Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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What was astonishing
was that after a summer of running around the yard
and dragging our rubber dinghy a mile to the lake and rowing
and doing backflips off the dinghy and bicycling around the lake
and reading sometimes for long stretches under the big oak
on the other side of the driveway and running even more —
at least once under the near-orgasmic energy of a thunderstorm about to burst —
suddenly we had to sit still for a whole day at school,
and doing so was nearly impossible. By lunchtime sitting hurt.
And yet we had to come right back in after lunch, after just minutes
outside at recess, and sit for lessons until the school day ended.
What was astonishing, too, was that our animal bodies,
which the summer had so nurtured — our muscled legs, tanned arms
and faces, a strength and tenacity we hardly knew in ourselves —
retracted so quickly into the other body, the former one,
there before school let out last spring. By mid-September it was easy
to sit all day and the tan faded and the legs no longer cried in pain
to be let loose and the mind was everything, everything —
we were studying Asia and conjugating verbs in French and Johnny Tremain
was the required novel — and still I took long stretches
in the late afternoon on the chaise under the oak to read what I wanted.
But the winds were gathering and the long stretches
soon required long pants and socks and shoes and a sweater
and what was astonishing was that the oak and the wind and I
were there, together, living in time, and in ways impossible to grasp
the time of my birth was growing dimmer and dimmer
and the time of my death, which the heart attack last year all but claimed —
astonishing! — was growing closer and closer. But what did I know?
Just that this moment was a piece of today, and I’d close the book,
pop up off the chaise, race inside, rush upstairs,
tear down the hall then nearly leap downstairs for supper, stopping only
for a quick back somersault off the living-room couch
on the way to the kitchen, because I could, because it was fun,
because there was always just that little bit of extra physical energy,
something still lingering from summer even as the darker days
of fall — that astonishing melancholy of time itself — set in.