Mastering the Art of Walking and Looking
A child’s perspective on learning to look straight ahead
I am five years old and walking with my mother. We are on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where we live in a boxy apartment in a building so big that there are two distinct sides, each with its own lobby and set of buzzers. I live on the right side; my two best friends live on the left side. There is a security guard who sits in the front entrance named Larry and I think he is God. I go to nursery school in a synagogue a few blocks away; whenever I hear mention of God, I think of Larry: quiet, serious, omnipotent because he decides if people should go left or right when they enter his kingdom.
We walk and my head is high, not because I am proud but because I like to see the sky. I am safe with my mother and she is all I have now that my father is dead. My hand is in hers and she guides me along the sidewalk, past the bag lady who recently threw a broken bottle that cut my friend’s neck, past the bodega to which my older sister and I are allowed to walk on our own to buy bubble gum, past the Dominican church that turns out brides in Cinderella dresses every Saturday morning.
We walk and my head is so high that I do not see potholes in the street or where the curb ends. I want to see the people walking toward me, I want to see their faces, so my mother steers me as best she can and this is the only way I know to walk.
I step in dog poop, always. My mother is so gentle and wounded, she does not yell at me, ever. She takes me to the curb so I can wipe my foot against it, over and over again, until she is satisfied it is clean enough. “Oh, Laura,” she sighs. “Such a dreamer.”
This is such a regular part of our walks that I am surprised when she questions it. She has been watching me and the problem is that with my head in the clouds, I never see what’s on the ground in front of me. I am puzzled. If I don’t look up, I will not see people coming at me until I am about to fall over them. I will not see the cerulean blue of the sky or the clouds that look like my stuffed dog, the white one with a jaunty beret that my father gave me from his hospital bed. Everyone is too big and too tall, everything looms over me. My world has…