Tonight I stared full into the eyes of my infant son while I fed him a bottle. Whether from contentedness or exhaustion, his eyes did not, as they often do, flit across the room, discovering everything in the usual infant way, but stayed fixed upon mine. His eyes are livid, tending toward thundercloud gray in the darkness, and big as a world from this close, a world yet unexplored.

What wisp of a thought is circling his brain as he looks at me? For a moment, a connection formed that I find difficult to describe. It was not physical, but it felt physical, like symbiotic tendrils of flesh creating a bridge between our bodies. Saying it felt physical is perhaps just another way of saying it felt real, which makes sense, now that I think about it, because the spiritual is often more real than the physical.

Then the moment fractured into ambivalence. The euphoric joy remained, but alongside it appeared a familiar sense of sadness. My older children came to me late in their lives, brought to me by a state caseworker, along with a few possessions and binders of paperwork, and I never had the chance to coddle them like this, to feed them and smooch on their necks, to splashy in the bathy together, and to unashamedly explore the worlds of their irises. I will perhaps never get over this loss, even as I understand the inherent selfishness in my grief, since what they lost before coming to know me is now and forever imprinted on the deepest parts of their brain. It is impossible for them to untangle thoughts of me, of this family, from their own mourning for imagined encounters with their biological parents.

It was both their deprivations and mine that conspired to break my gaze with my infant son. The extraordinary dissipated and his eyes returned to reconnaissance.

I would like to spend every second of my short life in that moment with my son and in every missed moment with every other child, simultaneously if possible. And, if it could be accommodated, I’d then like to visit and revisit all the subsequent moments, some missed, some experienced, and some still to come: unimpeded rivers of nonsense flowing from tiny mouths in the backseat, tear-filled I-miss-yous, soft pressure from the perfect fit of a full-on hug, and the deep breath of collapse after a family dance party. Who do I need to call to make this happen?

Troy Pancake’s essays and stories have appeared in Mock Turtle ZineChrist and Pop Culture, and Heart of Flesh. He lives in Denton, TX with his growing family, where his “day job” is pastoring.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore