I placed Zeke’s dinner neatly on his plate. He glared at me, his face radiating disgust. “I can’t eat that!“
“Why not?” I asked him wearily.
“Because it will interrupt my dreams!” he shot back. “And then I won’t dream of Florin!”
“And I love to dream of Florin,” he added in a soft, sad voice.
Florin, according to Zeke, is the boy who lives in his dreams. Florin is an alien and he has a cat named Miracle who is also his best friend. Where Florin lives, the rays of the sun are fuzzy and they tickle you when they shine on your skin. Florin eats bugs and candy and he gets to play as many video games as he wants.
Florin, it appears, lives Zeke’s most awesomely, amazing dream life. He is for Zeke the embodiment of everything incredibly, marvelously spectacular and he has a “big boy” bravery and confidence that Zeke clearly admires.
I have asked Zeke to describe Florin numerous times and joy bubbles from him as he searches his mind for awe-inspiring details. His eyes turn upward and dart quickly back and forth as he talks about Florin’s amazing attributes. His voice speeds up and takes on an exhilarated tone, that makes me wish I was a child again so I could feel the awed delight that his mind gives him.
“He’s shaped like an alien. First you put a few parts on him. And then you put a lot of parts on him. He has hair that is different colors, like a rainbow. And his skin is like a rainbow too. And his boots are white. And his hat is yellow. And he has prickles all over his rainbow back that are rainbow prickles. He has a new haircut so his hair is just on his head, but before it was all the way down to his back. His eyes are yellow. His nose is shaped like a triangle. His mouth, his teeth, and his tongue are rainbow colored. He wears pirate clothes. He has the same skull shirt as me and he wears it all day and all night.”
Zeke once told me that Florin had 8 arms, 10 noses, and 3 eyes.
Florin entered our lives right around the time that Zeke first entered a full day school program. His anxiety over this transition was huge and unexpected and took over our lives for several weeks.
Zeke had trouble sleeping during this time. On nights before he was supposed to go to school he would keep himself up until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, sobbing and clinging to his father and me, begging us to let him stay at home. He would wake up hysterical in the middle of the night, moaning again and again,
“Why didn’t you come and get me Mom? I wanted you to come.
I cried and cried for you.
And you didn’t come.“
The moment he opened his eyes in the morning, he would ask “Do I have to go to school today?” If the answer was yes, he would work himself up into such a nervous frenzy that he was red-eyed and exhausted by the time that I dropped him off. His teachers would hold him close in their laps so that I could leave. They would hug him and whisper softly in his ears. If I ever turned around to look at him, the desperation that I saw in his eyes and the wild grasping of his arms as he reached for me filled me with the most savage crushing guilt I have ever experienced. Each day the sound of his cries for me would follow me down the hall and out of the building.
I tried not to look back.
And then, one day, when I was picking him up from school he said to me, as usual “Tomorrow, when I wake up, will I go to school?”
“No,” I said, self-consciously trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.
“Oh,” said Zeke, seeming relieved.
Then he added casually, “Florin’s Montessori school is right next to his house and when he goes outside he can see his house and his Mom anytime that he wants.”
“Oh?” I said.
From that day on Florin became a regular presence in our lives. We heard about his house on “Toilet Street” in Brooklyn, (“But not our Brooklyn, on our Earth. It’s an alien Brooklyn and it’s very far away on another Earth.”) We heard about how his mom didn’t make him clean his room and how she let him brush his teeth with maple syrup. We heard about how Florin’s dad was not allergic to cats and how Florin’s cat Miracle had pink, yellow, black, and white fur, and sleeps in his bed with him. We heard about Florin’s first day at kindergarten, a school for very big boys, and how he missed his mom, but then met kids that were fun to play with, that liked to go to the zoo with their babysitters and to play Star Wars, just like him.
And as we got used to hearing tales of Florin and his alien exploits, the crying and the anxiety about school slowly disappeared.
Florin continues on as a fixture in our lives. When Zeke came along with me to Jack’s most recent check-up, where my poor little peanut had to get four shots, Zeke’s eyes were huge and frightened as he watched intently what was being done to his little brother, and he told me afterwards about how when Florin got ten shots he didn’t cry at all. He told me recently, his voice lowered and slowed to increase the drama of the statement, that Florin has a Lego Boba Fett and a Lego Jango Fett and that
“none of the pieces are missing.”