This is from the new SeeMaxRun site, it is an old life post, but one of my favorites.
There was this woman named Annette when I was little who was friends with my parents. She was very glamorous and dashing, tall (or at least she seemed tall to me but I was little and everyone is tall to you when you are little), and thin and pale with dark eyes and long dark hair. My mother said Annette could put on army fatigues she found at a used clothes shop and look elegant. This was before everyone went to used clothes shops and bought army fatigue pants but Annette did and my mother talked about Annette the way she talked about me when she said “lace curtains in winter and snow suits in summer.” Like she sort of disapproved and was fascinated all at the same time by something she found elegant and incomprehensible. So I knew Annette and I were alike but I did not know why except it was like lace curtains in winter and snow suits in summer.
Annette had this toy whale. It was just a little hollow plastic toy whale. Blue and white. But it had a special name I have forgotten and Annette loved that whale and still let me play with it. This was before my brother was born and after my sister was gone so I was the only kid mostly in a sea of adults and most of them didn’t have much time for kids and all had toys kids absolutely could not play with so playing with Annette’s little hollow whale was special. She said if I was real careful I could take the whale out and let it float on the stream in the wash. I forget what city we were in, we were in so many cities when I was little. But this had to be in a canyon because mostly only canyons have washes. These man made streams for water run off from somewhere wild nearby. They have cement walls and cobbled bases and the streams trickle and sometimes run fast across them and away somewhere to an ocean. It must have been winter sometime around my birthday because that is when those washes always ran fast. And Annette put a ribbon around the whale’s neck and she was going to tie the other end of the ribbon around my wrist so the whale could not float away but I said no, I could hold it. And she said are you sure? And I said oh yes, I would hold on tight. So then I took the whale out and let it float in the little wash river.
And I was a dumb kid who should have had that ribbon tied around my wrist just like Annette said and of course I lost hold of the ribbon and the Annette whale floated right away down that wash.
I couldn’t catch it the water moved too fast across all those man set cobbles the wash ran down and my legs were too short and there were sticks and I was wearing too many clothes because it was cold to really run so that whale just went away.
And I had to go back and tell Annette I lost her whale because I didn’t want her to tie that ribbon around my wrist because I wanted her to think I was big enough to hold it myself and I wasn’t.
You know how your feet get real heavy when you are little and have to tell someone you did something wrong? My feet were real real heavy and the walk back to tell Annette was a real long walk especially up stairs through a door not carrying any whale or ribbon.
When Annette saw me with no whale or ribbon she knew right off but she did not say, Did you lose that whale? She let me tell her I lost the whale. And she did not get mad. Even though you could tell she really loved that whale toy and was sorry it was gone. I figure she knew I was a little kid and tying that ribbon had really been up to her. But I did not know that. I always thought that stuff was up to me and I felt bad.
The next time we visited Annette the Annette whale was back. A man we knew had hiked all the way down that wash looking for Annette’s whale till he found it with its ribbon tangled in wash sticks and brought it back.
I tie ribbons around my wrist now so I don’t lose what matters to other people.
— In memory of Annette
Other Life Posts:
The Italian Alley Cat That Was Fellini