Two (Commission) – Ch 7.1 – lostandwhatever
Continued from Chapter 6.
Greyson drifted back into consciousness at a gradual comfortable pace. Nothing felt as though it were rushing him back into the world, and time seemed nonexistent in his mind. The world itself felt soft, like it was padded with cotton and foam. Greyson felt soft as well, as if all the hard edges had been sanded away from his life. There were no points anymore, no edges, no separations, only the smoothness of seamless rest.
Greyson shifted his weight, not to fix any discomfort, but to stretch out a bit more into the comfort he inhabited. He heard the crinkle around his hips. He knew what it meant.
Even that was not enough to jar him awake, to give up the extended repose in which he luxuriated. What would rushing accomplish? Nothing. He peeked his eyes open, saw the bars rising up around him, saw the mobile spinning as it hung from the ceiling, cute colorful little animals rotating around in lazy circles. None of this surprised him. It only confirmed what he had expected. This was just his luck, after all.
At last, the candles had won.
He lifted an arm up and held out a pudgy baby hand for inspection. Somehow it seemed both bigger and smaller all at once, chunky in shape but little in size. He flexed the delicate fingers and released them, and then he let the arm drop back down to his side, surrendering to gravity again.
He figured that he was supposed to feel angry or depressed, but his new condition evoked neither emotion. Instead, he just felt a heavy sort of resignation. All week, he had been fighting against fate, every single day. Now, the exhausting fight was over. A resolution had come at last. Time had run out. The game was over. In all honesty, he felt somewhat relieved.
It was then that he noticed the warm dampness around his crotch. If only he could change his diaper on his own, he would do it without complaint, but he lacked the equipment and the dexterity to manage it. He knew how helpless he was now when it came to his own bodily functions. He doubted he could even walk at this age.
Not wanting to lay there in his mess, he tried to call for help. No words were able to form from his mouth. Too many teeth were not quite there, and the muscles were inexperienced at producing speech. The resulting sound was something like a moan or a coo.
When that was unsuccessful at getting attention, he tried even louder. Still, no one came. With frustration building, he cried out, shrieking at the top of his lungs. That passionate scream seemed to uncork a reservoir of tears in his eyes, and soon he was bawling and wailing with uncontrolled passion.
That did the trick. His mother appeared above his crib moments later.
“Good morning, sweetie,” she said, lifting him out of his soft resting place. “Mommy’s here.”
The effortless stability of her arms was enough to start calming him down. She bounced him and cooed soothingly, and soon he was feeling relaxed again. Then, she carried him over to a changing table to begin working on his diaper.
She paused and turned to face the doorway. It was Ethan, standing there still in his pajama bottoms.
“There’s my big man,” she said. “How are you today?”
“Good,” he said. “How’s it going?”
“Things are going well. I was just about to get Greyson ready for the day.”
“I had a question,” Ethan said, looking a bit uncertain about how to proceed.
“What’s your question?”
“Can I get a raise in my allowance, please?”
She paused and gave him a curious look. “Explain,” she said.
“Well,” he said. “I’m 12 now. I feel like I’m needing money more often. I can’t get a real job yet, so I need your help for now.”
“Ah ha,” she said. “I see. Well, if you want to get paid more, you’ll need to contribute a little more to the workload in the house.”
“Okay, like what?”
“Come over here,” she said, motioning him to join her at the changing table. “You’re old enough now to start helping out with Greyson more.”
He sighed and asked, “Really?”
“If you start helping out with changing your brother’s diapers, then I’ll double your allowance. How does that sound?”
The surprised look in his eyes said it all. “Okay,” he said, nearly smiling, but when he got closer and could smell the urine from the freshly opened diaper, his smile fell.
She started to walk Ethan through the process of changing a diaper. Meanwhile, Greyson lay there watching the two of them take care of him.
