Life Through His Eyes
Lying on a bed, looking at the ceiling, there’s a man with a hopeless look on his face. It’s Sunday morning, the sun is shining outside and, coming through the window, illuminates the bedroom; the worn-out curtains are too thin to block any sunlight.
“At least the sun came up this morning,” he thinks while turning his head to look at the window. “If it was raining, maybe I could have stayed in bed longer.” His face turns back to staring at the ceiling.
“I guess I’ll get up and make some breakfast; Felipe will be up soon.” With this thought he jumps up, put his feet on the floor and sits in bed for a minute. The creaky sounds the bed makes remind him of his childhood in the countryside, where everything was old and rusty.
He rubs his eyes and yawns. Now, looking at the floor, he makes an effort to remember when was the last time he slept for 8 straight hours. Lack of sleep is not the problem; waking up every day at 4 in the morning and staring at the ceiling for hours is the thing that embarrasses him the most. If at least he would get up and read or clean or do anything; but no, he just doesn’t feel like doing anything. He is not proud of this, but he can’t help it either.
He stands up and stretches his arms up, like trying to reach the sky. He walks to the bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror. More white hair has invaded his head lately, like ants after a forgotten lollipop on the street. He doesn’t even care combing his hair and goes directly to his regular morning washing routine. By the time he finishes and comes back to the bedroom, Felipe is already there, sitting on the bed, with anxious eyes.
“Dad, did you know that a hippo can run at 30 kilometers per hour and even faster?” asks Felipe without blinking, not even once.
“I did not know that, son. Where did you hear it?”
“I read it somewhere. I don’t remember where anymore. So what are we going to do today?”
“First, we’ll get you washed up, then we’ll have breakfast and then we can think about what we are going to do today. Ok?”
“Ok dad. I think I agree; I am hungry.”
Mauricio smiles and, closing his eyes, kisses his son on the top of his head. At the very second his lips touch his son’s head, as if by a magical spell, his mind is taken back 10 years. He suddenly sees Felipe as a newborn; so tiny and pink. He remembers the nights spent at the hospital, the multiple tubes going in and out of Felipe’s non-fully developed little body. Felipe was born 2 months before he was supposed to. The birth was complicated. The whole pregnancy was complicated. And even before the pregnancy, things were complicated…
After the 5-second flashback, Mauricio put his arm around Felipe’s shoulder and both head downstairs to the kitchen.
“So, what do you want for breakfast? It’s pancakes alright?” asks Mauricio already pulling the pan out of the cabinet.
“I guess so. Why did you ask me what do I want if you already decided on pancakes? You should have told me we are eating pancakes and I would have accepted anyways. But asking me what I want and then telling me we are having pancakes means that it’s not really my choice but it has already been decided for me… You’re funny, dad,” Felipe replies with a wide smile on his face, like he just heard the most amusing thing on earth.
“Yes I am, son. I guess I am hilarious like that,” says Mauricio putting the pan on top of the stove where the blue-rimmed fire is already waiting for it. Mauricio put the pancake mix together in a second while listening to Felipe’s craziest stories about what he learned in school, what he read in a book and what he heard on TV. It was never different with Felipe: tireless and unsettled, good-hearted and well intentioned, always with a good story to share, often offering new perspectives to common things.
Pancakes flipped and syrup poured, they sit on the table and eat their breakfast. Mauricio was frequently quiet during mealtime and Felipe was an expert filling silences. Felipe never knew a different Mauricio so, to him, his silence was normal; it’s just the way his father was, but today he asked:
“You’re very quiet, dad. Are you sick?”
“No, son, I’m not sick, just tired.”
“Why? You just woke up from sleeping, how can you be tired? You’re being funny again!” he says, laughing. He’s often amused by ordinary events or normal comments people make. Through his candid eyes, life is too simple and nothing is ever wrong.
“What do you think if we go to the mall today? You like that pizza they have there. We can walk around the stores until you’re hungry and then have pizza. What do you think?” says Mauricio hoping Felipe would forget everything about his mood this morning.
“Yeah, I like going to the mall. Let’s go!”
They finished breakfast and left the unwashed dishes in the sink. “We’ll worry about that later,” Mauricio usually says.
