by Leon L. King
"T-Y-L-E-R," I huffed as I worked out on my bench press. I was halfway there. "T-Y-L-E-R," and I was finished with my third repetition. Three sets of ten. Six total times that I spelled out my nemesis' name. Sometimes I spell it backwards for a different effect. It doesn't matter which way I spell it, the mere thought of the name drives me... motivates me to be bigger and stronger. I began my workout routine a little over a year ago, immediately after Tyler came into my life. I have only fourteen more years to go before we meet again.
My wife is impressed with the changes that my body has had since a year ago when I started on my plan. She loves to run her hands over the ripples of my new six-pack. My two sons marvel at the chiseled arms that I've developed. My friends want to know if I am taking steroids or some other type of muscle supplement. None of them know why I started working out. The name Tyler means nothing to them. What all of them can agree on is that I have somehow changed, not only in my appearance but also in my behavior.
My sons notice it the most. I am a little bit stricter with them and my tolerance for any ill behavior on their behalf is short, to say the least. My wife has talked to me about it. I know when I am going overboard but memories of Tyler cause me to charge forward with my actions. I don't ever hit them. My bark is much worse than my bite and they are good boys by most standards. It's just that I don't want them to be like Tyler Whatshisname.
Even if anyone in the world besides myself did know about Tyler, they wouldn't understand. If I were in their shoes, on the outside looking in, I wouldn't understand either. Tyler was about three years old when we met. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, and weighed all of thirty pounds if he was weighed while soaking wet and still in his car seat. He stepped into my world for only a couple of hours. When he left my world, he also left a part of him that has warped my sentience of all children.
I met him on an airplane. My wife, two sons, and I had completed our vacation at Disneyworld and were on our way home to Memphis. We'd almost missed the plane because of the wrong directions that my wife had given me to the rental car building. When we finally made it to the airport, as we were going through the security gate, the employees had my wife and I take off our shoes before we went through the checkpoint. We did as we were directed but my youngest also decided that he would take his off too. That would have been okay at any other time, but this time he’d decided to put on the one sock that had a hole in it. Actually, saying that it was a hole is an understatement. Every single one of his toes could be seen except for the little one. I was embarrassed beyond measure. As he walked through the metal detector, an airport employee saw my son’s foot, smirked, nudged his co-worker to get his attention, and pointed at the comical sight. They then looked around for the parent who would actually let their child wear something so grotesque. They found me but when they looked upon my unsmiling countenance, their smirks instantly disappeared.
To top everything off, Northwest Airlines had successfully separated every single one of us on the flight. I was able to maneuver and get my sons together but the other passengers on the plane wouldn't budge so that my wife and I could sit together. By the time that I sat down, I just wanted to lay my head back, close my eyes, and relax.
I sat in the window seat; a bright spot in my otherwise cloudy day. A girl of about twelve sat next to me and her father sat in the aisle seat. She began talking to me even before she'd settled in her seat. My being a different race and much older didn't bother her at all. She wanted to know what parks I'd visited at Disneyworld, which rides I liked the most, did I have kids, how old were my kids, and she also asked whether or not I planned to have any more. Her father overheard that question and felt that it was time to divert her attention. I enjoyed her chatter but I was grateful when she finally left me alone.
By that time, the plane was beginning to taxi to the runway. I sat back and closed my eyes just as I'd planned. My much-needed relaxation evolved into a full-fledged, saliva dripping nap. I don't even recall ever feeling the acceleration of the plane in its takeoff. I awoke from my nap with a start: wiping at the right corner of my mouth with my shoulder. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs and looked around me. The girl and her father had fallen asleep also. I lay back again, hoping to go back to sleep when I heard his name: "Tyler, get back in your seat!" a woman said.
I looked through the cracks of the seat to see the woman struggling with a little boy. I assumed that it was mother and child. I assumed right because he replied to her order with a, "Mommy, nooooo!"
She was finally able to position him in her lap and I got my first peek at the little boy who would forever change my life. He looked harmless with his baby blue eyes and ruffled head of light blonde hair. Then again, some dogs look harmless until you try to pet them and then they bite you.
Tyler felt my eyes on him and looked through the seats at me. He smiled and tried to hide his face. Never the one to turn down a game of peek-a-boo with a child, I flashed a smile back and moved my head out of his view when he looked back at me. His mother turned around to see what it was that had Tyler's undivided attention. When she looked around, I pretended to be looking out of the window at the clouds.
We played around for a few minutes and then his mother finally figured out what was going on. She said, "Tyler, leave that poor man alone," as if I couldn't handle myself. She knew something about him that I didn't know though and when I reflect upon that life changing moment, I should have taken heed to her words.
