GOODBYE, Mavitch's apartment. You look the same square, squeezed thing you did almost 25 years ago, the middle of three crates of rooms stacked on garages and tilting up a hillside, an unlikely and precarious place to live. Still a small child, I stood amongst the boxes of moving-in day and looked out the front window with my father and mother. Leaves were falling in the rain like doused stars nobody had ever noticed. Overcast had become downcast, and clouds of awkward gray bumped about and tried to hide in the shapes of earthly things, houses, trees, fences. The street below curved unhurriedly uphill, inviting feeble feet and seeming to reassure the befuddled that it led somewhere simple and beautiful.Skip to next paragraph
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I asked my mother what would she do if I got lost in the city's newness.
``Heaven forbid that should ever happen. But if it did, your father and I would search for you everywhere, even under toadstools, until we found you. Then we would bring you home and sit you down in a chair and just look at you, our precious boy.''
``Just look at me?''
My mother smiled and nodded, and I understood that only looking at someone you loved and did not lose, only looking and saying nothing took all your strength.
Less than a block away was a hill so steep that the houses on either side of the street running up it looked always on the point of crumbling between their slightly askew roofs and propped-up foundations, like those tiny sandwiches barely held together by toothpicks. They didn't, thank goodness, nor did they stoop under the weight of snow that seemed to fall in clumps, as if shoveled off rooftops even higher. Down this hill on his sled a boy could fly through the very chatters of windy teeth, and a friend at the top could wave a splendid goodbye, turn, and vanish into the snowfall and into the past, for nothing is closer than joy and memory.
Goodbye to Ravenna Park nearby, likewise unchanged. The roots of its trees, mostly oak, grip the ground like birds' claws, hinting that trees could fly if they wanted to, if not for the good they do sweet grass, if not for the charity of shade they give. The sky is almost always moving, like an ocean whose breakers are clouds, stormy gray or whimsical white, and whose beach is the air you breathe.
The park has an old tennis court with smudged lines and froggy-green surface, like something once lost underwater, where I taught myself to play the game. Sometimes, bringing three Woolworth's rackets, I would waylay my father and mother as they walked home hand in hand from the school where he taught. My father was a dreamer, and it was nothing to him to walk along with his beard tilted up toward the sky, a man of such wisdom he had to carry the excess of it in a bookbag slung over his shoulder. If it hadn't been for my mother finding the way, he might have stumbled on the hard world. Into their hands I would press rackets and beseech them to the court where, they on one side of the net, and I on the other, we would play a kind of triples. My father swung at the ball and missed, growing more absent-minded and gentle, as if the racket were somebody's trust, and he didn't want to make a weapon of it. My mother hit the ball not only over the net but over the fence around the court. Perhaps, in a sky where nothing earnest enough ever falls, it is still sailing. There are places where nothing is lost.
Goodbye to sunrises that woke me from deep sleep with the touch of their quiet, casting a willow-branch net of shadows on my wall and catching every bit of pink light that swam there. I met the day fearless as a fisherman.
Goodbye to sunsets that seemed to make themselves little and human just for me. My favorite was the red-faced one with the halo of tinted clouds over it, as if a celestial soul were embarrassed to be praised for more goodness than it truly possessed, and wanted nothing more than just to sink out of sight and be forgotten.
Goodbye to my father sitting up in bed at night with a book propped on his knees, sighing that people in the real world never came up even to the ankles of people in imagined ones, yet with pity in the corner of his eyes for those who had neither book nor bed, and even for the wind that seemed to sweep and sweep the shadows of the sky with its noisy broom.
Goodbye to my mother kneeling by her bed and saying her prayers as my father read his book, her hands clasped over her heart, her feet touching heels and looking serious as a wishbone. She prayed for my father, may he not lose sight of the practical in his pursuit of the ethereal. She prayed for her son, may he grow up to be good, but not too good for the world; a man too good for the world is no good to himself or others. And for herself, may she have the courage to be happy.
I imagined her prayers flying like robins, her favorite bird, straight up through the ceiling of Mavitch's apartment into the night. So intent were they that they didn't even take time to stop and pluck worms out of the stars. They flew all night to the very end of things, where the beginning has been waiting all along, like a ready-made bird's nest for them to land in and make a home.
Goodbye to the skyline that is now so different from then, with more and taller buildings, like thick eyebrows growing vertically, and goodbye to the hills and streets with more and faster people. Goodbye to the lovely gray eyes of the rain that widen, grow misty, and overflow, conferring a kind of equality on rich and poor, young and old. I was a child in this city so many years ago, and yet it seems like only yesterday.
That is the blessing of getting older. My memories stay new, stay close, and they won't let me feel my age. I shall be the last, the very last, to realize it.