Monday, June 28, 2010

Missing

Hands by unknown artist

I was eight. And he was dead. He might as well have been, anyway. He didn’t seem like the rest of us living humans. Blue lips, heavy and uneven. Yellow eyes, with the skin around them in folds and creases. White hair – not “old” white; just “tired” white. White and long and shaggy – like the rest of him.

Everything about him elicited thoughts of decay and erosion.

He walked out of the bushes in the cruel heat of one midsummer afternoon. I sat on a bench in the park, beside a bronze statue of a horse, with my tongue almost stuck to the roof of my mouth from thirst. And, carefully hiding his face behind a right hand riddled with liver spots and scars, he came and sat beside me. He seemed self-conscious. Embarrassed. And I didn’t know it then, but he also seemed weighed down – like he had a burden on his shoulders. I sat still and observed him. And I wondered how old he could be.

“Do you have kids?” I asked. But he gave no answer, shrugged his shoulders, and looked out at the park.

“What’s your name?”

“I don’t have one,” he said.

I didn’t know whether to think that wonderful or terrible. And I couldn’t figure him out because he wouldn’t say anything about himself. He could’ve been homeless, or an escaped convict, or a lunatic, or anything else. I didn’t know.

But I felt no fear of him.

And every afternoon, when the sun was like a big blazing hole in the endless blue sky, I would go to the park and sit at my bench, and he would come out of the bushes with his right hand over his face and sit beside me.

One day, he came to the bench and just stood to the side. There was a flock of geese circling the air above the pond amidst a chattering commotion. A group of teenagers sitting on the grass leaned back their heads and called out to the geese. Other kids crowded around the pond, enticing the geese with bits of bread thrown into the water. But I stayed at my bench and watched in silence. I don’t know why I felt compelled to sit there. I don’t know why I didn’t go claim my own place at the pond.

When the geese landed, he sat. And he lowered his right hand.

I stared at his face, unable to help my gawking curiosity. Five days he had sat with me and kept his face hidden. Now, suddenly, it was in full view. Now, suddenly, I could see, in profile, the blue lips, the yellow eyes, the wild mane of white hair. He held a book in his left hand, and with both hands, he opened the book and started to read aloud. He read to me like we’d known each other forever. And I stopped staring when his voice began to tremble. I listened while he read, drawing circles with my fingers on the empty bench space between us. And he knew I was listening, so he kept reading.

He read to me for many days. His voice was a spider web that, with its threads, created a haven for my wonder. I lived inside that voice, inside the stories it told. At a certain point, it started to feel like he and I were the only two people alive. And I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone with him. It spooked me.

That was when I started to want for him to disappear.

I imagined closing my eyes and opening them to find him gone. I imagined him being hit by a truck and dying because nobody wanted to save such a hideous person. I imagined hurting him, throwing rocks and pebbles at him, making him cry. I imagined telling him he was a freak. “No wonder you have no name,” I imagined saying. “Even your mom didn’t love you enough to give you one.” I imagined telling him I hated his voice, hated his stupid stories, hated him. I’d picture his voice breaking and his shoulders heaving as he sobbed quietly while hiding his ugly face behind his mottled right hand. And for some time, these imaginings were my biggest comfort. The thought of his agony soothed my anxiety.

But I continued to go to the park. And I continued to listen as he read to me. And after a while, my hatred was reversed. I began to realize that, despite his seeming differences, he was ordinary – just like the rest of us living humans. And I also began to realize that I no longer wanted for him to disappear. In fact, I wanted to let him know that I acknowledged his ordinariness. And so, one afternoon, while he held the book in his left hand and read to me, I reached out my fingers that were drawing circles on the empty bench space between us, and placed them over his right hand that idled beside him. He paused – but only for a flicker. Had I been a less perceptive child, I wouldn’t have even noticed. But he paused. And anything else would have been better. He could’ve called out, shouted at me, slapped my hand away. But he did none of those things. He just paused – and in that moment my hand jerked back like I’d touched a red-hot stove burner. Small rivers of perspiration flowed down my skinny legs and pooled around my ankles and beneath my heels. But I didn’t move a muscle. And he continued to read.

