A reluctant retreat

Even when life in isolation gets tough, a boy and his dad never stop needing each other, Chris Hunt writes

Chris Hunt’s son, Riley. Photo Courtesy Chris Hunt

As first glance, it appeared a normal day.  Outside, the sky was a vivid blue and the sun shone bright.  Not that I was able to pay much attention to the view.  I was on the hunt for a tiny monster.

I was pretty sure he was using my bed as camouflage, but I couldn’t just burst in the room and have at him.  He was armed.

Stealth was the way to go.  I slowly inched the door open with the tip of my toe and there he was, half hiding beneath my blankets.  I saw him before he saw me.  I cocked my gun and raised it, but my aim wasn’t steady.  I didn’t want to hurt him if I didn’t have to.

My adversary saw my hesitation, my fear.  He slowly raised his own gun.  His aim never wavered.

We stared each other down, each daring the other to shoot first.  My heartbeat thundered within my ears.  His eyes narrowed.  I gripped the trigger.  He flinched and I bought it.  I shot.  He didn’t.  As I pulled the trigger, I knew I’d been tricked.

The bullet whizzed over his head and slammed into the wall behind him.  He smirked and said, “You’re a good man, Daddy, but a bad shot.”

Then he pulled the trigger and shot me on the nose.

I laughed and took a mental note to ask my seven-year-old what movie he stole that catch phrase from. 

Nerf gun fights had always been a constant thing for us.  On a normal day I’d scoop him up after he nails me and tickle him until he promised not to shoot me again, which I tried to do on this day. 

He ducked under the blankets, but I could still reach him.  His laugh, usually shrill and high-pitched, was dull and thick.  Something was wrong.  I pulled the sheets back to discover he was crying.  Hard. 

On a normal day, his weeping would have been cause for concern, but today wasn’t a normal day.  Today was the three-week anniversary of our self-imposed COVID-19 exile.  

I looked outside as he sobbed and saw a painting of a rainbow on a neighbouring window.  Painted underneath it were the words: “Ca va bien allez.”

Truth is, I wasn’t sure it would be. 

My boy has respiratory problems, thus he’s high-risk for complications should he catch COVID.  While we take him for bike rides and long walks, he’s keenly felt the absence of friends and family, especially our weekly visits to his grandparents’ home where he plays with their puppy, Charlie.

There were signs the isolation had been bothering him.  He’d been defiant and a bit moody. One morning, I asked him to get dressed and he flat out refused, so I sent him to his room.  A few moments later I go to the bathroom to discover he’d hidden all the toilet paper.

But things were going to get worse.

One evening things came to a head.  He’d been back-talking the entire day and when we rebuked him, he stomped his feet and punched walls.  At bed, he refused to brush his teeth and didn’t want be tucked in.  Went to kiss him goodnight and he shoved me. 
“Go away!  Go away and never come back!”
“Fine,” I responded.  I was too tired of the fight. 

I decided I’d take out the recycle to get some fresh air.  When I came back, I could hear my son crying.  His mother looked at me, somewhat surprised, somewhat bemused, and mouthed, “He thinks you actually left.  For good.”

When I went to his room, he jumped on me and held me in a bear hug.  His face was crimson and he was breathless.

“Dadda, don’t ever leave!  Not even when I tell you to leave.  Don’t leave.”

“Shhhh. It’s going to be OK,” I whispered.  I didn’t know when, but I knew it would be.

Not that it mattered to him.  He was almost asleep on my shoulder.