Thaddeus Rutkowski "Finding Our Way"

I’m in a strange place with my family—a new country, or a new part of our own country. Our daughter is bigger than a toddler but small enough to find happiness in minor things. We are spending time in a park before we have to leave. It’s a boys’ park, because it has trees for boys to climb. That is, only boys are allowed in the trees. Our daughter nevertheless has good arm strength. She can pull herself onto a horizontal branch and sit without her feet touching the ground. All I can do is jump up, catch the branch with my fingers, and hang there for a few seconds before dropping off.

“Do you like this park?” I ask her.

“It’s not a park; it’s a garden,” she says.

I look around and notice the large lush trees lining the paths and, between the trees, a carpet of grass.

“It’s more of a garden than a park,” my wife says.

Our daughter bounces up and down. She is not allowed to climb the trees, even though there are no boys around.

 

We see a bulletin board that lists free activities in the city around the park. There is a hip-hop event, a comic-book conference, an astronomy workshop (on the highest hill). But we won’t have time to do any of these things. We have a travel schedule and can’t leave this place yet, but we can’t plan to do anything that involves a lot of time. We will have to find something of interest in this park, where there are no other children.

I pick up my daughter by hooking my elbows around her knees and lifting her onto my back. She is almost too heavy, but she has asked me to carry her. She extends her arms to see how high she can reach. She grabs some low-hanging branches and releases them.

“Go right,” she says, and I turn.

“Go left.”

I follow her instructions but can feel strength draining from my muscles. My elbows won’t stay bent, and my knees won’t stay straight. We have a long way to walk—over a bridge, along a road—to get out of the garden called a park. There are markers—stones painted white—to show us the path. When we get to a significant place, we will see a name etched into a boulder.

“I’m getting tired,” I say. “I’ll have to put you down.”

I bend my knees so that she can hop to the ground. She slides a leg over my head and finds her footing immediately.

 

The three of us hold hands as we walk on a stone path. We don’t often hold hands, but we do now. This way, no one will get lost.

We are walking from a shaded space to a brighter, open area. An archway stands over the path that leads from one side to the other.

On our side of the archway are trees and shadow; on the other are trees that open to a clearing, through which a paved walkway passes. We might not be going far at all. We might be heading for the avenue that borders the park, and from there to our destination.

As we approach the end of our walk, a man starts to play a harmonica. I’m not sure if he knows how to play the instrument. The reedy squawks don’t come together in a recognizable melody. The sounds are mostly noise; perhaps they are “art music.” Still, I’m glad for the familiar sounds.

The rattle of glass objects comes from another direction. I picture a bottle collector sorting through the trash. The collector will have to dig deep to find items worth anything.

Our destination is marked with a boulder engraved with a name. I can see the end of the path but can’t read the name yet. I’m sure it says something that will tell us where we are, something that will tell us we have arrived.

Bio: Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.