Relentless

This is a thing I’ve learned: Even with a gun to my head, I am capable of being convulsed with laughter. I am not sure what this extreme capacity for mirth says about me. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Beginning one night when I was six years old and for twenty-seven years thereafter, good luck was my constant companion. The guardian angel watching over me had done a superb job.

As a reward for his excellent stewardship of my life, perhaps my angel—let’s call him Ralph—was granted a sabbatical. Perhaps he was reassigned. Something sure happened to him for a while during my thirty-fourth year, when darkness found us.

In the days when Ralph was diligently on the job, I met and courted Penny Boom. I was twenty-four and she was twenty-three.

Women as beautiful as Penny previously looked through me. Oh, occasionally they looked at me, but as though I reminded them of something they had seen once in a book of exotic fungi, something they had never expected—or wished—to see in real life.

She was also too smart and too witty and too graceful to waste her time with a guy like me, so I can only assume that a supernatural power coerced her into marrying me. In my mind’s eye, I see Ralph kneeling beside Penny’s bed while she slept, whispering, “He’s the one for you, he’s the one for you, no matter how absurd that concept may seem at this moment, he really is the one for you.”

We were married more than three years when she gave birth to Milo, who is fortunate to have his mother’s blue eyes and black hair.

Our preferred name for our son was Alexander. Penny’s mother, Clotilda—who is named Nancy on her birth certificate—threatened that if we did not call him Milo, she would blow her brains out.

Penny’s father, Grimbald—whose parents named him Larry— insisted that he would not clean up after such a suicide, and neither Penny nor I had the stomach for the job. So Alexander became Milo.

I am told that the family’s surname really is Boom and that they come from a long line of Dutch merchants. When I ask what commodity his ancestors sold, Grimbald becomes solemn and evasive, and Clotilda pretends that she is deaf.

My name is Cullen Greenwich—pronounced gren-itch, like the town in Connecticut. Since I was a little boy, most people have called me Cubby.

When I first dated Penny, her mom tried calling me Hildebrand, but I would have none of it.

Hildebrand is from the Old German, and means “battle torch” or “battle sword.” Clotilda is fond of power names, except in the case of our son, when she was prepared to self-destruct if we didn’t give him a name that meant “beloved and gentle.”

Our friend and internist, Dr. Jubal Frost, who delivered Milo, swears that the boy never cried at birth, that he was born smiling. In fact, Jubal says our infant softly hummed a tune, on and off, in the delivery room.

Although I was present at the birth, I have no memory of Milo’s musical performance because I fainted. Penny does not remember it either, because, although conscious, she was distracted by the post-partum hemorrhaging that had caused me to pass out.

I do not doubt Jubal Frost’s story. Milo has always been full of surprises. For good reason, his nickname is Spooky.

On his third birthday, Milo declared, “We’re gonna rescue a doggy.”

Penny and I assumed he was acting out something he had seen on TV, but he was a preschooler on a mission. He climbed onto a kitchen chair, plucked the car keys from the Peg-Board, and