Present Perfect

By Kevin Isom

Before he arrived, I had it all planned. Pick up my sister and nephew, Reagen, at the airport. Feed Reagen. Visit zoo. Nap for Reagen. Dinner for Reagen. Dinner out for us. Coffee. Sleep. And so forth.

Then he arrived, and I learned a new lesson. This small, wiggly creature still incapable of meaningful communication completely ignored the schedule set by his gay uncle. And got away with it.

The first night, he didn't want to sleep in his porta-crib. Since sometimes he won't go to sleep unless music is playing, and you're dancing around with him in your arms, I tried this for a while. He prefers country music or--better still--any song with Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Nelville. By and large, I would prefer to be gagged with a microphone than be forced to listen to Linda and Aaron sing. This night, Reagen gave me no choice. Worse yet, he likes it even better if you know the words. It's part of the curse.

But every time I had him to sleep and gently set him into the crib, he would awaken, realize he'd been had, and scream bloody murder all over again. Not exactly the evening of domestic bliss I had planned. Since desperate times call for desperate measures, my sister let him sleep on the carpet instead, with pillows as barriers around him. Happy and protected, he went right to sleep, and I went to bed.

Unfortunately, my sister has programmed herself to wake only when she hears her son cry. But he only cries to get out of his crib. Otherwise he's a cheery morning person by nature. He takes after my father, whom my sister and I have often thought would benefit from a well-placed tranquilizer dart, when he's bouncing around happily at 7 a.m.

With no crib to restrain him, Reagen made only happy sounds the next morning, as my sister slept blissfully. When I woke to contented gurgles from the living room, I threw on a robe, expecting to find my sister feeding Reagen, in a vision of domestic bliss.

Instead, I walked in to find Reagen, ringed by a three-foot radius of decimated house plants. He was covered with dirt from head to foot, gleefully tossing handfuls of potting soil into the air. He looked at me, smiled contentedly, and tossed up some more.

I simply wailed. I know it was a wail, because I'd never made a sound like that before. Sort of the sound I imagine a circuit-party boy makes when he realizes he's arrived at the party wearing last year's Versace jeans. Kind of a blood-curdling whimper.

My sister, who had fallen asleep on the sofa, woke up and began to laugh. This seems to be the kind of thing she takes as a matter of course. I grabbed the baby and the dustbuster.

One marathon baby-bath and an hour of vacuuming later, Reagen was ready for breakfast. My morning schedule was out the window, and it was already too late to joins the friends I'd scheduled for brunch.

All was not lost, however. When we finally made it to a late lunch, Clint, my P.S.B. (potential serious boyfriend), played the role of co-uncle splendidly. He laughed when Reagen, feeling personally empowered, expressed his dislike of sweet potato puree by spitting a glop of the stuff onto Clint's shoe.

After Reagen had decorated the floor of the restaurant with puree, my sister went home for a nap, while Clint and I took Reagen for a stroll in Piedmont Park--and a stop for a cold drink at the gay and lesbian bookstore/coffeehouse beside the park.

We wheeled Reagen right into the coffeehouse, ordered iced cappuccinos, and pulled out a bottle for Reagen. It must have been a rare sight for the coffeehouse: two men feeding a baby on the sky-blue vinyl couch.

But Reagen couldn't keep his attention on his bottle very long. For hanging from the ceiling in his direct line of sight was a rotating disco ball with small spotlights pointed on it. Reagen reached out his hand toward it, as he sucked down his snack.

The bookstore-coffeehouse turned out to be a cornucopia of interesting things for Reagen. Turns out some of the best aspects of gay sensibility have great tyke appeal. Who knew? We gently touched the huge flower bouquet, admiring each different kind of flower. We played with the billowy orange curtains and the rainbow colored streamers. And, of course, we returned to the disco ball, whose sparkling mirrors turned and turned.

As I stood beneath it, with Reagen in my arms, he reached out a hand toward it. In solidarity with him, I reached out my hand as well. He turned to me, we looked at each other for a moment, and he laughed delightedly. We stood there for half an hour, watching and laughing together.

As we stood there, it occurred to me that things wouldn't always be this easy. A gay and lesbian bookstore/coffeehouse may not always be just a fascinating place of colors and textures and lights.

I know that someday my sister will have to explain to Reagen that while most people are heterosexual, some people are not. Most boys like girls, and most girls like boys. But some boys like other boys, and some girls like other girls. It's not a big deal, and it's okay. And it's definitely okay to ask questions.

Someday my sister will also have to explain to Reagen that some people don't like gay folks, just like some people are unkind to children of single moms. For no reason at all.

But those days are far still far away, and we'll deal with them when they come. I know I won't always be able to hold Reagen in my arms in a coffeehouse, as he reaches out a hand to a glittering ball, his eyes wide, his mouth open, turning to me every now and then to grin in shared wonder. Life won't always be that simple.

But for the moment, the present's just perfect.

Kevin Isom is a travel writer and humor columnist. His short story "The Brothers Mangrum" appears in the Spring 1997 issue of Paris Transcontinental.

©1997 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.