“Where’s Your Baby?”

As I charged up the last stretch of hill with a final burst of speed, I heard a shout of excitement from the playground at the end of the trail. A little boy, his dark face just visible above the stone wall, had spotted me. He must have been staring out into the landscape of cacti and junipers and sand, and been startled to see a human being—and one running, at that. I heard more happy shouts, and as I rounded the bend I saw four little heads flying along within the confines of the wall. The boy had an older sister, her hair in beaded braids that swung wildly as she ran. When I did a cooldown lap of the last little stretch, the children tracked me, and then they met me as I entered the parking lot. In an SUV parked nearby, I could see a young Hispanic woman with long hair and glasses, nursing a small baby in the back seat. Two of the kids looked like they were hers, and I wondered if the two black children were stepchildren in a blended family or if they were friends, perhaps out-of-town guests. In other words, what’s their story?

The boy who’d started the excitement of running with me was curious about me, too. I guessed him to be five at most, a handsome little guy with fine features and a runny nose. He asked me how far I ran and how often. He asked where I lived, and then followed up with questions that made me think he didn’t understand age yet.

“Where’s your mommy and daddy?”

“They passed away a long time ago.”

“Why did they pass away?”

I didn’t feel like telling a child at play about my parents’ end-of-life health problems, so I simply said, “They were very old.”

“My mommy’s still alive.”

“Of course. You’re young. That’s normal at your age, but not at my age.”

He followed me to my car as I got my water bottle. “Where’s your grandma and grandpa?”

“They passed away, too. They were even older.”

“Where’s your baby?”

“I don’t have one.”

This stumped him, and he asked again, saying everyone has a baby, and then added, “I have a baby.” He was carrying a toy in one fist, some kind of bristly green creature. Ah. His baby.

While I stretched at a picnic table, his sister, who was around eight or nine, joined us. They inquired about my age, which I gave as sixty-three. The girl told me their father is “six nine.” I asked, “Is that his height or his age?” She said, “He’s that tall and he’s that old. Do you know him?” I was sure I didn’t, if he’s really that tall. And was he really that old, with children so young? She had to be pulling my leg.

The two black kids and the Hispanic boy ran off to the swings, and the Hispanic girl, who was also about eight years old, stayed with me while I finished my stretches. Even while she’d been running and playing, she held onto a notebook with a pink cover that matched her pink sun dress. Perhaps she’s a future writer. Without my asking, she told me, “Those kids are from Arizona. They visit us every year. Usually once, but they came twice this year. The other one is my brother.” She intuited that people want to understand each other’s stories, but did not enlighten me as to whether her friends’ father really was sixty-nine years old and six-feet and nine inches tall.

It makes a better story if I’m left wondering.

Conversations and Story-Telling

 

My eighty-two-year old neighbor hasn’t been able to walk his dog since he fell off his bike and injured his shoulder. His dog is strong and energetic, and his balance isn’t as good as it once was. We worked out an arrangement where I hold the leash, and the three of us walk together. He’s there to give his dog commands as needed and pull occasional thorns out of her paws, and I’m there for a steady grip and good balance. One reason I offered to do this is because I knew we’d have great conversations. In an hour-long walk, we never ran out of interesting topics. With eighty-two years of engaged, thoughtful life plus a great sense of humor, my neighbor is a delightful story-teller, and I was happy to prompt him to keep going.

At a popular fishing spot on the curve of the Rio Grande, we ran into another gentleman of advanced years with his dog, and the men immediately struck up a conversation about fishing, dogs, and various other things. Normal T or C behavior—talking to strangers.

Later in the day, I went out to dinner with a friend, and when the server came to check if we were okay, since our meals hadn’t arrived yet, we’d been so busy getting caught up with each other we hadn’t noticed the kitchen was a bit slow. A young couple came in and was seated across the room from us. I had a view of them in profile, each hunched over a phone, heads bowed, making no eye contact and no conversation. They looked like a satire on smart-phone addicts. I wondered about the state of their relationship. First date and painfully shy? Together too long and bored? Or was this, to them, normal?

Maybe they’ll stay in T or C a while and put the phones down. I’ve seen local young people doing things like skateboarding the wrong way down the middle of Broadway, earbuds hanging loose and blasting music to passersby (I can use that for one of my characters—Misty Chino would do that), but so far I’ve never seen them doing the blind-to-the world phone-walk my college students so often did. I imagine the young tourists, phone-walking, bumping up against a cluster of locals yakking on the sidewalk with someone who pulled a truck over to the curb to join the conversation. And the couple makes eye contact with the strangers. They answer friendly questions and tell their stories, and go on their way, talking with each other.