They got dressed quickly and went outside where the car is waiting. Felipe rides in the backseat because he’s only 10 years old. This is often reason for disputes between father and son. Since it’s always only the two of them, Felipe thinks it irrational that Mauricio rides in the front seat by himself and often speaks his mind about the subject. Today is not the exception.
“Dad, can I ride in the front seat today?”
“Mmm, let me think…” says Mauricio rolling his eyes upward and grabbing his chin with his right thumb and index fingers. Felipe’s wide, open eyes look like they’re trying to jump out of their sockets.
“Nothing changed since yesterday when you last asked so… no, you can’t,” cries out Mauricio playfully while opening the rear left hand door with a quick movement followed by a polite gesture, like a carriage driver from the eighteenth century, inviting Felipe to hop in. Felipe accepts the invitation and, without saying a word, climbs into the backseat. He stays awkwardly silent for a couple of minutes, which is very unusual. Mauricio looks at him through the rear view mirror and can’t help noticing the gloomy look on his son’s face.
“Felipe, did you know that in Japan the highest ranking person sits behind the driver and the lowest rides shotgun?”
“That makes no sense at all…” utters Felipe in a low voice. “Why should we imitate what Japan does anyway? They don’t use chairs and we do!” exclaims then with stronger tone, convinced that he has found a loophole in his father’s argument.
Mauricio laughs out loud. “Smart kid…” he sighs.
It’s around 10 in the morning when they arrive at the mall. It’s Sunday so there are lots of people wandering about, in and out of stores, chattering and laughing; children eating ice cream and drinking soda, highly contributing to their forever-sticky hands and hyperactive nature. Mauricio really can’t stand coming to the mall but Felipe likes it. He likes being around people and talking to strangers.
After an hour and a half of walking and going into a few stores, Felipe starts to feel hungry so both, father and son, decide they’ll head to the food court where they’ll find the pizza place that Felipe likes. Luckily, it’s a little before noon so there’s no queue. There’s only a young woman and a little boy before them in line and they are already ordering. The little boy is about 3 years old and is wearing a Spider-Man shirt. Felipe likes Spider-Man; it’s one of his favorites super heroes. Mauricio feels somehow tense; he knows his son and one of Felipe’s many weaknesses is the urge to talk aloud; not only to talk aloud but also to talk to people, anybody. And even more if he finds people he has interests in common with. He is absolutely not ashamed of his son, not at all. But he doesn’t like when other people feel embarrassed or uncomfortable because of his son. While he was thinking all this, he didn’t notice that Felipe was already walking fast, making his way toward the little boy.
“Hey, Spider-Man!” Felipe shouts, pointing out to the boy standing in line.
The boy looks at Felipe with puzzled eyes, not knowing what to do or what to say. And then, what Mauricio most feared happened: Felipe grabs the little boy by his shirt and points to the athletic and colorful Spider-Man figure on it. Mauricio has told Felipe many, many times that it’s not ok to touch people. He can talk to everybody, but should touch no one.
“You like Spider-Man! Me too!” Felipe cries, delighted. He was so excited to have found somebody to talk to, and somebody with similar tastes.
The little boy looked at the young woman, who Mauricio thought must be his mother, and didn’t say a word. He looked scared.
“Felipe, come here,” Mauricio says calmly, in a tender tone.
“So, you like Spider-Man too? He’s great, ha?” The young woman was not embarrassed; she was actually smiling and talking back to Felipe.
“He likes Spider-Man, just like you!” she told her son, as if trying to calm him after the abrupt interruption Felipe had caused minutes earlier. She has kind eyes, Mauricio perceives, and one bright smile. Felipe now notices her.
“Hi! My name is Felipe and this is my dad, Mauricio.” Mauricio’s heart skipped a beat. It’s not the first time Felipe introduces himself to strangers but it’s the first time he introduces Mauricio to a stranger. And not any stranger but the woman with the prettiest smile he has ever seen.
“Hello, Felipe. I am Isabel and this is my son, Lucas,” and now gazing up at Mauricio, she continues: “Nice to meet you, Mauricio.”