It was a strange feeling, being cared for by people so completely. Greyson felt like more of a witness than a participant. He had a feeling like being a ghost, but in reverse, not an after-life but a pre-life. There was a body and some consciousness in it, but no one was expecting to find a full person there yet. And, since nothing much was expected of him, Greyson felt free to just exist without putting out any effort. It was like being at a spa, but there was no bill waiting and no exit in sight.
It might even feel restful if he had just a little more control of himself and his life.
By the end of the changing, Ethan looked concerned, and his mother looked hopeful. Greyson felt dry and refreshed. Strangely enough, he felt ready to face his first day as a baby.
Time rolled on slowly. With not much to do, Greyson alternated from trying out his new body and taking a nap. He crawled around the floor, getting used to moving on all fours again. His few attempts at standing had been brief and ultimately futile. He could blame the thickness of his diaper for that as it kept his legs spread awkwardly apart. Fortunately, it was easy enough to take a nap, in fact it was expected. When baby life got too tedious, he could slip out of it for a nap and come back refreshed a while later.
Food was simple, but he was not about to complain. His diet had been pretty controlled as an athlete, so he was used to keeping things simple. In fact, everything about being an athlete seemed to have primed him for the skills necessary to survive a return to infancy. He could be patient. He could stay focused. He could accept setbacks. He could endure.
Then he messed his diaper, and the inconveniences of infancy were back again. He cried for help.
“Ethan,” his mother called as she lifted up Greyson. “It’s your turn to change him.”
She passed Greyson to his brother and Ethan took charge of carrying Greyson.
At the changing table, poor Ethan looked ready to run or puke or both. Greyson almost wanted to laugh. The boy opened the diaper and gagged at the smell.
“Just try not to breathe too deeply,” their mother counseled Ethan.
Again, she talked him through the steps, and he clumsily followed her directions. Greyson watched and felt his amusement turn to real pride as he saw Ethan endure and press forward. When it was all over, Greyson was once more back in a fresh diaper. His mother congratulated Ethan. Greyson even gave his brother a clumsy round of applause.
“Thanks,” Ethan said, sounding genuinely proud.
Night came and went, and the next morning, Ethan was given the task of changing Greyson’s diaper again. This time, it would be a solo job.
After getting Ethan set up, their mother left her two boys alone at the changing table, so that Ethan might put what he had been taught into practice on his own. It was his graduation from diaper academy.
He opened Greyson’s diaper and was relieved to find it mostly clean.
“Thanks,” Ethan said. “You went easy on me.”
“Fangu!” Greyson said, trying to pronounce “Thank you!”
“That almost sounded like a word there,” Ethan said as he started wiping. “I bet you’ll be talking and walking in no time. Probably, you’ll start potty training in a little while too.”
“It’s weird having a brother,” Ethan confessed as he worked. “I don’t know. It’s like I’ve been waiting for you all my life.”
Greyson lay there, listening.
“I want to be a good brother to you. I promise I’ll be there for you.”
“Efan!” Greyson said.
Ethan’s eyes went wide when he recognized his name. “Yeah, Greyson?”
“I love you too, bro,” Ethan said. Then, he leaned in and planted a kiss on Greyson’s forehead.
When the new diaper was in place, Ethan rested a hand on Greyson’s chest and asked, “So, how did I do?”
Greyson grabbed Ethan’s thick finger with his baby hand and held it. Then, he smiled. Ethan smiled back.
“Thanks!” Ethan said.
Weeks later, Greyson was sitting in the small stands set up on the sidelines of a youth league football game. His mother had lifted him out of his stroller and let him sit on her lap to watch Ethan play his first game of the season. Ethan would be playing quarterback for his team, and Greyson could not be more proud of his brother.
Hearing that they would be watching Ethan’s game, Greyson had worried that he might feel jealous or depressed to see his brother playing football while he was stuck watching from the sidelines. In fact, he just felt happy to be out and happy that Ethan was going to be playing and having fun. Sure, he wanted to be out there on the field as well, but there would be time for that later. Today was Ethan’s day.
