He offered a firm hand for me to place my small one. Slowly, he helped me take small steps to the destination. The destination. Far away, away from him. Keep going, he said, don’t stop. It hurt. I wanted to stop. I wanted him to lift me up and away from the cold, hard ground. The rough concrete that scabbed my knees. He shook his head, no. I had to keep going. I fell from time to time. He hoisted me up and brushed off my already dirty tights. I hobbled a few steps, clumsy in my summer shoes, away from him. He cheered. I laughed. I did it.
The words shone at me. Unknown and almost mystical. Waiting to be discovered. The frustration hit me. I couldn’t read the words. I wanted to read them. The frustration was elevating. The letters pounded in my ears, loud and unfriendly. I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was like a volcano waiting to erupt inside of me. I threw down the book and screamed. Calm down, he said. You can do it, he told me. I sat down for yet another try. The words seemed less intimidating, like old friends. I saw them and understood them. I heard my voice clearly enunciating the sounds. I understood. He smiled, I knew you could, he whispered. He knew I could.
Whenever they said I looked like him, I stuck out my chest in pride. I look like Daddy, I shouted as I ran around the house. I sat on his lap. He examined the laughing face that so resembled his and frowned at the sweet and sticky purple juice stains that seemed to be permanently on my chin. His face lit up when I ran to my room to fetch the little composition book. The composition book in which I learned. He spent hours on end teaching me and I spent hours on end learning. He taught me reading and math and everything else. I giggled when he drew a huge smiley face over my calculations. Good job, he said and tousled my hair.
I sat on the porch, the porch that always seemed to have some random object lying lazily around on it. That day it was a worn excerpt from the business section of the Sunday paper. I sat, staring at the laces of my new pink sneakers. The laces didn’t make the perfect bow that my cousin’s laces made. They came together in ugly knots like tangled hair that hadn’t been combed for weeks. The screen door creaked open. I looked behind me. He was there. His hands reached down, and patiently undid the knots. He showed me how to make the beautiful bow with my laces. I jumped up, ecstatic. I made the bow, I shouted.
Years went by. Summers went by. I grew out of the summer shoes. I had grown up. I had grown up under his shadow. The shadow that guided my every step. He leaned against the periwinkle stairs and laughed. I walked by myself now, I didn’t need that firm hand. But under his laughter I could see the tears. They flowed from the maple eyes that wished. That wished I needed his firm hands again. That wished I was a baby again.