Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Smell the future

"There is a park bench on my route home from work to the train. Sheltered by trees but on the main thoroughfare.

One evening he was there. I didn't know he'd be there but for some time I'd been expecting to see him sitting there, if that makes any sense.

He sat just off center of the bench, anchored by the necessary detritus of parenthood and holding fast to the helium filled balloon that is his daughter.

I saw them from about ten steps away. Too close to turn away. He cradled her with both muscled arms and she slept the sleep of the just. So I didn't turn away.

I didn't check my stride but walked over, pocketed my keys and held out my arms for the tow-headed toddler. He easily gave her over and I sat within the circle of his protective embrace. Her palm sized skull rested just below my collarbone while on the other side her legs dangled over my arm, almost gangly for someone not yet two years old.

He didn't know better than to talk. He had, however, learned his lesson on the priority of a child so he spoke of nothing important. An article he'd read, a game he'd seen, a man he'd spoken to. I can't really tell you what. His voice was far away. My head was full to the brim with her smell.

She smelled good and clean. She smelled of fresh air and clean diapers and sweet melon. She smelled of the future. T-ball, soccer practice, birthday cake, Junior High dances, graduation, the road less traveled. I couldn't breathe it in deeply enough. You can't take it in all at once. And, like food, you digest it and are hungry again too soon.

I nodded once to keep him talking, discouraging a direct question. Then I closed my eyes and truly felt her. That smooth skin, divots around her chubby knees, the exact weight of her head, her tiny fingers grasping my t-shirt convulsively. Her sighing breath made condensation in my clavicle and her feathery hair tickled my shoulder.

I gathered her marginally closer and thought, "I love you." Strong, hard, desperate thoughts sent on mission impossible.

After short minutes she stirred. I jiggled her gently, hoping she wouldn't wake. If she did and saw me it wouldn't be her own mirrored face she would look into. She doesn't know me, has no reason to trust me. Her terror would be justified. Because she isn't mine. By blood or document or hours spent - so far as she knows I am nothing to her.

I do love her, though, and I wouldn't wish her even the moment of fear before I could spill her into her father's clutches.

Once she settled again I stood and carefully arranged her on his lap. He'd run out of words or was concentrating on her again. After I kissed her delectable cheeks and sent my love on another fool's errand I stood and his look was expectant. I might have kissed him too, at least on the forehead, but I was too far away by the time I let her go.

I turned and headed to the train. I wanted to cry. I wanted buckets of tears to soak her scent out of my jacket. And it would have felt good. Dramatic and final and cathartic. But it wouldn't have been real.

When I held her I only borrowed her from her parents. I borrowed her father as much from my memories as from his wife - her mother. It wasn't my life. And when I stepped in like that I was only part. Partly me, partly living. Now, here, walking home I am whole. And while I love her she's not mine to keep or teach or hold and that's OK."

1 comment:

  1. You might be getting closer since you are able to recognize happiness when you see it. It sends most of us flewing in the other direction!
    It'll come...