Mark stands before me, “Do I look OK?”
“That depends. Where are you headed?”
He’s wearing khaki shorts and a faded Hawaiian shirt, one of those flowery loose-fitting shirts only very cool men who shop at Costco for their clothing wear. He fingers the frayed edges at the bottom of the shirt, “Just out for coffee with this guy. Not like a business meeting or anything.”
I reach to hold up the bottom of the shirt so that he can see that there are a few small worn holes in the fabric, “Just how casual is this meeting?”
He is dismissive, “Those little holes are no big deal. They just add to the character of the shirt.” He takes a step backward and raises his arms in the air, “As long as I don’t have any big holes anywhere, I’m good.”
I reach to poke my finger into a hole under his arm, “So define big for me, babe.”
“Aww, man. Really?” He twists in a futile attempt to see the hole, “Is it a problem?”
“Is this coffee friend the sort of friend with whom you want to share peek-a-boo glimpses of your nipples?”
He giggles, “Perhaps not. Fine. I’ll change.”
I put a hand out as he unbuttons the shirt, “You want me to throw it away?”
He takes it off and holds it protectively against his chest, “Throw it away? This is one of my favorite shirts!”
Later in the day, at the dinner table, Kallan is talking about the graduation ceremony her school has planned at the end of the year. She gives Mark and me a meaningful glance, “You’re supposed to dress up for this event.”
I scoop myself some fruit salad, “Don’t you worry about us, babe. We’re going to be all fancy. I’m going to be decked out in sequins and leather, and your dad’s already got a shirt all picked out.” I turn to look at Mark, “In fact, he’s wearing the shirt right now.” I reach to poke two fingers into the hole beneath his arm and pinch at his skin, “When did you change back into this shirt?”
Kallan groans, “Daddy, what is wrong with you? If your shirt has a hole so big Mom can reach in and touch you, who knows who else will try to touch you? You are encouraging people to reach into your clothing!”
Mark smiles and takes a bite of food, “OK, now this is definitely my favorite shirt.”
Kallan speaks firmly, “Daddy, I am banning you from wearing that shirt to my graduation.”
Mark lifts his arms and turns from side to side, “Who are you to ban the peekaboo glory of my nipples?”
Kallan snorts with helpless laughter as I reach exploring fingers into Mark’s shirt again, “Kallan, it will be fine. No one else will have a dad like yours.” I imitate a teacher voice, “Kallan has just been a joy to have in class this year, and . . . oh my . . . is that a hole into which my hand will fit? Mmm . . . so manly! You have so not been working out. I do love a soft expanse below Hawaiian Costco cotton.”
Kallan shrieks with laughter.
Mark pulls away from me, giggling as he twists to check the damage, “Hey, don’t mess with the shirt! I love this shirt! This is my Kallan graduation shirt!”
Kallan catches her breath, “That shirt is banned, Daddy. Banned. No Daddy-nipples at graduation.”
Mark leans to speak to Kallan sassily, “You’re not the boss of me.”
Maj slams her fork down on the table and yells at the rest of us angrily, “WHY CAN’T THIS FAMILY EVER BE NORMAL?
Kallan and Mark and I turn to stare at her.
“WE ARE EATING DINNER! BE NORMAL! BE NORMAL PEOPLE! I COMMAND IT!”
I pick up my fork and speak into the silence that follows Maj’s outburst, “Well, alrighty then. I guess you told us.”
We finish dinner quietly.
Later in the evening, I retreat to the bedroom to read a book. Maj finds me almost immediately, and she holds up her own book, “Can I read with you if I am quiet?”
“Sure, babe.” I pat the bed next to me, and she climbs up.
A few minutes later, Kallan comes in search of us, “You guys want to play a game?”
I pat the empty side of the bed, “No, but if you want to get a book or a magazine, you’re welcome to join us.”
And so then there are three of us reading quietly on the bed.
“Here you are! I wondered why the house was so quiet.” Mark stands at the bottom of the bed, “Hey, I was thinking about this graduation thing.”
“I was thinking that I could fix this shirt. I really do like this shirt.” He reaches up to grab one of the sleeves, “See, it’s not so bad, really. All I have to do is . . .” and he rips the sleeve completely off of his shirt, “get rid of the part that is wearing out.”
The girls and I stare at him, shocked and speechless.
He turns his head to look at the single sleeve he has left, “OK, now I am all unbalanced. Let me just even things out.” He rips the other sleeve off as well.
The girls and I stare at him, unable to find our voices.
Mark poses sleeveless, holding a few muscle-magazine-like poses, “No one can tell me this doesn’t look good. That’s right. I’m the man. I look good.”
The girls and I continue to stare at him without speaking, but now there is a huge audible intake of astonished glee from either side of me.
Mark holds a few more bare-armed poses, “When you think about it, I really am a lot like The Incredible Hulk.”
The girls exhale together in helpless hysterical shrieking laughter. Someone says, “The Incredible Hulk, Daddy? I am going to die of giggling!”
Mark brings his arms together in front of his chest and poses, “RAOAOAOAOAAOOAAORRRRR!”
Incoherent laughter from me and the girls. Maj and Kallan roll up into little balls of squirming faux-agony, holding their stomachs as they laugh, “Daddy, you are killing us!”
Mark grabs his now-sleeveless shirt with both hands, and with a huge “AUGAHGAHGAAARRARRRARAAAAOOOOOOOOR!” he rips it from his body. Buttons pop from the worn fabric and shoot across the room, hitting the lamp and the headboard . . . ping . . . ping . . . ping.
I don’t know if I have ever heard the girls laugh harder.
Their daddy is The Incredible Hulk!
An un-green middle-aged softish very white-man version of The Incredible Hulk, but still.
I am laughing so hard, I fear I may never breathe again.
Mark stands bare-chested at the bottom of the bed, staring down at his giggling family with satisfaction, “People better not be speaking to me of what is and isn’t banned. People better not be telling me to be normal. I am going to KILL at this graduation.” He pulls out his iPhone and starts tapping at it.
I wipe tears from my eyes and work to regain my composure, “What are you doing, babe?”
He looks up from his phone, “What? I’m adding Hawaiian shirts to my Costco shopping list.”
He taps some more, “Duh.”