“One day a long time ago,” I tell my granddaughter, “when my father was only two years old, he wandered away from his house and yard, he went right down the sidewalk and he walked for a long while until he was lost and he didn’t know how to get home, so he began to cry. A policeman saw him and said, ‘I’m a policeman and I can help you,’ and he took my dad to the police station. He was only two, and he didn’t know any English, only Swedish, so he didn’t know what the policemen were saying to him and they didn’t understand him either. But it was a very small town where everyone knew everybody else, so they figured it out and called my dad’s father. And it was his two-year-old son that he thought was safely at home. When he got to the police station, guess where my father was—he was sitting on the very high counter in the front and eating an ice-cream! And that’s how the police helped my dad when he was two years old and he was lost.”
This is the first time I’ve told my four-year-old granddaughter this story, or any story, about my dad. “Did this really happen?” she asks.
“Yes, it’s a true story and it happened almost one hundred years ago.”
I have no explanation for the tears that fill my eyes. They baffle me.
The little blackbird catches my eye, hurtling purposefully toward the slender tip of a spiky desert agave to my left. He’s going to smash into the side of the building, I think, but he snags the top of the succulent—an arrow landing squarely on target—and swings around to perch on his fragile peak. Youth.
My grinding joints have slowed my walk enough to notice this bird’s acrobatics. I imagine flight, how it feels to ride the updrafts from the ocean, across the wildlife sanctuary, to where our high-rise condos make an aerial playground for winged creatures. I sit with the soaring sensation for a while.
I recall split-second agility with a whiff of nostalgia. Crouching, lifting, skipping, running, taking the stairs two at a time, not stopping to catch my breath, loaded with bags and books and babies.
Sadness. No more skidding to perch atop highest branches. Burdened by stairways, tethered to constant mental reminders. Turn off the stove. The keys are in my hand. Stay present. Feed the cat. I remind myself to clearly know what I feel. And I wonder, as I slow down to let my husband catch up, what it means to accommodate another person’s decline. To walk in their shoes? What does it mean to be self-aware? Sadness.
It comes to me that I didn’t really want to know my father. I was too frightened, even as I searched for his humanity, when I tried to draw him out in his last days. I wanted him to see me, to see the actual me, not the child he manipulated. I couldn’t see him through my terror.
No wonder flight has been second nature until now, smashing into the side of the building.