Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

Sometimes being a dad is all too real

Driving and driving in the dark.

Random backseat questions, then silence. Deep breathing and quiet muttering as I navigate orange lit streets. Through tunnels and under railroad bridges. Every store shuttered with iron mesh. Looping over and over trying to find the right entrance.

And then the waiting. Endless waiting, surrounded by dirty wailing babies and dead-eyed parents. The little girl next to us wants to read our stories and I offer her dad a book. He spends ten minutes reading to her from hospital magazines before he gets up the nerve to take me up on it. The girl carries the book around the room, clutching it like a prize. I want to let her keep it but it's her turn to go back and her mother hands me the book before I can offer it up.

And we still wait.

The sickly teenage gangbanger and his older brother are next.

"Come on, bitch." says the brother with a punch to the arm. The tall boy with his afro in a pony tail is hunched over his pillow, shaking with his eyes closed. The nurse touches his shoulder gently.

"Where's your mom?" A shrug toward the front door and the nurse disappears to find her.

Finally, it's our turn and we follow another nurse back to the small room with the wooden chair, the purple chair, and the blue chair and so many more howling babies.

He sits in my lap, limp with exhaustion and submits to the pokes and prods of attendings and students with minimal fuss.

There are security guards with sidearms patrolling the halls and one of them leads a teenage boy to the room next to ours. The boy has shorts that are too long, no shirt, cuts on his face, and black socks. The security guard with the mustache asks to use our phone.

"Keep an eye on the kid in 11." he says into the receiver. "He was in restraints before and I think he's going to try to run." He hands up the phone as his radio crackles.

"Never a dull moment." I say.

"Homeless and drunks trying to get in." he says, "Meth-heads trying to get out. Never a dull moment, you got that right."

We settle into the blue chair with the movie in front of us and he practically melts into my lap. I bounce gently in the chair and he's fading and he's fading and then he's out.

I move him to the rickety bed and cover as much of him as I can with a sheet. Then it's just sitting watching the slow rise and fall of his chest.