Time-Traveling Popsicle

The weather’s unbearably warm for January—the kind of warm people from Santa Ana use to talk about weather similarities between here and their precious ORANGE COUNTY.

Yes, it’s much too warm. The forecast for Vail is obviously mocking me and my predisposition to weather that doesn’t force me to leave my car windows open purely for aesthetic. Last week, it had been frigid like it should be in January—usually peaking with a high at 28 or 29 and a low of anywhere from zero to twelve. That does seem normal, right? It should. We’re in a mountain community.

Well, my iPhone tells me it’s 57 out today. Shameful.

It’s one of those rare days indeed when my children have congregated, and without speaking about it, they’ve decided to meet in the family room to watch iCarly. Most of the time, they want little to do with each other. This is partially my and my wife’s fault—we spaced their births out four years apiece, so our oldest, Gwen, is seventeen, and our youngest, Rae, is nine. As such, they’re all usually at very different stages in their lives.

“How’s Nickelodeon?”

Gwen looks up like I asked her to try meth. “Um, it’s fine! Go do your stupid old people stuff.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that talking to your kids is the very definition of “old people stuff”.

My wife Maria strides down the stairs, wearing workout clothes even though she has absolutely no intention to work out. She’s wearing that outside in January. These sorts of clothes shouldn’t even surface until late April in central Colorado. “We’re taking Amy Gallagher’s kids to Donovan Park. There’s bagels on the counter—grab one and let’s go.” She’s texting someone—probably Amy Gallagher.

“There are bagels,” I retort. She doesn’t even look up. “Goddammit, this weather sucks.”

“What?”

“Remember when we got married and you said Vail would be freezing in the winter?”

“Have you been drinking?”

I haven’t—she’s just sarcastic. “That’d be nice. Hey, let’s go up north. We should visit Pinedale again.”

“For God’s sake, Anthony, it’s like 60 outside. Most normal people would say that’s a good thing.”

“I’m not normal people.”

She sets her phone on the counter and pays a visit to the kids. “We’re going to Donovan Park. Gwen, you’re coming with us.”

“But WHY?

“Because you’ve got a formal coming up and unless you’re working now, you need someone to pay for it.”

“MOM.”

Maria’s extremely efficient. Within a minute she’s got the kids, the cooler she packed, and a visibly open passenger seat ready for the getting-going in our SUV. I call in vain back to them to wish them a good time.

“Anthony, you’re not staying here. This is a family outing.”

“What part of a family outing involves Amy Gallagher’s kids? Besides, I have work to get done.”

“Get IN. Gwen’s leaving you in a couple months.”

8 months, sure. Not that she’ll even miss me after that.

“The weather’s too warm. You’ve got to be insane going out in that. This is not Colorado winter weather.”

“In the car.”

When we got married, I swore I wouldn’t allow myself to be controlled, but here we are. I oblige and lock the door behind me, dressed like someone who planned to stay home on a Sunday in January like a sane individual.

Amy Gallagher and Ned Gallagher live about five houses down, but they have two kids and they both work. Given that I’m a “financial advisor” and my wife teaches at an online charter high school, we’re often perceived as having the most time and resources for babysitting in all of Eagle County (even though some very wealthy—and unemployed—“trophy wives” live within a few miles of our neighborhood). Amy Gallagher works at a PR firm and I think Ned Gallagher runs an auction service for used construction equipment (because that’s a thing people need), so they, like many of our other neighbors, call on us to pick up the slack. It doesn’t come without its perks, though—we don’t have to do hardly anything for school events because these people, in turn, pick up our slack. We’re like different types of algae—we feed off each other, and if we were separated, we’d die.

We coast down to our destination house and

Amy Gallagher’s holding a fucking picnic basket.

Amy Gallagher walks out to their Ford with a picnic basket. And we’re watching their kids.

“Mari, are you seeing this? She’s got a picnic basket.”

“Mhm.” She’s chewing gum. Or cursing me silently. Or something.

“Why is it so warm? This is not natural and it bothers the shit out of me.”

“Okay. Just let it bother you, then, instead of enjoying it like everyone else in the world.”

“I wanna move to Fairplay.”

Amy Gallagher comes up to my window and honks an indelibly sticky greeting at me. “Isn’t this a fantastic day?

