“Boy.” I hear it from the right mouth and it becomes a thousand words. Boy is myself as a child. Boy is who I am in the present, or maybe who I’d like to be. Boy is running. Boy is swinging a bat. Boy is walking to school with a pack full of books, crossing the street in front of my house and cutting through the park in the bracing December air. Boy is watching cartoons every afternoon at four. Boy is a moniker and an identity.
Pap called me Boy until he died when I was almost 24. I was Steve, Stevie, Steve-O, Bud, Buddy, but always I was Boy. My father calls me as Pap did, calls me by name, calls me Son, but has always called me Boy. From them, Boy is I Love You, Boy is I Claim You, I Accept You, You Are My Family. Boy is I Am Proud of You, I Will Protect You, I Am Happy to See You, You Are Welcome, You Are Included, You Are Counted.
Boy. Tangly headed grassy kneed sweaty faced Boy, climbing the tree in the back yard and coming down sticky with sap, walking down to the run and sitting on the rocks watching water bugs skim across the surface. Boy making his own baseball uniform out of a jogging suit, cutting the stirrups from socks, spending endless summer days trying to hit one over the pines.
Now there is Hunter and there is Cameron. Not my sons – my best friend’s sons – but they can be Boy too. Hunter is Hunter, Hunter Elijah when he has misbehaved, but to me always Boy. Cameron is Cameron, Cameron James when he refuses to sit still, but forever he is Boy. I pull up and step down out of my truck. Hunter calls my name and charges, his smile as warm and bright as the sun. I say to him, “Hey, Boy,” and really I am saying, “I love you, I missed you, I am happy to see you, I am sorry I’ve been away so long.” He hears and he understands, like I understood when Pap said it to me, like I understand now when I walk through the door and Dad turns around in his chair and says, “Hey, Boy.” I am loved, I am accepted, I am included, I am home. I am the only thing I would ever want to be.