"Get in your car seat. Mommy's lap is tired," she said to Tyler a few minutes later. His car seat was in the window seat directly in front of me. When she tried to put him in it, he struggled and squealed with all of his might. He slapped her a couple of times. I didn't see the actual licks but I heard them. SMACK! SMACK! He must have got to her pretty good because I heard the passenger next to her exclaim, "OOOOOOH!"
She finally got him into his seat and made a deal with him that she wouldn't strap him in if he were good. She gave him a Tigger stuffed animal and everything went back to normal for the moment. I began reading the last few chapters of Eric Jerome Dickey's Thieves Paradise and entirely forgot about Tyler.
As I was reading, Tyler's Tigger doll landed on the face of my open book. I looked up to see him peeking over the top of his seat at me. I asked him, "Is this yours?"
"Mine," he said as he nodded his head. His mother looked back when she heard him talking to me.
"Tyler!" she exclaimed when she saw his Tigger in my hand and then apologized to me. I told her that it was okay and handed the doll back to Tyler. He took it and promptly threw it back at me, hitting me in the face. I thought that it was funny but his mother thought otherwise. She apologized again and began scolding him as he held out his hand to get his Tigger back. I gave it back to him and instead of throwing it at me again; he threw it across the plane.
I assumed that he was three years old and I have to admit that he had a pretty good arm. I didn't see where the doll landed but someone tossed it back to Tyler who threw it somewhere else. I wondered why the mother wasn't taking the doll away from Tyler until she tried.
The last time that the Tigger was thrown back, she caught it and held it away from Tyler who immediately began doing everything that he could to get to it. He was screaming and I could swear that he cursed a couple of times. He was keeping up such a racket that everyone on the plane began waking up and trying to see who was beating his or her child.
It didn't take a rocket scientist or social worker to know that the child himself was giving the beating. Tyler kept screaming, "MINE MINE MINE MINE...," at the top of his lungs. Everyone began shaking their heads and silently saying what they would do if he were their child. A lady on the other side of the aisle said that he needs to have his little ass spanked and a murmur of approval went up from the other passengers. Mommy knew what was best for her son though and she told him that if he didn't stop his antics, she would tell his father. Daddy must have put Tyler in a couple of chokeholds before because his body went entirely limp and he forgot what it was that he was screaming about.
She put him back into his seat and everyone went back to his or her business. The father and daughter next to me had awakened during Tyler's fit and went back to trying to nap. I picked my book up again and started trying to read.
Everything went fine for a while. My seat buddies were once again napping and I was lost in Dickey's paradise. I'd successfully pushed Tyler to the back of my mind again. The feeling of something wet on my face broke my tranquility.
I looked up to see Tyler smiling mischievously. The little angel that he seemed to be was gone. In its place was an evil little boy with razor sharp teeth. I was still wondering what it was that I felt when I found out. Tyler placed his tongue between his lips and blew lightly. A hundred drops of spit moved in slow motion towards me. I tried to turn my head but I was moving in slow motion also.
I was hit by a strange little white boy's spit. Actually, the fact that he was white didn’t matter at all. It was the nastiness of the situation. Pure and simple. All that I could do was say, "EWWWW!"
That was the civil reply of disgust that Tyler heard. My mind was thinking, "WHY YOU LITTLE SON-OF-A-BITCH!!!!" But I couldn't rightfully say what I was thinking at that time. My reaction amused him so he did it once again, this time with as much force as his little body could muster.
He spit so violently that the girl next to me felt some of his spittle and slapped sleepily at the side of her face. I wanted to grab him and try to force him out of my window. In my mind I was already punching and kicking him. Outside of my mind, on that plane, if I had acted upon my thoughts I would have been beaten like a terrorist.
I was alone in my world. No one knew that Tyler was spitting on me except myself. Tyler knew also but he didn't count. I had to put a stop to the madness before I caught a case though. I reached through the seat to tap his mother on the arm. I usually hated seeing kids get in trouble. Not this time. I wanted that little boy to get the beating of his life.
She looked back at me when she felt my touch and I said, "Excuse me, but your child is spitting on me."
She began to ask, "He's doing what?" but the little blue-eyed devil showed her by doing it to me again, this time catching me fully on the back of my head as I was leaning forward.
She was shocked as if she'd never seen him do such a thing before in her life. She roughly grabbed him and turned him around in his car seat to strap him in all the while scolding him in a hushed whisper. After he was buckled in, she turned around again to give me her deepest apologies and offered a napkin so that I could wipe my head.