The next day, he wasn’t there. I sat on our bench by the bronze horse and waited for him, feeling an immense disquiet building inside me, and all around me. Somehow, inside my eight-year-old heart, I knew I would never see him again. And I blamed myself, even as I hoped that my feelings were deceiving me. I don’t know why this happens, but when someone we care for is no longer there, our hearts are constantly on the prowl for them. It is as if we are in denial, unable to resist the gravity of their absence. Maybe I was in denial, then, as I sat in my tight corner of bench. I think I imagined him hiding behind his bushes and watching me. I imagined him leaping out and saying “Surprise!” But my heart was true. He didn’t come. Not that day. Or the next. Or the next. And I kept going to the park. Sitting on the bench we had shared for days. Waiting for him. Waiting for him to return so I could reverse things and bring them back to our pre-ordinary days. And again, I imagined telling him I hated his voice, hated his stupid stories, hated him. But beneath the surface of my sinister daydreams was a sorrow as vibrant as the blazing hole in the sky.

41 comments:

  1. Beautiful Nevine, just beautiful... vibrant sorrow...

    I may need to go have a listen to Fountain of Sorrow after this...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FI23qf-xWg

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  2. He was afraid of you, and what you might wake in him.

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  3. Awww, Nevine more than felt this piece of yours;
    The images and emotions that this piece conjures are really quite remarkable.
    This piece made me remember a poem written by the Greek poet C.Cavafy..."Waiting for the Barbarians".
    ..."What are we waiting for? The Barbarians are to arrive today...the night is here but the Barbarians have not come; and now what shall become of us without any Barbarians?
    Those people were SOME KIND Of SOLUTION". I think it fits here perfectly.

    And I also think you speak here about childlike feelings and how fragile it can be.
    I "feel" how the childlike innocence, imagination and wonder could be betrayed in any way. That old man could be anything/anyone.
    Great words/writing, Nevine. Love it!

    Love and hugs,
    ~B xx

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  4. The image you have used here is wonderful: One hand callous with years and the other, innocent and waiting to taste every single thing in this world.

    "At a certain point, it started to feel like he and I were the only two people alive": I know this feeling too well and there is a strange comfort in that feeling.

    Nevine, this piece comes fresh from you. I notice a difference in this fictive imagination. Is it the years, the mind or the muse. Maybe everything. I so wished that the kid saw him again though I knew he would never.

    You always make me so involved in your characters that sometimes I wonder where is the thin line. It gets dissolved every time I read the words in this place.

    You bring out facets of me that I never knew existed. Wonderful. Thanks.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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  5. such an exquisitely beautiful childhood story that you, as you always do, paint into such a poignantly moving word picture with your magnificent words - and then, generously share with all of us! thank you! beautiful!!!

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  6. what a tale of wonder, of loss and beauty all in one....this one is one I will come back and read a few more times, many layers.

    hugs my friend

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  7. I loved this. Your thoughts and imaginings were so vivid!
    When we were children, we were just the same, we knew everyone and we were never afraid of anyone ever trying to harm us.
    A stranger was just a friend we didn't know. (the old cliché)but we never thought about old people, they were just there.
    I wonder what happened to that old man?
    Do you ever wonder about him?
    Very thought provoking post!

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  8. A tender story that is not without its sadness. You went into the psyches of these two characters in such a way that I fell my presence with them as I read this. Such a terrible loss for both of them that they weren't able to continue their beautiful friendship. How you pull us into the magic of this piece. You are amazing.

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  9. I just love your creativity... you come at your writing from so many different angles! Well done.