As Greyson watched and waited for his mother to prepare his pregame snack, baby formula in a bottle, he heard a man’s voice nearby.
Greyson and his mother turned to find a familiar friend taking a seat next to them.
“Hello, James,” Greyson’s mother said. “You made it just in time for kick off.”
“Mind if I sit here?” he asked, gesturing to the open seat next to her. “I’m not sure if your husband is on his way.”
“He’ll be here in a little while,” she explained and spent a minute going over why he was delayed.
Greyson was not really paying much attention to the conversation. Instead, his attention was focused on the enormity of James’s body. He still felt the same desire for James, but it was dulled a bit by his own immature body. Then, there was the futility behind it. James was now undeniably beyond his reach. There was no worrying about what his old friend might think about him now. That settled things just fine. Greyson could admire James without worrying about those feelings going anywhere.
Kick off happened. Ethan’s team received and ended up near the 50 yard line. Greyson watched as Ethan slipped on his helmet and ran out to lead his team down the field.
Then, just as his mother was about to poke the nipple of the baby bottle into Greyson’s mouth, her phone rang and she set down the bottle to answer it. There was a quick conversation. Then, she turned to James to say, “You’ve done some baby sitting for me a while back. Could I enlist your help again? Could you watch Greyson for a minute or two? I need to step away to take care of something.”
“No problem,” James said, picking up Greyson, setting him on his lap, and then wrapping a protective hand across the whole width of Greyson’s belly. “I’ll watch him until you get back.”
“Thanks!” she said and descended from the stands. Then, she paused and turned back to add, “Also, please feed him if you can.”
James picked up the baby bottle and replied, “No problem.”
Greyson made himself comfortable on James’s lap, leaning back into his belly. Behind him, Greyson felt the motion of the enormous body inhaling and exhaling slowly. He even thought he could hear James’s heart beating heavily above him. He was sure it was the most comfortable place in the world for him just then. However, when James maneuvered the baby bottle into Greyson’s mouth, it became even better.
Greyson drank his formula at a relaxed pace as he watched Ethan pull off an impressive pass, sending his team close to the endzone.
“Man,” James said. “You’re brother’s pretty good. I could see him going places someday.”
Greyson smiled contentedly while drinking from the nipple still in his mouth, feeling overwhelming pride, as Ethan ran the ball in for a touchdown. As the boy trotted back to the sidelines triumphantly, Greyson noticed for the first time that the number on Ethan’s jersey was a two. Greyson let the nipple slip from his lips as his thoughts grew distant.
For a zen moment, everything seemed to make perfect sense. Of course Ethan was number two. The candle that had started this whole mess had been number two. There were two candles that had transformed him. He and Ethan were two brothers. This was Greyson’s second chance. A second chance at childhood to live it boldly on his own terms. A second chance at being a good brother to Ethan and him in return.
For too long, Greyson realized, he had been focused on what he had lost: his adulthood, his friendships, his status as a sports star. None of that was really gone, though, just delayed. Now, he could see what he had gained by starting over again. What had seemed like a loss, the decades of life erased from him, could be viewed as a gift. Those experiences of his old life were still with him, but now he had all of those years back as well. Childhood with the wisdom of an adult would be an even more rewarding experience than the first time around. He would be a prodigy. He would be ready for all the twists and turns of growing up, but there was no pressure on him now to perform, no urgency to grow up anytime soon. Again, he felt his life opened wide and full of possibilities. He had a clean slate to fill, and ideas for how to fill it seemed endless.
James began to rock Greyson gently in his powerful arms, pulling Greyson out of his wandering thoughts and back into the present moment. Greyson smiled and knew he would be fine. Then, he settled into the rugged comfort of James’s arms to watch Ethan, number two, fight on to glory.
This is the one candle ending. Here is the two candles ending.