I declined her offer. Her apologies meant nothing to me. I wanted to see him scream out in pain for what he'd just done to me. I would have beaten the black off my sons if they'd pulled a stunt like that. I wouldn't have cared who saw me either. And if someone had made a comment, I would have had the person that my son spit on tell what happened. There is no doubt in my mind that justification for my son's beating would have been granted.
I accepted her apologies like any grown man would do since Tyler was "only a child". She turned back around and began scolding him again. His reply was that he was thirsty: to which she began preparing something to drink for him. Personally, I would have let him dehydrate.
The announcement came from the pilot that the plane was preparing to descend. I breathed a sigh of relief that my torture was coming to an end. I tried to get back into my book to no avail. My attention was gone. I kept glancing at the seat in front of me wondering what Tyler would do next but all that I could hear was his intermittent slurping as he drank his fluid.
I lay my head back again and tried to ease my state of mind. Sleep was out of the question because of Tyler and also because the trip was almost over. After a few minutes I began to relax and that's when it hit me.
To this very day, I know that I screamed out in pain. I know that I let out a loud, high-pitched girlish scream yet, when I looked around me, not a single person reacted. A seeing eye dog began barking feverishly but not one human moved. Could it have been that my scream was so high pitched that it went beyond the human hearing range and into that of an animal’s? Tears were already stinging my eyes when I looked in my lap to see a plastic cup. Through my blurred vision, I could see the name "TYLER".
It was the same personalized toddler’s sipping cup that I'd seen in Downtown Disney the first day of my vacation. I wanted to get one for my nephew and niece, who were two and three respectively, but the store didn't have their names. I think that the names "Antoine" and "Latonya" are beautifully poetic and deserve to be recognized as a common name. I know several people, whether personally or through acquaintances, of those two names. I never knew anyone named Tyler until that plane trip yet they would have a cup with his name on it.
My frustrations with America's unacceptance of common black names took a back seat to the pain that I was feeling at the time. I held the cup in my hand, squeezing it as hard as I could, hoping to break it into thousands of fragments. Tyler must have thrown the cup over his head and over the back of his seat. The cup hit me on the forehead where my widow's peak would have been if I had hair.
That cup was still one-third full when it hit me, adding to its momentum. Anyone else would probably say that it was almost empty. It wasn’t their head that was in pain though. I thought that I was bleeding but it was just the condensation from the outside of the cup that I was feeling. In my anger, I grabbed the cup and hid it underneath my leg.
I heard Tyler say to his mother, “Cup, Mommy. I drop my cup.” His mother assumed that he dropped it on the floor in front of him and began searching for it. After she was unable to find it, she assumed that it must have rolled and began asking the passengers around her whether or not they’d seen it. She tried to ask me too but I pretended to be intently looking at something outside of my window.
I couldn’t turn to face her. I didn’t want her or anyone else to see me crying. The tears were streaming down both sides of my cheeks uncontrollably. I felt ashamed of my emotions. I kept thinking, “Here I am… a grown ass black man… crying because of some three year old. I made my sons feel bad about the tears that they shed over some things. I always told them to suck it up and be a man, yet, I wasn’t practicing what I preached.
I felt as helpless and defenseless as a newborn baby. The good and bad sides of my consciousness were at war with each other. My bad side was whispering in my left ear and the good side was whispering in my right.
“Look at you… a grown ass man crying like a little girl… you are right in feeling ashamed,” said my bad side.
The good side whispered, “It’s all right... suck it up… you’re just having a bad day… it happens to everybody.”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” shouted the bad side to the good. “What you need to do is grab him by his mop of hair and drag him across the plane!”
“You’ll go to jail if you do that… you don’t want to go to jail... you watch Oz…”
“Turn the other cheek…”
“Let it go…”
I silently screamed inside my head. The good voice of reason was getting on my nerves so instead of acting on my bad side’s suggestions, I imagined the bad side beating the hell out of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed good side. I felt a little better and my tears began to subside but I was a changed man after that little episode.
I’d already decided that Tyler would never see that cup again. Later on I decided that he would see it at least once more. The flight ended without any further encounters with him. Tyler bounced around in front of me as the passengers were preparing to leave the plane. I was already a fading memory in his stress-free mind.
My seat was almost at the back of the plane, therefore Tyler, his mother, and I were the last to leave. I hurriedly retrieved my bags from the overhead bin as Tyler’s mother struggled to get hers. Any other given time I would have been a gentleman and helped her get her luggage. My chivalry was gone for the moment and instead of offering a helping hand, I almost knocked her down as I squeezed past her to get away from her and her son.
