It’s not too often these days that I find myself unable to sleep; last week though was a different story. I found myself walking along a boulevard, great big Elm trees lined one side of the walk and cars, oddly silent, drove by on the street on my other side. It seemed to be a nice afternoon with the sun high above the trees and a slight breeze meandering its way through the neighborhood. I could hear birds in the background and there seemed to be no one else around except me, and that’s when I noticed a small, frail hand with delicate little fingers wrapped around mine as I walked. I looked down and saw one of my daughters; she smiled a big crooked smile up at me. Her fat little cheeks glistened in the sun and her long brown hair flowed down around her face and fell over her shoulders like smooth, rich chocolate.
I don’t know where we were going, but I could hear her voice, it was sweet and velvety like pure whole milk. I couldn’t understand what she was saying but I could hear her tone and it was pleasant. As we strolled along she would periodically adjust her grip within mine, nothing feels as safe and warm and wonderful as the delicate grip of a daughter’ hand, when I looked down at her hand again it was a little bit different, her nails were painted, messily and her fingers stuck out from my big hands now. I looked at her again and she’d gotten slightly taller.
In fact the further we walked the taller and older she became, her face changed from a look of wonder and unabated excitement to investigative and yearning. Her voice grew a little deeper and more experienced, her grip a little more relaxed. So I tightened mine just a bit.
We walked on, we laughed, then the sun disappeared and the wind swirled around us and the air grew colder and she looked at me and she was scared, I held her hands and then held her, she cried and I wiped her tears away with my aging fingers. The darkness faded and so we began walking once more, the wind died down and the sun seemed to be closer to the horizon, the light around us was more amber than before and my daughters hand slipped in mine so I held on a little tighter. We talked some more, laughed some more and she grew taller yet, the look on her face now experienced and aware.
I began to get tired suddenly, her pace was now quicker than mine and I had to lengthen mine to keep up with her, she turned and walked backwards for a moment as she looked deep into my eyes and then flipped back around and I grabbed her hand again and held on. There was an air of sadness now in spite of our smiles. There was also a feeling of impending change, I didn’t enjoy the feeling, it scared me and I worried. When I fell behind she stopped an waited for me to catch up and took my hand this time, I tried to hold on even tighter but my grip was failing, suddenly as I tried desperately to move my feet I found myself sort of stuck, she stopped and looked over her shoulder at me, she smiled a huge crooked smile at me and then her brow relaxed and her bottom lip became pursed.
She stepped back to me and took my hands once again, in both of hers, they were soft, and no longer disappeared inside mine. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but she looked a little sad, I felt desperate to understand what was happening as she pulled away. I gripped tightly around her hands, I tried to hold on but she kept pulling, I didn’t get it, why was she still pulling, I tried to tell her that I just can’t hold on and she smiled and her fingers slipped away. She stood for a moment a few feet in front of me and blew me a kiss. Then she turned and waved as she walked on.
I yelled at my feet to move, I struggled like a fish against the current and fought against my own failure to keep her in sight but she turned the corner and I lost her. When I turned to she was gone, I could smell her fragrance but I couldn’t see her. I cried and felt completely lost, I looked behind me but all I could see were places we had been together and it took my breath away. I turned in circles and looked inside my hands but they were empty.
I think Shel Silverstein was wrong, the sidewalk never really ends, and it doesn’t continue for all of us, it just changes. I found myself on an unfamiliar sidewalk now, alone, trying to catch my breath and then suddenly I found myself lying on my back watching the ceiling fan above me. I stumbled out of bed and rinsed my face off and sat on the couch in the dark. I knew when she left for college that I would be sad. She is a grown woman now and she will have many sidewalks to discover on her own, and she needs my hand no longer. There was a time when I thought that walk may never end, and now I wish it hadn’t.