She used to say she hoped I’d never grow up. I think she wanted me to be helpless, to help justify her need to be needed. But I had to grow in order to become something better. I don’t think she understood this. She wanted me locked in a place when summer days stretched out interminably; when nights were warm enough to sleep naked under crisp linen sheets; when water straight from the end of a hose was cool enough to take the edge off a hot day.
I told her time and again these days still existed although no longer with the same unbridled simplicity. Getting older only seemed to complicate everything. She would sigh deeply, pat my hand and tell me she knew I was only trying to comfort her, to appease her whimsys. She would say she forgave me but would never forget.
I struggled to remember anything I’d done that would require her forgiveness. Each time I asked what she meant, she would go off in gales of laughter and say “Oh, there is still hope for you yet, boy. Keep at it and you might never grow up.”
But I wanted to grow. I wanted to be daddy-tall and uncle-strong. I wanted to play rough with the big boys and not cry when I got hurt. She knew better, though. She would run them off with a promise of sweet lemonade and cold apple pie while I would hang off the back fence and watch them as they went on their way. Courage found me at these times, big-voiced and full of myself.
“Get away from here,” I’d say. “Just wait until I tell her,” I’d threaten. If any turned, I’d duck behind the fence, heart thumpingly scared they’d come back to have at me. She would stand at the kitchen window, watching but not interfering.
Many afternoon naps later, when the steps became shorter and the doors narrower, I would vault the fence and run with those wild boys. She’d call and call after me but my ears were only tuned in to the frequencies of boy talk. It would be years before I was able to hear her again.