The dolphin’s favorite actor is Dolph Lundgren.
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
The dolphin sits there at his desk and listens to the birds tweet outside and thinks about pride and shame.
Pride and shame, pride and shame, pride and shame. If you say anything often enough it loses its meaning and can be used as a political slogan.
Pride and shame.
A high school motto.
Translate it into Latin and put it on your coat of arms.
Pride and shame.
The dolphin used to tell himself, pride goeth before a fall.
Now he tells himself, fuck that.
Fuck that. You only live once, that you know of.
Pride and shame.
Forgive yourself for whatever you’re ashamed of. Just, you know, if it was something bad, don’t do it again.
And usually, when you get right down to it, it wasn’t that bad to begin with. Or not even something you had any power over.
And pride – sometimes it’s a matter of honesty. Sometimes, you should be proud of yourself. Sometimes you do something to be proud of. So be proud. Rarely are we so fantastic that we can afford to be self-deprecating.
It even sounds wrong. Self-deprecation. Self-deprecation. Self-deprecation.
Self-deprecation: a form of self-harm.
Self-deprecation: I’ll only do it until I need glasses.
There is this girl the dolphin knows. He has known her a long time. Since he was 30. Since she weighed 1,272 grams. The dolphin cannot remember his PIN code or someone’s name or numbers with more than four digits, but he remembers that she was born at 11.27 am during a typhoon at Urayasu hospital outside Tokyo.
He can remember how the sky looked as he pedaled his bicycle to the hospital, a clear plastic umbrella in one hand: the clouds were a city in the sky. Black and white in bright sunshine, high winds, pelting rain, bigger than anything he’d ever seen but none of it mattered.
He remembers the first time he saw her, being wheeled out in a pink transport incubator to be moved to another hospital – Matsudo Shiritsu Byoin – because there was no room at the first hospital. She looked like a pastry in a pastry case, small and pink with dark black hair.
And he was afraid his wife would die, she was so blue.
He went to the other hospital. He had to take public transportation so it took hours. He remembers how kind the doctor was as he explained the statistics. Ninety percent chance of no brain damage. He remembers the little girl who wheeled past in a walker as they spoke, she had no fingers or toes.
He never remembers anything, no vacations, little of his wedding. But he remembers disinfecting his hands with blue disinfectant, up to his elbows, and putting on a gown and cap, and going in to look at her up close, now wired to monitors and with a feeding tube down her nose. She had the hiccups and her whole body convulsed there in the incubator, naked but for a diaper.
Her eyes were closed. Her eyelids were purple, as if she were wearing eye shadow.
When can I touch her, he asked the doctor, whose name he remembers.
Did you wash your hands? You can touch her now.
The dolphin held his finger up to her hand. Her translucent little fingers reminded him of a gecko. They fit around the tip of his index finger like an adult palming a basketball, and held on.
This is where he first cried. But fearing that he would trigger a chain reaction, and soon all the babies in all the rows of incubators would all start crying, he held it back.
Then he went back and showed his wife Polaroid photos of a little yellow baby with wires and tubes hooked up and told her the kid was fine and in good hands. He meant to reassure her, but the photo looked so scary his wife – whom the nurses had told nothing, not even if the child was alive or dead – was now even more worried than before.
He had thought the information would be preferable to no information, but not everyone ticks the way the dolphin does.
Then he went home and called his dad and bawled and bawled. He could hear the helplessness in his father’s voice, how he wished he could be there but was instead stuck at the other end of a phone line and, bawling, grasped the fundamental helplessness of fathers.
He visited the girl daily, to bring the child breast milk his wife pumped.
He remembered the sky, the air, the shops he walked past on his way, the noise of the subway.
He bounced the child off the ceiling once or twice, tossing her in the air, which she liked. He and his wife nearly drowned the child giving her her first bath when she came home from the hospital, although when his wife tells the story it’s “he” and not “we”.
He remembers how, when he would walk home from the grocery store with his daughter, she would stop at each cigarette butt in the gutter, and pick it up.
He remembers how fearlessly she climbed to the top of the slide in the playground, in her tiny Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, and how he never said, “be careful,” just stood behind her as she climbed, to catch her if she fell (she never did), and then, at the proper moment, ran around to the other end of the slide to catch her when she slid down.
He remembers trying to raise her to be strong and fearless, after starting out so tiny.
He remembers worrying about brain damage and how she turned out not just average, but the best in her class at school.
He remembers worrying about her being sickly, and how she was a provincial rowing champion one year.
Outside the dolpin’s office now, the wind is blowing in the trees. It is a sound he is ambivalent about. Basically, he dislikes wind. But this sound is nice.
The dolphin decides he is proud of his daughter. He doesn’t know if he has the right to be proud of himself, father-wise. He managed the basics: he, finally, did not drown her while bathing her. He fed her. Whatever mistakes he made, she turned out okay.
But of her he is proud. She has done an incredible amount of things very well. He doesn’t know if she is aware of all the support she has received, from her mother, her teachers, other people (him?). Probably she is aware, she is a smart person. But even if she isn’t, she has to be proud of herself. Not only was she not brain-damaged, she went to a school for highly-gifted students. Not only did she learn to play a musical instrument, she played harp in an orchestra and in an Irish band.
Not only did she learn to drive, she crashed her car on a snowy road, emerged largely unscathed, and then broke her own nose by punching herself in the face when she slipped on the ice outside the hospital, where she was going to be checked for a concussion. (In other words, she is not immune from slapstick.)
She went to a harp festival in Edinburgh when she was 13, by herself. She lived in France for a semester when she was, what, 15? And he had to bring her her harp so she could play a concert. She studied international law in Oslo for a semester. Now she might be going to Canberra next.
Last week she got her first university degree, in Anthropology. But, being her, not only did she do that, she’s getting an article published.
The dolphin decides it’s appropriate to be proud of her.
But the dolphin also realizes that pride is not an end in itself.
The dolphin hopes she’s happy.
The dolphin, that’s all he wants.
The dolphin would give up all that pride in a second for her to be happy.
He wonders if his own father would have given up all his pride for the dolphin to be happy. He figures he would have, too.