Mauricio was so tense he couldn’t say a word; he just waived clumsily and offered a silly smile. Isabel not only has the prettiest smile but the greenest eyes too. Mauricio was so distracted by these series of events he didn’t become aware of the young man at the other side of the counter, asking for the fifth time what was he going to order. Stammering, Mauricio ordered two slides of cheese pizza, completely forgetting he hates plain cheese pizza. He was about to turn his gaze toward pretty Isabel to continue the conversation when Felipe, now clearly out of control and agitated, jumps toward the counter and starts talking to the young man on the other side:
“Hi! My name is Felipe and this is my dad, Mauricio! This is my favorite pizza place. Which pizza do you like the most? Do you eat pizza every day?” he was talking non-stop and almost yelling; this was not a good sign. The young man looked at Felipe with a sickening look and simply turned his face away, looking to the opposite side while the pizzas were being warmed up in the brick oven behind him. Mauricio felt like somebody punched him in the heart. He knows his son is not as just any other kid. His son is special, they had told him since the moment he was born. His life would be special and not easy. He understands Felipe can make people uncomfortable with his behavior, but seeing with his own eyes how his son is so bluntly rejected and repulsed makes his chest tighten with sadness.
Mauricio is just staring at the floor, still recovering from the dreadful feeling he just experienced, when he remembered Isabel. He looks up and catches sight of Isabel looking directly at the young man, who is still ignoring Felipe’s questions and Felipe as a person. She has the saddest look in her eyes, as if she’s not able to comprehend the young man’s insensibility. At the same time, another associate delivers Isabel’s order, which she grabs with one hand, still holding his son’s hand with the other one.
Felipe is now jumping around and greeting the rest of the people in the line, which at this point has become populated. Mauricio is still staring at Isabel when she holds up her gaze and their eyes met.
“Goodbye,” she said with a smile.
“Goodbye,” Mauricio dared to say. Then, she looks like she’s searching for someone when her green eyes locate Felipe, a few steps away from where they first met.
“Goodbye, Felipe! Nice meeting you!” Isabel shouted toward Felipe, who turned around and with a colossal smile, waved goodbye and quickly went back to jumping and talking to himself. Suddenly, she drops her son’s hand liberating her own left hand, waving goodbye, and there it was: superb and impertinent, Isabel’s wedding band.
“Of course…” Mauricio thought and immediately turned his back to her, now facing to the young man behind the counter who was already handling him his order and waiting for him to pay.
Felipe ate his slide of pizza, still uneasy and talking non-stop. Mauricio wasn’t really hungry but took a couple of bites of his cheese pizza, which tasted sour to him.
They walked a little more after lunch and then went home.
That night, after dinner, Felipe took his medicine, brushed his teeth and went to bed. He needs to get some rest and be ready for school the next day.
Mauricio, troubled by the events of the day, grabs the phone to make a call.
“Hello,” says the woman on the other side.
“Hi, mom, it’s me,” whispers Mauricio, rubbing both eyes at the same time with his right thumb and index fingers.
“How are you doing, son? How’s Felipe?”
“She never wanted him, mom. This is all her fault,” Mauricio doesn’t make any efforts to hide the anger in his tone.
“Oh, my love. You have got to let this go. Seriously, Mauricio, it’s been 10 years!” His mom doesn’t try to hide her impatience either.
“I am not complaining about my son, he’s the best thing I’ve got. But I can’t get over the fact that she made him like this. She never wanted him since the beginning. His arrival was an inconvenience to her and she did everything she could to lose him, but God had mercy and he came through. Broken, but he came through.”
“Did something happen today? Why are you so upset?”
“Nothing happened; same as always. It’s just not fair; not fair to him. Growing up like a special child in an unkind world that doesn’t deserve special children. Being bullied and rejected and ridiculed. It could have been different; that’s why I say this is all her fault.”
“Son, Felipe lives in his own little world, where his biggest problem is what is he going to eat next. He doesn’t worry about being bullied or being liked; he’s just himself. He doesn’t know about what’s going on in this world and I don’t think he would care. He doesn’t know what autism is, or what does ADD stands for, or what are his medicines for. In a way, he just surrenders to the realities of his life, without knowing what it means; and on the other hand, he doesn’t let these realities change who he is and who he wants to be. He’s a lucky boy who has a loving father and a supportive family. I know you have your own troubles and fears, but don’t make them Felipe’s because those are not his. He will have his own fears and problems one day and you have to be strong and be prepared to protect him and give him support. Don’t you give up on him; don’t you dare.”
