Her delight echoes on the walls of the plastic tube. Later she will refuse my help on the swings, pumping vehemently, independently, her lips puckered.
She reminds me of you, I think. The way you both run, feet kicking up like the fluke of a whale. You, holding my handlebars on the rusted bicycle as I wavered unsteadily down the swathe of black tar, your Nikes hitting the ground like low claps of rolling thunder.
You were leaving for college that year. The breakfast table was silent except for Dad rifling periodically through the newspaper, or the soft tinkling of silverware as Mom set the plates down in the sink. I had desperately craved this solitude, yet I soon discovered it was terrible. There was no sudden announcement of your newest accomplishment, this award you’d won in high school or that, or of you majoring in mechanical engineering although what you really wanted to do was become an artist. You knew how it would sound like — my daughter is going to intern at NASA — the collective nods of admiration that would come at Dad’s business functions, and not the pitying glances they would award you, if you really had joined Rachel and Shawna in creating an arts start-up. Months later, when I saw their artwork featured in The New York Times I didn’t have the heart to tell you, though I suppose you already knew.
When we reached the end of the street that summer day, I got off my bicycle but you stopped me. “I can’t anymore,” you said. “What do you mean,” I said. “If you’re tired, you can stop pushing me.”
It would be years until I realized what you meant. I wondered if you were relieved that I had dismissed you so easily, or desperate that I hadn’t. I wanted to help you, or maybe I didn’t, you had seemed so perfect at the time, so without the need of mortal help. Capable Carrie — that was the nickname our parents used.
As a child, on our family trips to Montauk, you would curl in the backseat of the van with me and sketch. Women whose limbs were ensconced within trees, birds who sliced through water, a child with eyes covered by a film of tears. How would I know that the worlds that lived in your mind, the characters and colors and gesticulations, had gone? That by the time you were thirty, still clinging to some half-baked dream, with children to take care of, that you could do nothing but imitate? Realism, hyper-realism, Picasso, cubism, the Blue Period — you regurgitated them as your own. You had nothing to give, no originality, none of the inventiveness you had always prided yourself on. You hid that lurking fear so well — the unfathomable possibility of never creating again — that the thought to ask never crossed my mind.
As I watched you enter the airport for college, about to ascend to some grand future, I could barely wave goodbye to you. At that time, I didn’t know we would slowly become strangers to one another. I did not know that my confidence — our confidence — of your greatness had superseded your existence. I did not know how deeply you longed for the years when it was enough to feel your hand moving over sketch paper, before years of decisions and identities, before our parents made choices for you, and the only thing you had to concentrate on was the clean stroke of the line, the possibility of capturing me in motion, the weightlessness I felt as you watched me crest the hill on that bicycle and disappear into the valley below.