失去笑容的父親

爸無法微笑,但喜形於色
Harrison Golden◎撰 from CNN.com

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Photograph by Lisa Shin

爸爸和我都喜歡棒球,討厭睡覺。我九歲那年仲夏,有一天天剛破曉,我們就帶着球和手套,戴上洋基隊球帽,開車到附近公園。

「如果你覺得晚上玩棒球很刺激,等一下你就知道了,」老爸說,「球在清晨的空氣裏飛行的樣子,你絕對沒見過。」

他說得沒錯。我們的快速球飆得更快,進手套時感覺比較輕。旭日東升,照在露珠點點的球場上,我們接球時迸出響亮的回音。

我們獨享公園大約二個小時。後來有個年輕媽媽推着娃娃車過來,靠近我們時爸禮貌地彎下腰,朝娃娃車上的嬰兒揮揮手,露出他最燦爛的笑容。

那個媽媽瞪着他看了一秒,快步離開。

爸用手遮嘴,往車子走。「走吧,小子,」他說,「我不太舒服。」

一個月前,爸突然得了貝爾氏麻痺症,右半邊臉麻痺。這使得他口齒不清、右眼瞼下垂,用杯子喝水很難不弄濕上衣。而他的笑容——那個我在操場上擦傷時為我拂去疼痛的笑容,那個一提到米克傑格、伍迪艾倫和他死忠的洋基隊就迸現的笑容,就這樣消失無蹤。

我一屁股坐進車裏,開始懷疑起我們在日出時分來公園,不是為了看朝陽升起,而是為了躲避別人異樣的目光。 開車回家的路上,氣氛嚴肅。

從那天起,爸待在家裏的時間越來越長,把採買、開車、接送孩子參加少棒比賽的事都交給媽。他的工作是特約編輯,他把我們家的餐廳變成辦公室,埋首文稿之中,不想再玩傳球。

爸接受物理治療時,醫師說:「好,現在盡量咧開嘴笑。好,現在用手把右臉頰往上推。好,現在試試吹口哨。」爸爸照着做。

但只聽見吹氣的聲音。我最早的記憶就是爸用口哨吹法蘭克辛納屈或巴比麥菲林的歌。他一天到晚吹口哨,也教過我怎麼吹。

美國每年大約有四萬人罹患貝爾氏麻痺症,大多會在幾週內康復,有的則需要幾個月才治癒。但經過九個星期的治療後,醫師向爸坦承她無能為力。

「我從沒見過這樣的情形,」她在療程結束後這麼說,接着遞出帳單。

爸幽默以對。他偶爾會拿擦得掉的麥克筆在臉上勾勒出左右均衡的咧嘴笑容。有時候他會模仿貓王唱歌,還打趣說扭曲的嘴唇讓他可以把〈獵犬〉詮釋得很完美。

那年九月我升上小學四年級,爸的右眼可以眨了,口齒也恢復清晰。可是他的笑容還是沒回來。因此我偷偷立誓:不許自己露出任何笑容。

四年級的環境讓這個誓言遵守起來並不容易。同學年齡已經夠大,會為了流行文化哈哈大笑;但同時又太小,還在喜歡屁笑話的年紀。其他孩子喊我「愁眉苦臉的矮冬瓜」(我當時身高三英尺十英寸)。老師會把我帶到走廊問我怎麼一回事。

我很想打破自己的承諾,但我不能讓爸成為唯一不會笑的人。

我問體育老師:「笑有什麼了不起?」他聽了要我做伏地挺身,其他同學則去玩威浮棒球。他後來打電話給爸。

我始終不知道他們聊了些什麼,但那天傍晚我一下校車,就看到爸拿着手套和球在等我。接着好幾個月以來頭一遭,我們坐進家裏的汽車,去公園傳球。

「我們早就該來了,」他說。

五、六對父子檔在球場上排成一列,戴着手套的手臂高舉空中。爸無法微笑,但喜形於色。我也是。太陽很快就下山,球場的白色燈光亮起來,其他人都回家了。可是我們父子一直玩到天色全暗,從曲球到慢速小便球,每種球路都練過。我們要把漏失的全都補回來。


Losing My Father’s Smile

DAD and I loved baseball and hated sleep. One midsummer dawn when I was nine, we drove to the local park with our baseballs, gloves, and Yankees caps.

“If you thought night baseball was a thrill, just wait,” Dad told me. “Morning air carries the ball like you’ve never seen.”

He was right. Our fastballs charged faster and landed more lightly. The echoes of our catches popped as the sun rose over the dew-sprinkled fields.

The park was all ours for about two hours. Then a young mother pushed her stroller toward us. When she neared, Dad politely leaned over the stroller, waved, and gave the baby his best smile.

The mother ogled at him for a second, then rushed away.

Dad covered his mouth with his hand and walked to the car. “Let’s go, bud,” he said. “I’m not feeling well.”

A month earlier, Bell’s palsy had struck Dad, paralyzing the right side of his face. It left him slurring words and with a droopy eyelid. He could hardly drink from a cup without spilling onto his shirt. And his smile, which once eased the pain of playground cuts and burst forth at the mention of Mick Jagger, Woody Allen, or his very own Yankees, was gone.

As I slumped in the car, I began suspecting that our sunrise park visit wasn’t about watching daylight lift around us. This was his effort to avoid stares.

It was a solemn drive home.

After that day, Dad spent more time indoors. He left the shopping, driving, and Little League games to Mom. A freelance editor, he turned our dining room into his office and buried himself in manuscripts. He no longer wanted to play catch.

At physical therapy, Dad obeyed the doctor: “Now smile as wide as you can. Now lift your right cheek with your hand. Now try to whistle.”

Only the sound of blowing air came out. My earliest memories were of Dad whistling to Frank Sinatra or Bobby McFerrin. He always whistled. He had taught me to whistle too.

Of the roughly 40,000 Americans afflicted with Bell’s palsy every year, most recover in several weeks. Other cases take a few months to heal. But after nine weeks of therapy, the doctor confessed she couldn’t help Dad.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she told him after his final session. Then she handed him the bill.

Dad coped through humor. He occasionally grabbed erasable markers and drew an even-sided grin across his face. Other times, he practiced his Elvis impersonation, joking that his curled lips allowed him to perfect his rendition of “Hound Dog.”

By the time I entered fourth grade that September, Dad could blink his right eye and speak clearly again. But his smile still hadn’t returned. So I made a secret vow: I would abstain from grins of any kind.

Nothing about fourth grade made this easy. Classmates were both old enough to laugh about pop culture and young enough to appreciate fart jokes. Kids called me Frowny the Dwarf. (I was three foot ten.) Teachers escorted me into hallways, asking what was wrong.

Breaking the promise I had made myself was tempting, but I couldn’t let Dad not smile alone.

When I asked my PE coach, “What’s so great about smiling?” he made me do push-ups while the rest of the class played Wiffle ball. Then he called Dad.

I never learned what they discussed. But when I got off the school bus that afternoon, I saw Dad waiting for me, holding our mitts and ball. For the first time in months, we got in the family sedan and went to the park for a catch.

“It’s been too long,” he said.

Roughly a half-dozen fathers and sons lined the field with mitted arms in the air. Dad couldn’t smile, but he beamed, and so did I. Sundown came quickly. The field’s white lights glowed, and everyone else left. But Dad and I threw everything from curve balls to folly floaters into the night. We had catching up to do.

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