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  10. Owen – Thank you. And sorrow can sometimes be so dark it is vibrant, no? That is where an emotion becomes so extreme, it bends upon itself and makes a full circle to its opposite… Thank you for leaving another song gift, Owen; I always enjoy those. :-)

    Lou – Yes, I think that is the key to his disappearance. And “you”? Oh, this is not about me, though it felt like it was as I wrote it. I suppose that makes it about me, then. ;-)

    Betty – I know Cavafy so very well; he is very popular in Egypt… not a surprise considering he lived in Alexandria for almost his entire life. And I am a great fan of his poetry… so filled with the truths of life. Your choice of poem is so very appropriate. As for children, the abilities of their imaginations are endless. I think this child just felt some guilt for the negative feelings experienced earlier, and was seeking some kind of absolution. And as for the man, I think he is insecure with closeness, and the touch of the hand was too much for him. Human emotion is so fragile, and so colored by so many factors, we sometimes are unaware as to how we even will react in the face of the smallest gestures. We are such amazing creatures, aren’t we? Betty, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, here. I really really appreciate it. :-)

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  11. Susan – “… waiting to taste every single thing in this world.” Yes! That is the child’s curiosity… curiosity… oh… it sometimes “kills the cat”, to use a worn-out cliché. And I am so very pleased you liked this. I wrote this story at the very beginning of my time off, and worked at it slowly to polish it into exactly what I wanted for it to say. To be honest, at times, I felt like I was the child… at times, I felt like I was the older man. An exercise in schizophrenia, I suppose. But it was a fun adventure. I hadn’t written about children in a while… and I was due for that. I’m also happy to know you become involved with my characters. I think it is the dream of every writer to know that his or her readers can “feel” their characters, whether those characters are wonderful or disgusting or whatever else. Thank you for letting me know, Susan. I’m taking a deep breath… and letting it slowly… with a huge smile on my face. :-)

    Jenean – And thank you, too. I’m so happy you enjoyed this story, Jenean. Thanks for your sweet words.

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  12. Steven – Come back and read as many times as you wish. You know you’re always welcome. Thanks so much my dear friend!

    Alice – Glad to hear you liked it. I think it’s inherent in children to be trusting. But sometimes the instincts of children can be sharp, too. This young child felt a bond with the older man. As for him (the older man), I wonder about him in my dreams… This is a fictional piece… but my characters always remain real in my mind.

    Nancy – It is such a loss, and I felt it as I wrote this. But this story wanted to turn out as it did. I think that sometimes special relationships retain their magic because they are terminated before they are allowed to blossom and then die. So happy you liked it, Nancy!

    Bard – It’s good to see you here. And thank you for the kind words…

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  13. i read your story like an eight year old, transported by it, to places and times where the heat of warm afternoons plays tricks on you....whether one encounters the real or the sureal - has its importance in the encounter itself.

    Wonderful piece,
    voices kaliedocoped,
    beautifully knitted
    exposing the uncomforts in such an undertaking!
    You have a capacity to relate to , and allow us to grasp something difficult to elaborate.

    i could crawl on my knees and come to you to listen to you!
    Anytime Nevine!!

    You are a great story teller!!

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  14. excellent, reminds me of this john prine song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJ85Hep0kD0

    we really don't need all that much in life, just an acknowledgment, we, too, exist...

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  15. This is spectacular,Nevine. Not only is your writing so alive and beautiful, suffused with most wonderful metaphor and characterisation, but you also weave such poignant thoughts into your words as well. Thoughts which resonate and remain long after one has read the last line...in truth, perhaps we all long to meet someone with whom we find a kindred affinity. And when we do, maybe it is love's greatest torment that we fluctuate between feeling immense compassion and immense hatred for them. But only when they have gone do we realise how much we needed their presence.

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  16. COL - The encounter itself and how it sits with us is what matters, yes. Sometimes, we meet someone for the very first time, and there is a moment where something clicks... and we know. I'm so delighted by your beautiful words, and like you always do, you've made me smile so very brightly. Thank you, COL... you are such a treasure.

