Her feet, clad in red leather sandals. Rubber soles. They’re grimy. They’re scuffed — speckled with wet, vagrant loam. They’re clinging to a rung — a little weight one way and she tumbles, a little weight the other and there she goes.
Up, up, up.
She’s almost there. I can see her hands. Gripping. Straining. She reaches for a rung high above her head. It’s red. Chipped paint. A narrow chute. Thin metal rungs. She slips. She grabs ahold. She tries again.
This is what she does. She tries again. This is what she knows. She can’t draw. She can barely talk. She can’t shape bronze or paint or slowly chip at marble. That will come. One day. She’ll find a man she loves. Or a woman. She’ll find a sport she likes, or a hobby she thinks would make a perfect job. She’ll find her thing. She’ll find her purpose.
Until then, she just goes.
Up, up, up.
Her feet, moving. Her hands, clinging. She’s almost there. She has never done this before. By herself.
“Put a foot here,” I tell her, pointing. “OK, now grab here.”
I’m right behind her, pointing. Pointing and watching and cheering. This is what I do. I cheer. I try not to touch her back. I try not to right her. I try not to hover.
“Good job,” I tell her.
She looks down. She looks back. She wavers.
“You can do it,” I cheer, “Keep going.” If only I have pom poms.
I can see her fingers, white around the knuckles. I can see her legs, straining.
“Just two more,” I tell her. “Here. Grab here.”
She reaches. She slips. Her red leather sandals catch a rung and teeter, dangling on the precipice of triumph or pain. They settle for pain.
Her chin comes down hard. She bites her lip. There’s a little blood and I catch her as she falls.
“It’s OK,” I tell her, “It’s OK. You’ll be OK.”
She cries a little. She refuses a hug. She glares at the ladder. She wipes her lips with the back of her hand, a burly swipe that makes her appear older than she really is and she tries again. She gets this from her mother, I know it. I know it.
She reaches for the ladder. Her knuckles go white again. Her feet grope for a hold. They slip off the rung and she lands with a thud. On her feet. And yet she tries again. This is what she does. She looks up and glares again and I can tell she doesn’t need encouragement, she doesn’t need help. She can do it and somehow she knows it.
I’m behind her, watching, hoping, wondering where my little girl went. Each rung, each step, each precarious, loose, tired wet grip — and we’re both dangling on a precipice again. A little weight one way and she tumbles. Maybe bleeds a little. Cries. I want to help. A little weight the other and she’s done it. She’s made it. By herself.
I wonder if it will always be like this – watching, cheering, fighting the urge to step in and fix it and right things if that foot slips or that distant love falters, that beloved hobby doesn’t pay the bills or if that sense of purpose never arrives. One day, maybe in the distant future, we’ll master this nascent relationship — figure it all out — though I suspect like most people we never will. So I’ll keep cheering, and she’ll keep going, hopefully knowing there’s an imaginary pair of pom poms always waving just for her. As she keeps trying, keeps climbing.
Up, up, up.