’m pretty sure there’s more photos of me from just this than I’ve had in my entire life.
While I’m sitting on Angie’s lap, the server comes by and brings everyone’s food. I lick my lips and I hope Alysa ordered me something from the menu. My plate is the last to be put on the table, and the server places it next to Angie’s plate.
“Can I feed him?” she looks at Alysa and holds me tightly. “Please. Please. Please”
Right away, Megan interjects, “That’s totally not fair Angie. I want a turn too”
Alysa laughs, cutting into some meat on her plate. “You all can take turns feeding him. Jason doesn’t mind as long as he gets his food in his tummy.” She reaches down and tosses Angie a bib for me.
I have to admit Alysa is totally right because I don’t care in the slightest how those eggs and potatoes get into my mouth. I just want to eat! While Angie feeds me, I savor the flavor of some good restaurant breakfast. The food is seasoned well, warm and just all-around delicious. Truly, as I am fed from so many beautiful women, I feel like a medieval king.
When I’m finally done eating, I’m sitting in Nicole’s lap. She wipes up my face with a napkin, and while she’s talking with the others, I notice she has an accent that I can’t place. From the looks of her, she’s European or something. Alysa has such a racially diverse group of friends, and from the snippets of conversations I’ve paid attention to, they all seem to have differing personality types.
Nicole pats me on the back, and after a third quick and forceful pat, I realize she’s patting me like I’m a baby who needs to burp. Confusion, horror and embarrassment flit through my mind.
Alysa notices it right away and when we lock eyes, she laughs almost hysterically. It’s the biggest laugh I’ve ever heard from her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she replies, wiping tears from her eyes, when the others look at her like she’s mad. “Nicole, Jason doesn’t need to be burped anymore. Look at how confused my poor little boy is.”
Some of the other women erupt in laughter when they take notice of my predicament.
“In mother country, we burp boys until they are men!” Nicole says in such a hilariously accurate Hollywood Russian accent.
She doesn’t let up, and I wonder how long she’s going to keep at it until she gives up. I wonder until she tilts me forward and pats me on the back again, and I surprise even myself as I let out a loud, thunderous burp. The table goes completely silent for a moment, and then then everyone laughs even louder after that. Some of Alysa’s friends laugh for what feels like minutes. The laughter is so infectious that I laugh too, even as I feel the embarrassment burn on my face.
Nicole stands and holds me above the table in the Lion King presentation pose. “I present to all of you the prince of Pi Chi Eta!”
Alysa stands too, still smiling and laughing and takes me from Nicole. Alysa holds me on her lap. She fishes a wipe out of the back of the stroller and wipes my face. The women chat for a bit and when the server brings the bill, Sam is the one who pays the check, but all of the ladies put up cash on the table for the tip.
The server looks like he’s probably about my actual age and maybe a college student. When he comes back with the receipt and sees the tip on the table, the guy is so happy, I can see the shock in his eyes. I don’t blame him. I would be feeling the same looking at that mountain of 5s, 10s and 20s.
“Don’t worry honey, we won’t bite,” Sam says and winks at him.
“Oh, Sam, stop it,” Rachel says jokingly.
The server laughs, thanks the women profusely and leaves after no one wanted any extra drinks or boxes.
Once he is far enough not to hear, Sam sighs and says, “I bet those college boys don’t fall asleep after the first round.”
Angie coughs and sputters. Megan and Nicole holler. Rachel covers her face, and I can feel Alysa let out a deep belly laugh.
Christina makes a half-hearted attempt to cover my ears. “Sam, not in front of the child!” And she laughs too.
When the laugher dies down, Alysa speaks up, “Alright ladies, Jason and I are going to have to head out soon. We have an appointment with the D-O-C-T-O-R.”
Ugh. Just when I was finally having fun being paraded around as a baby, she is taking me to a doctor, and I’m not even sick!
A wave of ‘awws’ and other sounds of disappointment go across the table. Once again, I’m moved from lap to lap as Alysa’s friends take pictures of me and kiss me goodbye. Rachel’s lipstick even gets on my forehead, and she sheepishly wipes it off with a wipe from Alysa while the others laugh.
Alysa stands up, and hugs all of her friends while Christina holds me in her arms. Everyone besides Christina and Angie head out. “I’m going to give him a quick change before we leave,” Alysa says. “Would you mind holding him until we get in the restroom?”
“For sure,” Christina smiles.
Alysa holds the bag of supplies and Angie pushes the stroller along with us to the restroom. It looks like no one else is in there, and it smells pretty clean, much nicer than how the men’s restroom always used to smell.
After Alysa pulls down the changing station, Christina lies me down and Alysa goes straight to work pulling down my pants. I don’t know why she’s even changing me when I didn’t even pee or anything. I gulp. At least, I’m pretty sure I didn’t pee.
While Christina and Angie are washing their hands, Alysa looks in their direction and says, “Today he gets more S-H-O-T-S, and I’m hoping desperately for a smooth visit.”
My eyes widen. What doctor? What shots? I feel goosebumps on my arms and butterflies flutter in my stomach. I don’t do shots. I really really don’t do shots.
“Why? Is it normally pretty difficult with him?” Christina asks.
“The last time wasn’t, but lately he’s been having a lot of big emotions, and I’m feeling very apprehensive about what this time is going to be like,” Alysa hangs her head down.
“Oh, I see,” Angie says and comes over to put an arm over Alysa’s shoulders. “Listen, you got this. Besides, Jason isn’t going to be the first or last kid to have a tantrum in an office.”
Alysa takes a deep breath with her head held up. “You’re right. I know you’re right, and I just have to get through it.”
“That’s the spirit!” Christina says. “And, Alysa, I want you to promise me that if you’re ever needing help, you will ask me to come by and babysit. Remember I’m on vacation this month.”
“The same goes for me,” Angie says. “Except for the vacation part. I’m a working girl,” she laughs.
Alysa and Christina laugh too, and when Alysa is done changing me, Christina takes me back into her arms. Christina and Angie walk with Alysa to the car. I get a few last kisses from both of them, then Alysa takes me and buckles me into my car seat. She waves her friends goodbye as they walk to their cars.
As the SUV starts up, the blasting AC and the hum of the engine lull me towards relaxation, I rest for a second after all of the chaos of brunch, but when I remember where we’re going and what’s going to happen soon, I feel dread and despair run through my veins.