    LW - I must admit I had never heard of John Prine... but thanks to you, now I have. And I followed that link and listened in... every word so true... filled with the wisdom of the years. Thanks so much for sharing. And you are so right about our wanting to be acknowledged...

    Sam - I think it's one of those deep human needs we have to want to meet a "kindred spirit". Sometimes we feel like we've found them, and unfortunately, the thread breaks. I think I agree with you about "love's greatest torment", too. We always seem to have a love-hate relationship with those we care for most deeply. Thank you for your always beautifully written comments, Sam. I very much appreciate them!.

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  17. I loved the story and I thought the child was you, but then I read the comments;o)
    As a mother I wouldn't let my children stay all by themselves in a park or anywhere else!
    I've always been too anxious they might meet some nasty people.

    ***
    Big biiiizzzzoooouuuuzzzz, ma belle*******

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  18. So beautiful and sad, Nevine! Such fascinating characters. I found myself wondering about the man, where he'd come from, where he went, why he was the way he was. I wondered about the child too, why she sat on that bench every day and listened to the man. Fantastic work.

    Jai

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  19. it's amazing how this can be so enigmatic and so compelling at the same time.

    the portrayal of the girl is brilliant - her see-saw of yearning and revulsion - not knowing how to feel but feeling strongly all the same. and the man - i don't know if you intended this, but he seemed like the perfect picture of asperger's syndrome. his awkwardness and strange swipes at interaction - and his final inability to connect - in a world that doesn't know what to do with him.

    tragic and beautiful and it all felt very real to me. i'll be back to this one again.

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  20. My sweet friend... Oh my dear sweet woman. I love it, just love it. And it brings so many thoughts to this mind and heart who have also so often rejected and hated and missed at the same time.
    Shame on anyone who dislikes what is not ordinary and beautiful outside...That silly surface.

    And...What is in a name? I could discuss and comment here for a bit longer.BUT :-(


    Eres un SOL!

    Sorry it took me so long to read you. But you deserve time, and that is a lack for me these days.
    Am happy I've come. You never (how?) disappoint me or any of us.

    Sweet HUG!

    D.

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  21. Cremilde - If I had children I would worry about sending them out by themselves, too. I just come from that different mindset... when I grew up it was safe to go out to the park by yourself and play... there were no worries like today. But I agree completely... there are too many weirdos around nowadays... So glad you liked the story, my dear Cremilde. Bisous bisous!!!

    Jai - I deliberately left some things out of the story. I wanted for the reader to fill in those gaps... you know... where the man came from... and why the child was so fascinated by him. I also really wanted to focus on the main action... on that special bond that the child especially felt, and that the man felt as well... as shown by his continuing to read to the child. Happy you enjoyed!!!

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  22. Joaquin - I really had no intention of portraying a man with asperger's... but I do see what you're saying... makes sense. "... in a world that doesn't know what to do with him." For me, that was the key to why he is the way he is. He has likely been an outcast for so long, just because he is so different. And I think that most adults reacted to him with a pity/hate sort of feeling, whereas the child didn't have the maturity to experience the pity so much... only the revulsion. Thanks for the glowing comment!

    Dulce - Don't we all do this reject/hate/miss stuff? Aren't we all so confused, sometimes? And why are you apologizing? I know you are busy. I have been busy myself, these past few days. I am off of work for the summer but like my husband says, "Nevine, you don't know how to relax." He's so right! I don't! I've got myself occupied with a million projects and I can't even extract myself. So, I have been rare on the blogosphere myself, the past couple of days. I understand completely, Sweetest. But don't be like me... try and breathe every once in a while. Take a few minutes during the day to just chill... if you can. Big hugs back, Sweetest!

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  23. A beautiful, thought-provoking story, Nevine!

    It's not easy to let others into our lives - especially when we've been hurt before. I think it's in our nature to want that closeness with others, but each of us has our limits based on age and past experience.

