There is a man and his son who walk the streets of Bay View. Or rather, the son rides a three-wheel bike like a tricycle but for a grown-sized man, which he is. He is a large man, this son. Larger than his father who walks beside him, pants, usually jeans, hitched up high on his waist, white socks showing. It would be comical, if it was. But there’s nothing comical about this man and his son as they walk the streets of Bay View. As you can imagine, they walk slowly.
The man is old, well, older. Slim, maybe from walking. And gray-haired. And the son is unable to ride swiftly, each rotation of each leg an effort, and he is hunched forward over the handle bars, making his already-large head look heavier than he can hold. Clearly he is atypical, this son. Neurologically and developmentally impaired. Clearly these two live in a world of their own, as they walk the neighborhood streets, never engaging with one another, just walking, pedaling.
But today the son is smiling as he turns a corner, as he pushes the pedals to climb a slight incline. I wonder what he is thinking.
I also wonder, as a mother, where his mother is. Is she home, did she leave, was she crushed by the weight of raising a child so different, did she die? Was she never able to manage, stand up to the challenge of the every day things like walking, walking, walking, so slowly, the streets with her son? Or maybe she just doesn’t like walking. Or maybe she can’t. Or maybe she can’t be quiet, hold her tongue, and her need to speak interrupts these two as they walk, pedal.
But perhaps there is a different story, a story I can’t imagine, but I do imagine. I imagine my story animating the lives of this man and this boy. I imagine the faces of my husband and my son in the faces of this man and his boy. I imagine being gone, and I imagine them walking the streets of Bay View, companions, companions for life. My husband once said that the one gift of Noah being Noah is that we will never have to say goodbye to him, that we will never have to release him out into the world. And that’s not entirely true. He meant, of course, that we will never have to watch Noah leave our home, go to college, buy a house of his own, forget to come back to visit. But we will have to say goodbye, when we leave him. When we die, our son will be released.
No doubt this man and his son have walked many hundreds of miles as they make their way through Bay View. But they are not those famous pairs who cross finish lines of marathons or Ironmans. I doubt they have a Facebook page, or a gofundme site, or have ever been featured on TV. They quietly walk the streets of their neighborhood. They lead quiet lives on their faces. Who is to tell what is in their hearts? But what is obvious is that their commitment is to each other, or at least finishing out this life that was started when that mother and that father decided to have a child, and had a son, and the son was not the son they thought he’d be.
I have watched my 9 year old son attempt to ride a three-wheeled bike in his physical therapy sessions. If no one is there to walk with him, put a finger to the handlebars to guide him along, he would drive into a wall, or would get stuck on any slight incline, or would forget how to move the pedals and just stop. But perhaps this is how their walks started. Slowly. Or perhaps they simply needed, one day, to get out of the house but the boy grew too large for the playground, or maybe there was no money or time for Special Olympics, or maybe the schools were done with him once he turned 21 and there was nothing to do with all the days.
But one thing he could do is he could ride a bike, and one thing the father could always do for him is to walk by his side.