In the parking lot of the supermarket , I lean down a little
and hold out my hand. It’s an open hand, dangling there like some last lonesome
autumn leaf clinging to the dream.
I ball it up a couple times, flick it back open.
That’s universal language, of course.
Take my hand.
Violet is 4 going on 5 now, and that seems to be the perfect
holding hands age, at least as far as I can tell. She doesn’t need to look up
at me or even think about my offer much. She knows the drill. In the parking
lots we hold hands. Boom. End of story.
But, in all honesty, between you and me, if I manage to yank
her out of the way of a teenager backing out of a parking spot while he’s
texting his buddy, that’s awesome and all, but this whole hand-holding thing
isn’t really a big safety thing with me.
I just want to hold her hand, you know. And she’s getting a
little older, growing up a little more every 45 minutes, or so it
seems. And I’m scared to death, man, of the days sneaking up on me and
crouching just below the horizon, staring at me from the far edge of the lot
there, over by the distant dumpsters, whispering to each other in the hushed
tones of ultra-competent assassins.
She isn’t always going to grab my hand every time I offer it
to her, is she?
She does it now, but c’mon, it’s all she’s ever known. I can
feel those other days, those future days watching me, watching us, closely, and I know that before too long she is going
to pretend like she doesn’t see her daddy’s hand there gasping like some
dumbass goldfish flipped out of the bowl.
You will never have a better opportunity in this lifetime to hold the hand of someone you love.
I know it’s a whole thing. I know I’m just the latest in a
long line of sensitive modern dads who wax poetically/pathetically about every
little crossroads and line in the sand that we end up crossing with our kids. Still,
what can I do? All the proverbial crap, I eat it up, buddy, and I hurl it back
into the world dripping down off of a lot of the words I write about these kids
I don’t care. It’s all I know.
You wanna know something? My dad, he never held my hand at
all that I can remember. Not once. Not one time. By the time I was 9 or 10, he
was MIA, but over the course of a solid decade of childhood, he never reached
down and flipped his hand open even a single time. Trust me, I would remember
it if he had.
Oh well. I guess I am making up for the thing I missed out
on or something, but it doesn’t change the things I have learned. It doesn’t
change the fact that I’ve discovered on my own that when you first let a 2- or
3-year-old kid out of the shopping cart for stretches at a clip, they are going
to boogie, and if you offer them your hand in some kind of sad desperate plea
to keep them close and out from under the wheels of somebody else’s cart, or from
knocking down an entire mountainous display of pineapples, they are going to
look at you with "pffffft" in their eyes.
But later on, when they’re 4 or 5, there is a window. And
dads like me, we pounce. The connections have been made inside their chests and
new wiring gets flipped on, and their hearts start glowing with a bit of
understanding and seriously genuine love and affection, and you will never have
a better opportunity in this lifetime to hold the hand of someone you love.
At least, that’s how it’s been with my Violet. And me.
So, I’m trying to jam in as many hand-holdings as I can
possibly jam in. In parking lots, down the halls of the preschool; hell, I even
try my moves on the way down the 6 a.m. steps to breakfast, slowly letting my
fingers spread wide behind me as I hit the first couple stairs out in front of
Day in/day out, my breath always catches in my chest, too. I
don’t care if you don’t believe me, because it does and I know it does.