My life is an endless routine. Get up, dodge life-threatening situations, go to bed, repeat. But someone’s got to change the lights on the freeway and because I was destined for my job since birth, I have no choice but to get up every night, remain as invisible as possible, and daringly change tiny lights up and down the
My father was a Light Changer; his father was a Light Changer, and his father was a, well, his father was an accountant. But ever since my father broke his arms changing a light one night at three in the morning, he’s had high hopes for me, his one and only son.
For most of my life, I never knew what my father did. Something electrical, my mother would always tell me. And I left it at that. But when my father came home broken and unable to work, he revealed to me that he was a Light Changer.
“No one is to know we exist,” he said to me, with his brow furrowed. He did a lot of pointing and gesturing that day (with his arms in casts), explaining to me the importance of light changing, the privileges we had, and the extreme danger it was. Danger. For a kid who considered paper airplane making dangerous (have you ever had a paper cut?), this didn’t sound good. But my father went on. “Cars like bullets speed by your ear! Oh boy, do I remember when…” And on. And on. He told me story after story about skidding motorcyclists who barely missed him and rolling tires that almost broke all of the lights in his bag.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d rather eat knives than take this job. But I felt like I had disappointed my father my entire life—not being the typical outgoing, soccer playing, belch making son he had always wanted. No. I had been the rock collecting, magazine reading, mama’s boy my mother had wished and hoped for. Or that’s what I had thought, anyway. So it was either prolong disappointment or this.
When I was ready to go out for my first night of Light Changing–my father having crammed ten years of practice into one days worth of lecturing down my throat—my mom stopped me at the door.
“I’m so proud of you, Simon. You didn’t have to do this, you know. But it makes your father so pleased.”
“Thanks, mom,” I said with a sigh. I was feeling nervous and wanted to get the night’s activities over with. And just before I slipped out, my mom handed me a brown sack, my dinner for the evening, and a thermos, which was my invisibility brew (how else would we remain invisible on the freeway?).
Two hours, three dodged cars, and one near tire burn on my foot later, I leaned against the side of the road and pulled out a large piece of chicken, an apple, and a slice of cheese. I was famished. I devoured everything like it was my last meal. I wasn’t ready to get back out there, so I stretched out, leaned down on the brown bag and was ready to catch a quick nap when I felt something against my head. Something else was inside my dinner sack.
Reaching in, I discovered a small black box. I opened it. There inside was a small picture of my father and me and a folded up piece of paper. It was a letter. Slowly, I pulled back the paper and began to read.
“Dear Father. I’m writing to inform you that Simon has won his fourth science award! He worked months on this one and through toil and sweat, he came out victorious—again. He seemed pleased when he saw me in the crowd and even more pleased when I rewarded him with several of the rocks you sent me to give to him. The light in his eyes and the curl on his mouth almost brought tears to my eyes. My little son. How proud of him am I.”
It was signed by my father and dated ten years ago. Proud? Of me? I double checked the letter, making sure Simon was indeed me. Sure enough, it was. I slouched against the wall and watched the vehicles whiz by. I suddenly forgot where I was. A breeze from the cars that had been hitting me all night like a great annoyance suddenly felt tropical and calming. My dad. Proud of me. It had nothing to do with Light Changing or sports or anything else I only did to please my dad. It had to do with me.
I got up from where I was sitting and finished changing the lights in half the time it took me to change the first batch. I was gliding along those yellow freeway lines like a dancer and this time, I enjoyed it. Because this time it was done out of love for my dad and not obligation. This time, I chose to do it. I think that would make him proud, too.