“Of course not, mom; I won’t give up even after I die.” Mauricio’s voice sounds tired now.
“That’s my boy… Why don’t you take the day tomorrow? I’ll go and pick him up after school. He can come home with me and you can stop by in the evening. Do something you like; clear your mind,” his mother suggested.
“Ok, ma. Let’s do that. I’ll be better tomorrow. Thanks for listening.”
“That’s what mothers are for, my love. One of our many roles,” she chuckles. “And always remember: through Felipe’s eyes, life is uncomplicated and everything is possible. Don’t tell him the world is cruel and an unhappy place because he just won’t believe it. Instead, why don’t you try and live through his bliss? You may find yourself a happy man again…”
Mauricio stays silent. He feels mortified that he called his mother at this hour to rant about his miserable life. And he knows she’s right, of course.
He prepares to go to bed feeling somehow relieved. Before entering his bedroom he makes a stop in Felipe’s to kiss his head; no flashback this time. Once in bed, he doesn’t fall sleep right away, but instead of thinking about everything that is wrong with the world, he makes an effort to bring to his mind all those funny memories with Felipe. With eyes closed, he giggles until he doesn’t remember anything anymore.
The next morning, he wakes up and it’s not 4 in the morning; it’s actually 7 and Felipe is late for school. Mauricio jumps out of bed and run downstairs where Felipe is already sitting at the dinning table eating cereal.
“Good morning, sleepy-head!” Felipe cries showing his white smile.
“Good morning, smarty-pants!” Mauricio jokes and playfully tousles Felipe’s neatly combed hair. Felipe lets out a squeaky laugh and twists in his chair, trying to free his head from his father’s hands. They both laugh.
After breakfast, Mauricio drives Felipe to school and kiss him goodbye before leaving. Mauricio comes back home to make some coffee and read the job ads in today’s newspaper. It’s been 7 months since he was laid off as part of the big economic crisis the country is going through. There are thousands of people in his same situation; all of them desperate for a job, any type of job. He was just about to start complaining about his own situation when he remembered what his mom said a few hours ago. Staring outside through the kitchen window he thought: “What would Felipe do?”
Although unemployment was probably not part of Felipe’s little world, if, only if, Felipe had to live in Mauricio’s world, what would he do… The answer was clear. Mauricio left the coffee mug filled with steaming hot coffee standing in the kitchen counter and went out the door. He walked 4 blocks to the nearest avenue and went inside the groceries store in the corner. He spotted a guy wearing a shirt and tie behind the customer service counter.
“Hi! My name is Mauricio and I am looking for a job,” he said holding out his hand in greeting. The man looked surprised and shacking his hand told him there were no jobs available at this time, but that he could come back in two weeks and check back again.
Mauricio came back home after two hours of talking to strangers, looking for work. He didn’t find a job, but he felt satisfied and happy, ready to make the most out of his day.
He cleaned the house, washed the car and cooked dinner. By the time he finished all these tasks, it was evening already and he headed out the door to go pick up Felipe from grandma’s house.
Felipe was watching TV when Mauricio arrived. It’s been a good day for Felipe, his mother told him; he’s got the highest score of the class on an important test and his teacher has wrote a nice note for him. Mauricio embraced Felipe and told him he was proud of him. Felipe laughed and told him he was proud of himself as well.
On their way home, they stopped for ice cream.
“But we haven’t had dinner yet,” Felipe exclaimed.
“It’s ok. Eating ice cream before or after dinner; what’s the difference?” said Mauricio and Felipe nodded vigorously, showing his excitement.
“Ice cream is one of those things that makes you feel like anything is possible,” Felipe stated, with a serious face.
“And why is that?”
“Because if they can make any fruit taste delicious, then anything is possible!”
Father and son exploded in laughter one more time.
Ice cream was one of the few things that kept Felipe quiet and busy, and while he was devouring his chocolate and pineapple ice cream, Mauricio looked at him closely. In another quick flashback, he remembered Felipe’s first smiles, his first steps, and then his first day at school. The journey hasn’t been easy, but worthwhile for sure.
“Hey son, did you know that a hippo can run at 30 kilometers per hour and even faster?”
“Of course I know that! You didn’t know it and I was the one who told you!”