Em falls down all the time. I think of her as clumsy, but I never use that word. She’s on the road, roller blades, and hits a curb. This time, she falls on the grass, and she’s okay, but there are scratches all over her legs and arms from other tumbles.
“I fell,” she says, as I help her up.
“I saw. It was a good fall.”
“Why do I fall all the time?”
It’s not something I do. I don’t remember being this way as a kid. And I don’t know how to answer her, so I put her back on the road and walk along with her, on the lookout for cars.
“She’ll get better,” my neighbor across the street tells me. I didn’t even bring it up, all this falling, but Jen is watching Em and is assessing the problem. She’s a doctor. Maybe it’s just what doctors do.
“When she grows up, you mean?” I ask her, like a fool. Em is five. She’s five-years-old. And she’s smarter than me, in most every way I can think of. Not as experienced, not as wordly, but still smarter. These aren’t kids. They’re little people. Little people who grow up into big ones.
“You could go see someone, a physical therapist, who can work with her coordination,” says Jen. She’s smiling the whole time, like she’s giving me a gift. “I know someone.”
Em gets ahead of me, picks up speed. I pretend that I have to run to keep up with her, so that I can leave Jen behind. I leave Jen and her ‘someone’ back there. It feels good to run. To just think about movement.
Ahead, Em hits a crack in the road, and wobbles. One foot comes off the ground and turns. She tips forward, like she’s diving into a pool, and her hands go out. When she hits the ground, she skids for a couple of feet before coming to a stop.
I run. Em is crying. It’s a relentless sobbing, practiced so many times. Her body knows exactly how to respond to this, she’s done it so many times. Em falls a lot. And I, I know how to respond. Sitting cross-legged on the pavement, watching out for cars, putting my hand on her back. When she’s ready, she stands up. There’s blood on her palms and her knees. One drip on her left leg has reached her socks, it’s that bad. Tears are free-flowing.
I don’t remember being like this. “Want to go back in?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, through sobs.
“Want to take off the roller blades, and walk?”
She looks up. “Why?”
Through the tears, she’s staring at me. Smart little kid, I think.
Then she puts her hand in mine so that I can draw her along the road, back to the house. It’s a little hand. Em might fall a lot, but this is something she hardly ever does, hold my hand. She’s got a grip, tightening and loosening as she feels herself losing her balance. It’s the type of grip that won’t let her fall again. Not even close. The house is getting closer.
Down the road, Jen is watching. For whatever reason, she waves.