Tonight, as the sun set and the light waned and the sky leaked orange and gold all over the lake and the whole world shone, Leo and I walked back from his Tae Kwan Do class. Or I walked. Leo rode his scooter. It was a beautiful evening – warm and breezy and lousy with birds. Dry leave skittered across the park as the shadows deepened and darkness spread around us. Leo zoomed ahead, a brilliant flash of white in his uniform, his brand-new orange belt (and oh! he is so proud!) glowing in the growing dim.
“Be careful,” I called.
“I’m always careful,” he called back through the swirl of leaves.
That was a lie, of course.
And we talked about the gathering birds, and their plans for migration and southern skies. And we talked about other animals that migrate – whales specifically.
“I would like my best friend to be a whale,” Leo said.
I told him that sounded like a fine idea.
“I would like my best friend to be a whale AND I would like to be able to speak Whale.”
I told him that it probably wouldn’t be too hard to learn how to speak Whale, provided he studied very hard and practiced every day.
“I would like my best friend to be a whale AND I would like to be able to speak Whale AND I would like my whale best friend to be able to fly.”
“A flying whale?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “A flying whale IN SPACE.”
“A flying whale in space?”
“Yes. That I can talk to.”
“That’s a tall order,” I said.
He shrugged. “When things are hard, you just have to work harder,” he said. Then he whizzed away, his uniform glowing in the dark.
And I thought about this. There is a purity – a marvelous purity -in the association of action and consequence that little kids possess. For them, cause and effect are simple, straightforward and unambiguous. I do a thing, and it bears a result; end of story. When I do a good thing, the result is good. When I do a bad thing the result is bad. When I work very hard at something, the result is something very cool that not many people achieve.
Like a flying whale best friend in space, for example.
And I’d like to tell him the world works that way. I wanted him to live in that kind of a world. Hell, I wanted to live in that kind of a world. I wanted to tell him that if he worked very hard he really will have a flying whale best friend in space. I WANT that to be true.
“Be careful,” I called as he hit the turn and flew down the hill, the autumn-bright trees crowding their limbs together, making it hard to see. “Be careful, honey!”
Because he thinks that careful people can’t get hurt. Because he believes in the power of his own body.
And I didn’t see him fall right away. It happened fast, and it was dark. I called out. I reminded him that there are bumps and ridges in the path. I told him that the world was dark and the road was dark and that things will trip us up that we will never see and that even careful people get hurt sometimes.
He didn’t listen.
And he fell.
A flash of white against the dark torsos of the slim trees.
A glowing riot of arms and legs, pinwheeling against the sky.
And the boy flew, feet over kettle, over his scooter and onto the ground.
And oh! My baby!
And oh! Your arms!
And oh! Your legs!
And oh! Your neck!
And oh! my baby, my baby, my baby!
He made no sound.
“LEO!” I shouted. And ran over the dry, dry leaves.
Leo leaped to his feet. He looked at me. His crooked teeth flashed in the dark – a disembodied grin.
He picked up his scooter and ran back up the hill. “I’m TOTALLY doing that again!”