Originally published on September 20, 2015
I want to remember that the other night Wally called me into his room to ask a question. It was past nine o’clock, nearly two hours after we’d first said goodnight. When I heard his voice I snapped hard in reply: That’s enough! Go to sleep!
This made Wally cry. Oh come on, I thought to myself, or maybe said out loud, as I pushed open the door into his dark room. He was face down in his pillow, naked but for his diaper. The pajamas he’d shed an hour earlier lay neatly beside his bed on the floor. He was crying weak, late-night sobs that could have been avoided if he’d just gone to sleep like his brother, who was out cold beneath his sheet in his bed across the room. I thought about insisting that Wally cut it out. After a moment, though, I put my head close to his, so that I could feel his hot wet face against my cheek. I pressed down lightly on his back and told him it was OK.
His sobs started to slow. His voice began to break through. It took him a few times to get his question out all the way. Finally he asked, “Do stoplights change in the night?”
Oh, I thought. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I stammered a bit of everything in reply: No they don’t, yes they do, I don’t know, that’s a good question. Then I said goodnight, and because he’d been crying, I knew as I walked out of the room that I wouldn’t see Wally again until morning.
Afterward I brushed my teeth, took a shower, lay in bed with the feelings from my time with Wally. I felt bad, for one, that I’d snapped at a boy who’d been awake through no real fault of his own, and I felt charmed by the thoughts that bounce around his head when he’s alone at night. But the strongest feeling of all, the one you wouldn’t guess unless you knew something else, was the feeling of not wanting to forget. It was the feeling of wanting very badly to hold that moment with Wally in something more permanent than time.