My son stood in the middle of the living room last night with his pants down. His penis white and dangling amid a cluster of red bumps. Chiggers, we call them here. They camp in the grass and leap into the dark and moist. He's a sad sight. Whimpers and whines. We finally get him outside to play and he comes to us later, his face crimped like a tin plate in a vise.
"There's bumps, Dad." He gestures vaguely toward his groin. "They itch bad." He stands there shivering like he needs to pee.
"Let me see." A struggle not to sigh.
I try not to flinch, to let him see that I'm affected. They learn from your reactions to events. How you respond is how they'll respond. The world being fresh to them, new and unknown. Once their brain develops to the point where they can recognize faces, I find it strange that children often don't understand then how to respond to pain or discomfort unless they are told, though almost all know how to laugh without the same prompt. Often, when my daughter trips over her own clumsiness, she looks up and around, latches onto one of us to determine what her reaction should be. What-the-hell-is-this-thing-I'm-feeling all across her face, a blank look that breaks apart into a red cry or cracks with an apple laugh.
I tell him I'll get something for this, something that will help. I'll fix it, I say. Our bathroom shelves are no help. Cylinders, bulbs, tubes, and boxes clutter. The remedy for a hundred maladies, none of which currently afflict us. But we expect them enough to line the shelves with defenses. When younger, my wife and I only used to have aspirin and band aids. Now our shelves overflow. As we age the world grows stale and threatening around us. The band aids topple into the cough syrup. The cough syrup burgundy and round, a fat cherry with a white lid. I think it's from 1997. Standing there looking around, I decide to drop my pants and check myself in the mirror. Hope the wife doesn't find me like this. No bumps. Up go the pants. I squirt of glob of regular lotion into my palm.
"Got just the thing that'll fix this right up." I tell him. "Guaranteed. You're just suffering from extreme focus."
He doesn't understand. In the middle of the room still. Eyes wet. Small and naked like a deep, hidden thought. One foot on top of the other, struggling not to claw the rash. He sees me with the lotion and starts to cry. Treatment implies a tragedy he's more than willing to invoke. It's a difficult choice, but I've already made it. I'll acknowledge the injury, lend it attention. I'd want attention if my scrotum was slapping against a swarm of clustered bumps. I apply the lotion and tell him it'll be all right. I blow on the lotion and he settles. Of course it contains no medicine, but the real salve rises from my confidence in the application. I may have been unable to withhold my reaction to the injury but I can project a certainty in it's resolution at least. As I watch the lotion coat the trauma, I wonder if it really goes away, or like the chiggers themselves, does it camp in some dark fold, waiting to swarm out when distraction molts?