His Steps. Her Tears.Thomas Beller
I was on the phone, pacing on the street, when I turned around and saw the two of them walking hand in hand. Sun streaming in patches of brightness and shade through the trees. It was a long shot. I was two blocks away, a camera couldn’t really capture that feeling of distance and the two figures, one very tall and reaching down the other very small but somehow very erect, arm straight up to hold the hand that reached down, and walking, strolling up the street. I didn’t quite register what I was seeing at first.
His posture was quite erect. He was taking a walk. The back of the head of a baby or young kid, it’s so evocative. From almost two blocks away I could sense the smile on his face, the excitement ripping through him, the eagerness of his step, which had a bit of that wobbling, drunken unsteadiness but was otherwise rather assured. And I shouted. I actually shouted Oh My God out loud because it was so beautiful. Elizabeth in a white dress and him in light colored pants and a gray T shirt. His pale little head. I couldn’t see, from that distance, that he was wearing little blue shoes. I just saw the pair of them walking through the shadow and light of the bright day. So I rushed up and took a picture. It’s nice but what was so remarkable about the moment was that they were so far away, two tiny figures hand in hand.
And I thought of the tears of Evangeline–just a week ago she and I had been playing with him in the morning and he had been standing up on two bow legs, his feet working frantically to stabilize the body, Evangeline sitting a few feet away from him on the floor with arms outstretched going “Come here! Come here!” The night before he had taken his first steps. He had been standing, but he had put one step together with another and then another. We were trying to get him to do it again.
That morning with Evangeline we got him to take two steps. Or so I thought. When we went upstairs to wake Elizabeth Evangeline reported that he had been walking.
“That’s an exaggeration,” I said. “He took two steps.”
Evangeline burst out into tears. It was a surprise. She was really upset. It took a long time to calm her.
An hour or two after she had been dropped off at school Elizabeth called. “He just walked across the room.”
After I was done saying, “WOW,” and things like that I quieted and said, “Maybe he really did walk this morning and I didn’t see it?”
We agreed that probably was what happened. I thought about Evangeline’s tears. What a complicated set of feelings they must have represented. Or maybe it was simple: she had told the truth and been contradicted. There was some weird hardness in my voice, a certainty–I wasn’t just contradicting her, I was calling her a liar, and also that hardness was an indication that my version of truth had been set in stone. Her word against her father’s. Her participation, witness, to the remarkable event washed away.
And maybe, somehow, she was feeling how unfair it was that her moment of pure generosity, as she worked to entice him across the room with such happiness, when the ever present note of exasperation in the older sister at the sheer existence of the younger brother was as absent as clouds from a perfectly blue sky, had been erased, as though it never happened.
“I think you should go to school and apologize,” Elizabeth said.
Writing those words–how incredible and over the top it sounds! Interrupt my daughter’s school day to apologize for a tiny infraction amidst a hectic morning?
But I agreed immediately. It’s not trouble to get over there, and I wanted to rectify my mistake. Could I? Had I really made one? It didn’t matter. I rushed into the room filled with voices and little people doing things with scissors, crayons, blocks. One of her friends told her of my presence before she saw me.
She turned around, her face registering shock and happiness, and against those feelings an almost adolescent attempt to suppress them, and before she said a word I was upon her, crouched down with my arms spread, saying, “You were right!”
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