|Me and my As|
He runs ahead of me, kicking up a dusting of the few inches of fresh fallen snow. He’s wearing a hand me down pair of tennis shoes. He said he doesn’t have any boots that fit, honestly I’m not sure he does and I feel a vague sense of guilt. We are walking along the rock ledges that line the river in town — his brother and dad and I. The sun is shining, so we came hiking.
He tries, no less than three times, to make a walking stick out of branches he picks up on the side of the path, all the while running, shuffling his feet in the snow creating a small white dust up under his feet, just like Pig Pen. Twice the branches he picked up were bigger than he is. No mind, he whittled and twisted and molded the sticks as he runs ahead and then doubles back to touch us.
He yells, “Momma come look at this ice! It’s water seeping right from the ground through the rocks! Isn’t it cool? You gotta touch it!” It looks like the blown glass we saw at Greenfield Village when he was in fifth grade.
“Yep, it’s super cool, bubby” I answer, the ice feels gritty and smooth — nature’s concoction on water and sandy dirt frozen in the winter scape. I smile as he moves on from the ice glass, measuring up the rock ledges and boulders for climbing. “Not climbing rocks today, As. Too icy.”
“Seriously? I’m an expert rock climber. I’ll be fine!” he complains back.
I look at him and smile. “Nope.” He runs off, hop scotching over a break in the path where stepping stones have been placed to help traverse a small, ground water creek. He keeps running, jumping up and touching the rocks and trees and snow and ice with his hands. Anything that peaks his interest, he investigates. He is as happy as he gets, running down a snowy path with his brother and dad and me.
He holds my hand sometimes, his fingers warm in my chilly ones. Sometimes he links our arms, elbow to elbow. Always he is talking. Telling me stories. His stories. He gives up walking beside me, the path doesn’t have much forgiveness for two people, one of us is going to slide in the drink I tell him. He grins with his deep dimples, “I would never let you fall in the river momma. I’d dive in ahead of you before I let that happen.” He loves me. More than he loves anybody, today. I close my eyes and bask in his sweet love, his innocent play.
He runs ahead again. This time his sneakers are no match for February and he falls, sliding a bit on the ice hidden under the snow. “Ahhh! I took a spill!” He yells. He jumps up, dusts off his sweat pants and begins to run again. No fear. No worry that another spill is coming. Just happy.
He marvels at the damn and the speed of the water over the river. He and his brother take turns spitting over the edge, watching as a part of them spins down the gullet and slips away. He stares up at the train trestle that spans the width of the dark, frigid water. A few ducks swim in the swirls of the rapids, “They must be freezing!” he says. He holds branches to the side to give me safe passage — sometimes he misses and the branches snap back spraying snow and frosty ice in my face. Sorry, momma, he says with a sheepish smile. He reaches back to hold my hand as we climb up a steep, snowy hill. He rarely stops running.
He is 12. Not a teenager like his big brothers. He isn’t weighted down by worry. He has his moments, but he still believes I can fix anything. He trusts me, he trusts the world. He finds innocence and joy in the smallest things. He sits on the cusp of the challenges of young adulthood and the innocence of childhood. I want to soak him in, remember the creases beside his eyes as he smiles and the depth of his dimples in his tender cheeks, red from the running and the cold and the snow. I think to myself, remember this, remember his joy, soak in every detail.
But instead, I just feel. I let his joy surround me. I let his play make me laugh. I let his sloppy shoes and ripped sweat pants make me sigh. I let go of worrying he will fall and slide right down into the river and slip away under the ice. I feel his warm hand in mine. Instead of trying to preserve the moment, I live it. And in return I find that I remember more details about our walk than I ever could have if I had been working at chiseling a blueprint to the memory in my mind. What a gift he is. I hope as he grows he can feel this 12 year old inside his soul. I hope he takes him out to run along a snowy trail and picks up a walking stick. I hope he runs his hands across glass ice and spits into the river, watching a piece of himself spin off into the rush. I hope he continues to find joy.