You were still too little for the new bicycle I’d gotten you, but too big for the tricycle you still liked to ride, and so while the big bike stood unused in the driveway, you rode the tricycle around the cul-de-sac, knees banging on the handlebars, feet clumsily pedaling, happy to be too big for once for anything, laughing so goofily it made me laugh to see you laugh, which as I watched surprised me—the way the plane-less silence in the skies that week surprised us all. 9/11 had just become itself. A new and heady, un-ironic language you couldn’t speak without and still be heard had overnight become our lingua franca, an Esperanto we woke up knowing—as if what tumbled down with the towers were the civic Babels of our separate lives, as if we had been blown by the explosions backward to a pre-Babel, nearly Edenic understanding, speaking the same tongue inside the same body politic that flexed its outraged muscle through the words we spoke, no matter who we spoke them to. Our good neighbor Rob, the Vietnam vet, business school professor, church deacon, town council member, wandered over to where I stood. You were shouting, “Watch me, Daddy, watch me!” and as you pedaled by, he said, “Big boy like you shouldn’t ride a girl’s bike.” The barb of mockery was aimed at me, it seemed, not you. Yet you, not understanding what or why, you got it. Something wasn’t right—something I hadn’t told you about except perhaps in my too soft, understated, over-nuanced way, conveyed without explicitly conveying, reluctantly, in stifled anger and impatience, in signals flashing by too quick to notice even while they’re felt. You looked at him and then at me, and in the look I saw inchoate bafflement, trace elements of shame, first inklings of an aura of the law that through him, at that moment, had finally found you out. And as you pedaled off, you were just like us now, not smiling, not laughing, serious and dutiful: you too had a job to do, so you did it.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015