Maria looks over, either in the same creepy, delighted state of mind or expertly faking it. “Oh hell yes. We’ve actually got the whole family together! They’re gonna have so much fun with your kids.” She motions to Rae and Blair (the latter of whom is our middle child). “Move to the back so the kids can get in.”

“Do you need anything? Sunscreen, maybe?” Amy Gallagher chuckles, and I feel something awful building up in my esophagus. “It’s just so nice out! Ned and I have been dying for an afternoon just to ourselves—we’re so thankful you guys are here! And your brownies for next week,” she holds her hand up to her mouth, “will be to die for.”

“I like it, I like it!” Maria spews from the driver’s seat. “We’ll have them back around one.”

One. Crap. It’s ten right now.

Amy Gallagher’s kids are much too excited about the warm weather like it’s just an innocuous, happy event brought about by the happiness gods. When I was a kid, growing up in Rapid City, there was a 100% guarantee we’d be wearing snowsuits if we wanted to go outside. That was normal—that was how things were. These little shits are wearing shorts in January like they’re in Costa Rica.

“Oh, and before I forget, I got some Popsicles for everyone!” Amy Gallagher passes a box of multicolored melting syrup torpedoes through our car, so I instruct the children to eat them only when we arrive at the park for fear they’ll drip sticky child goo on my nice leather seats. Maria vocally voids my instructions. She takes one, so I grab one too out of politeness.

I wave goodbye to Amy Gallagher and Ned Gallagher, though it’s really half-assed, like how you’d wave to someone you didn’t know who had begun waving to you on the street.

Their ice pops are waving in their air like fruit-flavored missiles of sticky destruction. I’ve chosen not to eat mine until I can safely exit the vehicle.

I gaze into my mirror as I watch Gwen text someone, Blair exclaim something about a “roaming legendary” as he plays on his gaming pad, and Rae answer to Amy Gallagher’s daughter’s cootie catcher. My children are all in leagues far beyond my own now—there’s nothing I can do for them today. I’m simply saddled with every single car window blowing 57-degree air on my face and neck.

“Mari, do you really like this weather? Like, does this seem okay to you?”

“For the love of all things holy, are you still on that? It’s warm out. You knew it was going to happen eventually.”

I knew something like this would happen. I just didn’t think it’d be so soon.

Our silver Toyota thunders down I-70. Everyone else around us has their windows open too. It’s just gonna screw with your air resistance, I think as my mouth forms a smirk. They’re going to have to pay twice as much for gas today because of the giant gaping holes in their cars’ structural bodies.

Donovan Park is packed with vehicles when we arrive. I think every Honda Odyssey from the surrounding 50 miles came out today. All of them have their windows down as though each of them thought they’d found a new trend until they rolled into the parking lot.

My phone says the Vail temperature has gone up to 59. They said hell would be scalding, but this is true torture.

Blair and Rae, still clutching their Popsicles, run with Amy Gallagher’s kids to a small hill about fifty feet away and begin tumbling down, going back up, and doing the same thing again. I call after them, asking if they’d like their coats.

“Nope!” they intone, and they fall down the incline again.

I hear Maria’s voice. “Gwen, go do something. It’s not gonna be warm again like this till May.”

“God, Mom. Or I could kill myself.”

“I love a good joke, but suicide is off limits.”

“What about Suicide Squad?”

“You may absolutely mock Suicide Squad.”

And God help me—Gwen’s smiling. She laughs a bit!

Jesus, this weather is toxic. Would it have been so awful if I’d stayed home?

My daughter picks herself up and sashays to a bench near the basketball court to which my kids and Amy Gallagher’s and Ned Gallagher’s kids have migrated. She turns her iPhone on its side and starts watching something. Maria eyes another mom she knows from the gym, Rae’s school, etc. (could really have been anything) and makes her way to her. And I’m left alone in the 59-degree heat to suffer.

I retreat to my SUV and search for my Popsicle, which is in the open pocket on the door. I hastily yank the soft paper apart and a few ounces of warm grape syrup gush out onto my pants and the seat. I waited too long—wouldn’t be the first time—to eat it. I cast the package out the open window onto the pavement. Gwen looks up at it, then back at her phone again.