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  24. Oh, dear! Feelings are gushing out of my entrails now like sweat after a ten-mile run. How beautiful! I had to ask myself several times whether it was fiction or biographical. Please, don't answer, let me make up my mind about that. This phrase was majestic:

    'His voice was a spider web that, with its threads, created a haven for my wonder.'

    It could have so easily ended up as 'his voice was enthralling', or 'enticing'. But you have a way of coming up with tropes that is second to none. Many, many thanks to you and your muse.

    Greetings from London.

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  25. Felicitas - Past experience and age are great factors in how we determine relationships. We do want closeness because, as humans, we are social creatures... it's in our instincts to want company. But yes, we are ever cautious. So glad you enjoyed the story, Felicitas!

    LW - Absolutely! And whoever says otherwise just doesn't get it!!!

    Cuban - And many thanks to you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate every one of them. And thank you for the "majestic phrasae" selection, and your words to go with it. I do truly appreciate that!

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  26. I'm so glad to see you back, Nevine! I this piece intriguing, but for a different reason than the others. In fact, the little girl was terribly frightening. I don't know if you intended her to be, but the native tendency to context and control her world, judging by not judging so that her reactions were almost "forced" upon her. Her genuine loneliness seemed to flow form someone not connected to other children, as though she were born different, unable to connect.

    Her connection to the strange old man seemed to indicate that he might be acceptable because he too came from a hidden place of isolation. She seemed angered when he rejected her, and I wonder how real her sorrow was.

    Two people so profoundly isolated from others, testing to see who was the most dangerous.

    Then again, maybe I need another cup of coffee.

    Anyway, welcome back!

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  27. Rick, I hadn't intended at all for the girl to be frightening. But I do love your different perspective, especially because it allows me to see this story from an entirely opposite angle. Yes, the child is different from other children... no wonder she is alone at the park. I did intend for the child to feel hurt by the man's rejection, vs. angered. But I see how you also interpreted her reaction as anger. Even as children, we have a highly developed ego. And finally, I love this: "Two people so profoundly isolated from others, testing to see who was the most dangerous." If that doesn't put a whole other spin on things, I don't know what does!

    I really enjoyed reading your feedback, Rick... especially because it offered me that other look at my story. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts, here. And welcome back to you, too. It seems you were away for quite a while...

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  28. Wow, just wow. You wrote this in a way that I felt sorrow for this man, even if he did hide in bushes.

    I too love the phrase about his voice being a spider web. Such a great description of how words and language can be transformed by one person.

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  29. Such a sweet tale and i enjoyed reading you once again. Loved that you left some parts for the reader to fill in the gaps. Thank you for the lovely comment on my blog i have added you so it will be easier to catch up with you lovely Nevine :)

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  30. Menina - I suppose the premise for me was that sometimes those that hide in bushes and behind their hands are hiding not because they wish to inflict pain, but because pain has likely been inflicted upon them. So happy you enjoyed my story, Menina.

    Wild Rose - Thank you for stopping in again. It's so kind of you to do that. And my comment was from the heart. It was a pleasure to read your work... and so I will be returning for more.

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  31. Wonderful Nevine! The way you write is wonderful and the story too. Thanks a lot.
    Kiss you.
    Marie

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  32. Nevine, the complexity of these characters - I was involved until the very end, sourcing out the protagonist's feelings like the end of a frayed rope I needed to feed through a very small hole. This is gorgeous writing. I was mesmerized and held. So good to read you.

    :)
    xo
    erin

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  33. Marie - It's great to see you here! Thank you for visiting. I really appreciate it. So glad you liked my story. Kiss you back!!!

    Erin - Thank you for leaving your thoughts... in such beautiful words. Always nice to read your comments.

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  34. Dear Nevine!

    Beatiful! I love poetic fiction like this. You describe everything so creatively, without giving it all away. I felt sad when I read that you (or the character) kept going back, the old man not showing up.