I know that I should have moved on with my life as soon as I stepped off the plane. An overwhelming sense of relief came over me as soon as the pilot bid me farewell and I stepped onto the jetway. My wife and sons were waiting on me.
My wife asked, “What was all of that commotion about back there. Somebody’s child was cutting up.” Before I could answer, she asked, “What happened to your head. You have a knot on it.”
At that statement my sons looked up to see how bad it was. To them, any type of wound was fair game for a closer inspection. They lived for the perfect scar. The kind that would send people running away in disgust or at least make them lose their lunch. The bump on my head didn’t amount to much but that still didn’t stop my oldest son from taking one look at my still red eyes, and ask, “Have you been crying, Daddy.”
My youngest son, the protégé of the elder, decided to put his two cents in. “Did your little bump make you cryyyyy,” he teased. The thought of me actually crying over a little bump was the funniest thing that they’d heard that day, and the both went into fits of laughter.
I slapped my oldest son on back of the head and he cried, “OUCH!” I hit him harder than I meant to and it sounded just as bad as it probably felt. A few people ducked when they heard it. A security guard put his hand on his gun and began looking around. I playfully grabbed my son and put him in a headlock to play it off.
“Oops, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard,” I said. “And for all of your information, I accidentally bumped my head on the side of the window. My eyes are red because I was sleeping.” It didn’t feel right lying to my family, which added fuel to my anger at Tyler. My wife and sons began talking about their plane ride but I was only halfway listening.
Inside me, a pot was brewing. Inside of the pot were all of the trials from that day. Getting lost. Almost missing the plane. An embarrassing hole in my son’s sock. Separated from my family on the plane. All of those events were just the seasonings though. Tyler and all of his antics were the main ingredients. My tears added the liquid. And my sons laughing at my misfortune was the heat that started the pot to boiling. I couldn’t let Tyler get away with what he’d done to me. Because of him, I’d just smacked the hell out of my son who was still rubbing the back of his head. They’d laughed at me. I’d cried. Actually cried. And Tyler was no worse than he was before we’d met.
It was then that I decided that I was going to do something to change Tyler’s life. Give him a little something to remember me by. I couldn’t rightfully do it right then though. It wouldn’t be “civilized” to beat the shit out of a three-year old. I could wait. I decided to give him until the age of eighteen when he’s ninety-five percent complete in his development. I would find him somehow, someway. There aren’t that many people named Tyler and the internet makes finding almost anyone possible.
When I do find him in fourteen years, I’m going to hurt him. I’m going to beat him like he slapped my mama. When he’s lying on the ground unconscious, I’m going to wait about five minutes. During that time, I won’t swallow any of the saliva building up inside my mouth. Then I’ll spit on him. Right between the eyes. But I still won’t be done.
Remember that I kept his cup. At first I thought about him never seeing it again. Now, I plan to let him see it once more. I’ll show him the name on it first. When his eyes open in amazement, I plan to drop it on him. Right on top of his little blonde head. It won’t be just a third full though. It’ll be completely filled with concrete.
I’ll drop it from a few inches above him first. I don’t want to kill him. I’m not a murderer. I just want to see him cry. If he doesn’t cry the first time, I’ll pick the cup up, raise it a little higher and drop it again. I know that he will eventually cry. I cried.
Looking at his mother, who was an underweight, petite woman, I felt that in fifteen years, he shouldn’t be a problem. As we were at the baggage claim area, his father came in to pick Tyler and his wife up. I didn’t need a paternity test to prove who he was. Tyler was an exact miniature replica.
When I saw Tyler’s dad, the first thought that came to my mind was the incredible hulk. I’m not a small man by any means standing at 6’1” (with shoes on) and of a little more than medium build. The father was a couple of inches shorter than I was but what he didn’t have in height, he made up for in the girth of his neck, arms, torso, and legs. All that he was missing was green skin and purple daisy dukes.
That’s why I’m working out now. Hopefully Tyler will be a much smaller version of his father at eighteen. I can’t take any chances though. Meeting him in a gladiator style fight one day is as inevitable as my death. It’s going to happen. It has to happen. If death doesn’t happen, it would disrupt the whole universe. If this thing with Tyler were not resolved, it would rip gaping holes in the fabric of my life. To be complete, I must fill the void that he left on the plane that day.
“T-Y-L-E-R,” I huff during my last repetition. These weights are getting heavier but I’m getting stronger. Five more to go. “T-Y-L-E-R.” That’s it for today. I’ve completed my five reps on the bench press. Five sets of ten. I do everything in multiples of five now. I will continue to do so for the next fourteen years.