I reach back into the hoary mists of time, that place where people long dead still live and love, and will forever, and stretch to reach the memories running this way and that to avoid my grasp, some good, some bad, some too horrible to contemplate, and pluck out a smaller version of myself, a boy of just fourteen months, still in diapers but a precocious walker and talker, a boy his mother always said was born an old man.
It is June, and I am outside sitting on the front steps with my mother, who is carrying on an across-the-street conversation with the neighborhood busybody, Mrs. Kite. Neither notices the cat ambling down the center of the street, which glitters in the sunlight from the skeletons of diatoms embedded in its surface, a road the county had paved just months before, replacing our mud-rutted road and its miracle of puddles.
The cat ambles on.
I glance up at my mother, who is still talking on and on about something. And then I make my move. Standing, I notice a weight tugging at me, and a familiar smell, but I don’t have time to deal with it. Instead, precocious as I am, I deftly unclasp the diaper pin and let the diaper fall to the ground.
And then I’m off, running—in a toddler sort of way—as fast as I can, down the remaining steps and into the road. I am naked—and free! Not even the heat radiating from the road and burning my feet can stop me from my headlong pursuit of the cat, who quickly outpaces me and disappears under our neighbor’s maroon Hudson Hornet.
I don’t really care. I am free. Life awaits me. I must run, run, and run some more, arms raised in joy. Nothing can stop me now!
Behind me I begin to hear the screams of neighbors, some calling out my name, some exhorting me to stop, others alerting my mother, who lets out a scream of her own and begins her pursuit.
Onward I go, racing against the inevitable, but perhaps this time I will succeed. Just a few more steps and I will be in the woods, where I can disappear into the undergrowth and become a wild, feral beast.
And then I am suddenly being lifted into the air, my mother grabbing me under both arms and swinging me wildly up and around like some carnival ride, making me giggle even as I squirm to escape her grasp.
But she has me in her arms, planting kisses on me and squeezing me tight.
The memory suddenly stops, and I yank my arm back out of the mists, leaving that golden world behind. And then I realize what I have never realized before. Mom, this memory is not of me. It is of you.