    Interesting observations. I think a lot of kids don't understand older people -- or want to understand -- because their lives seems so ordinary or boring. BUT this eight year old found out he WAS an interesting person. A lovely lesson, but unfortunate that she didn't really learn it until after he was gone.

    I think when writing stories like these it's easy to fall out of the anecdote and into some moral speech. You don't do that here. That's why I'll be back to your blog.

    -Ashley

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  35. Ashley – Well, it’s lovely that you came by to visit… and decided to stay. What a wonderful thing for me! And you’ve left such sweet words, too. And I agree about children, though the good thing for this child was that she did learn the lesson. Sometimes, even when it is too late, if the lesson was learned, there is a positive. I like to think that maybe these two characters were serving a purpose in one another’s lives: he was there to let her know that outward appearance is not what matters, and she was there to let him know that somebody can accept him, after all. Yet, I was amazed at the varied interpretations of different readers… and that is always welcome and refreshing. As for moralizing, I think that with time you will come to know that I am not that type. We all make mistakes, we all have faults and weaknesses, and I am no one’s judge… nor do I wish to moralize. I just like to tell stories and write poetry… and have fun experimenting with words. I’m very pleased to know you will be joining me and my lovely friends, Ashley. It will be a pleasure to see you here regularly.

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  36. Thanks again for such a warm welcome and discussion! I feel at home already.... Yes, I'm officially a regular!

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  37. As a child age 7-11 I had to take commercial buses regularly from a farm on one side of Cincinnati, all through the city, walk and transfer twice to make my way to violin lessons. Took all day Saturday.

    Point is, Nevine, you have awakened in me many memories, good and very bad, of the Peeps who became my "Saturday" family, whether regulars on the streetcars, or "regulars" down town where I walked a good distance each week--I have never told anyone--except one peep, about these encounters. If only I could write "right", there are lots of stories buried in me.

    You write so as I believed I was the little "girl" of all things. Then I was also the old man, not too far-fetched...Reading you creates an EXPERIENCE, a happening, rather than a simple "enjoyable moment"...THANK YOU!

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  38. Ashley - You are more than welcome! :-)

    Steve - I don't know why you think you can't write "right", because you can, and you do. You see, the way you write is fearless and from the soul, so it is so very true, and it sits with the reader (that reader being me, for example). As for your memories, I think young children have the capacity to be trusting (contrary to parents' advice) and still create relationships with adults... relationships that live in the memory forever. Children learn from adults things they could never learn from another child, and if your parent is the only adult you're learning from, then that becomes a very small world, indeed.

    I suppose I try to recreate experiences that happen in real life with some memories of my own. No, I never knew an older man who looked ugly and who met me in a park and read to me. But as a child, I too was fascinated by those older than me, and older than my parents, and I was not shy to exchange conversation with them, and learn.

    I am so happy to know that you enjoyed reading this, Steveroni. For some reason, it seems that I offended a few of my readers, but what they did not understand was that this is not my voice in the story. And even if it was, when one is a child, one does not try to look at the world through ideals-tinted glasses. One just acts and behaves off the cuff. So I am overjoyed to know you are not one of those readers who took offense. I truly hate to hurt anyone's feelings. Thank you for leaving me your thoughts on this, Steveroni. Really, thanks a bunch! Big hugs to you.

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  39. I think I found my way here via loveable_homebody. I'm never too sure how I get to some blogs. Your story touched a deep, deep memory of my Great-great Uncle Martin Murphy. He could have been that old man and I could have been that child, except I was more precocious. But I could never tell the story the way you have done. Thank you!

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  40. Pauline - Hello, and welcome! I'm so pleased to know my story brought back memories for you. It is always my hope to touch with my words something inside the emotional world of my reader. And thank you for your generous words, too. It's such a pleasure for me to exchange thoughts and perspectives. Thank you for leaving your footprint here. I do appreciate it. And I will be by to visit your site soon.

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Your thoughts are deeply appreciated.