Doctor: Ray, do you want to stay and live with your brother Charlie?
Doctor: Or do you want to go back to Walbrook?
Doctor: Which is it? Go back to Walbrook or stay with Charlie Babbitt?
Raymond: Go back to Walbrook, stay with Charlie Babbitt. Stay with Charlie Babbitt, go back to Walbrook.
~ Rainman, 1988
– – –
“Jonah, do you want a donut?” I ask him this morning on the way to the train.
“Donut?” he repeats. “Okay, boo, mama’ll get you a donut,” I tell him.
I come out of Stewart’s with a donut and hand it to him. Before he’s even taken the first bite, he’s on to the next request. “Grandma?”
“Grandma’s closed,” I answer. I know my mom’s working today so that means she won’t be open for business until at least 3:30 this afternoon. We continue on to the train tracks just as a train is going by, so it’s an instant-gratification experience for Jonah.
“Eddie?” comes the next request. Eddie is our office cat where I work, and sometimes I’ll take Jonah over on rainy days to feed Eddie a treat or throw a jingle-ball down the stairs to him a few dozen times. The last place I want to be on a lovely weekend morning, however, is my workplace, so I shoot down this request as well. “Eddie’s closed,” I say in what I hope passes for a mournful tone. “Let’s go for a little car ride.”
“Window?” he asks. I give him the go-ahead and he rolls his window down all the way. It’s kind of cold, being a mid-September morning — maybe 55 degrees. But Jonah is impervious to cold in a way I neither share nor understand, so I turn on my heated seat and crank up the blower heat too.
My best friend Gina loved rolling her window all the way down, in any weather, and I find myself thinking of her…remembering our road trips, all the car’s vents directed toward me, blowing hot as she enjoyed the chilly wind. She died 8 years ago but I can almost hear her laughing at me, riding around Voorheesville early Sunday morning to watch a train go by, for God’s sake…blasting heat and begrudgingly allowing Jonah to roll his window down. I like the wind too, I imagine her whispering in his ear.
Then: “This way?!” Jonah half-requests and half-insists. He has not pointed in any direction so I don’t know which way he wants to go. I glance backward and ask him again. “Straight?” I guess. Straight will take us along our normal loop up through Altamont and back to the train tracks in Voorheesville. “Straight,” he repeats (while pointing to the left). But I’m not looking at him, so I drive forward, operating under the foolish assumption that Jonah knows what straight means. “This way!” he shouts, agitated now. “This way!”
I pull the car over so I can see where he’s pointing, and then turn the car around to pass back over near the train tracks.
“Train?” he asks. “That way?!”
“You want to stay here and wait for another train?” I ask. I am very nearly ready to endure whatever tantrum is brewing rather than attempt to further unravel his fickle directional desires. “Stay he-ah?” Jonah echoes. So we stay.
I lean back in my seat.
I close my eyes.
After a minute or two, from the backseat: “That way?!”
I can’t help but laugh. “Jonah,” I ask him, quoting Rainman, “do you want to stay with your brother Charlie or go back to Walbrook?”
“Stay he-ah,” he answers definitively. Not five minutes later another train comes by, and Jonah is delighted.
Sometimes I think he’s got it all figured out and just likes to mess with my head.