Another minivan parks a few spots away from us. I know one of its occupants to be a friend of Gwen’s—I think her name might be Hailey—and when each becomes aware of the other’s presence, they venture off into the field behind the basketball court to…do whatever it is they do. Maybe they talk about boys. Or girls. Or both. I don’t judge. I wouldn’t know, anyway, since I don’t hear anything from Gwen about anything more than how much gas money she has.

After a little less than an hour, Maria’s finished talking with her friend-of-some-variety and gets in the car with me.

“I still don’t like the weather. This isn’t how it should be.”

“Then donate to a climate change fund or something.”

“It just shouldn’t be this warm out! It’s ridiculous!”

“Jesus, it’s just the weather. If you want something to be pissed about, be pissed about the purple semen on your pants.”

“It’s warmer than Hell outside and we’re at the park!”

“How about we don’t do that tone?”

“It’s not a tone. I’m not yelling at you. You’re just a bystander.”

“You’re definitely yelling at me. Your face is pointed at my face and you’re yelling.”

“Fine, I’m venting.”

“This should be fun.”

I watch the younger of the two Amy Gallagher and Ned Gallagher kids through the windshield. They love the weather. They love the fact that it’s 59 degrees in Eagle County, Colorado in January.

Maybe I need a Tumblr.

I turn back to Maria to continue my rant. “Here’s what I don’t get—why do the kids love the weather so much? It gets a little warm, so Gwen just up and disappears into the grass and I never see her again, Rae thinks she can forgo her coat today just because an eighth of the snow melted, and Blair…I don’t even know. He’s just…he just doesn’t….”

“…need you anymore?”

“What?”

“Oh, I get it now.”

“Don’t make this into a lesson.”

“Not a lesson.”

“Okay.”

“You might not like the weather, but you’re angry because your kids are growing up and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

“That’s stupid. Gwen’s got another eight months with us. And the others, forget it.”

“I know it hurts, Tony.” She’s on edge, but calm. “I think about the days each of them leaves us all the time.”

“Like hell you do. You’ve never brought that up in all the years we’ve been married. I always just assumed that way of thinking was too illogical for you.”

“I do have emotion.”

“Maybe a little.”

“I gave birth to my kids. They came from me. I have that.”

“Maybe a lot.”

“I know we’re doing at least a par job with them. We’re raising them to be members of society, not dependents.”

“Yeah.” I gaze out the windshield at my children, internally hoping for one of them to fall or trip or miss an important basket in their game so I can run out to them and provide comfort and assistance—prove that they have someone by their side even when they’re not at their bests. And I do think, beneath her sarcastic exterior, that Maria wants it to happen, too.

But it doesn’t. They’re doing just fine.

That should make me happy, but it doesn’t.

The children drop their basketball and run up to us and ask for the cooler, which contains their lunch. Amy Gallagher’s and Ned Gallagher’s kids rush the vehicle, so I deliberately hand sandwiches out to my own kids out my passenger-side window first.

Blair jogs up to me to collect his ration. “Mom, Dad, come play!”

“Play basketball?” I repeat.

Rae runs next to him. “Yeah. We need more players. We already got Gwen to play, and we found another kid who’s here with his family and he’s really good!” Gwen’s friend has since left the park—I hadn’t noticed before—and now my oldest daughter, who’s standing behind her sister, glances up from her phone, shrugs at me with a slight smile, then looks back.

“Only if you think you can handle it,” I reply with a touch of enthusiastic and good-hearted derision.

We finish our lunches and make our way collectively to the court. I’m on a team with Gwen, Blair, and Amy Gallagher and Ned Gallagher’s younger child. Blair leans over and excitedly states, “We got this, dad. Let’s kick their butts!”

The game’s about to start. Blair gives me a “thumbs-up”, Gwen smiles sweetly as she gets ready in the center of the court (she’s so tall), and Rae is whispering something to her mother.

I pull out my iPhone and check the Vail forecast.

It’s going to be 31 tomorrow.

I do hate this warm weather. I really do. I hate it with every part of my soul. However, it might not happen again for a very long time. Tomorrow, I lose my family again. I like cold weather, but I’m willing to call a one-day truce in my war against heat if it means I can keep my family today.