Hemmed in at all sides by throngs of pedestrians, the avenue a canyon of buildings taller than I imagined, we are on a mission and I am trying not to pant. It is a real trick to breathe deeply and appropriately, but not so heavily that your fatigue is noted by your father. Despite the legs that everyone tells me are long for my age, I must motor mercilessly in order to keep up with the purposeful strides with which he glides through this unfamiliar, sprawling, towering city.
Sometimes it is hard to tell if Daddy is heading to our next destination or running away from something. When his bushy eyebrows are furrowed, him leaning hard into the wind that blasts icily down my neck, it is usually the former. But his face can take on a haunted look, as he glances back to see if I am still there…and perhaps searches for something else too. He stops to look at the map on his phone, constantly checking to make sure that we are on the right path, the most efficient route, and I look forward to the brief respite.
We have come to this metropolis, a place where Daddy has roots and memories, for a break and for an adventure and to keep my mind preoccupied as we lead up to Christmas. It has not been an easy holiday season for me and I appreciate that he senses this, understands that distractions are welcome. His stress level has not been low these past few months either. I can tell because he more frequently rubs his forehead in frustration, a gesture that lets me know for sure that Daddy is Pops’ son.
Let loose in a city teeming with cuisine and people and sounds and energy, his enthusiasm is boundless and exhausting. Seeing his eyes wide open in wonder at a pastry or dumpling or well-pulled shot of espresso, I question whether he is the child and I the parent chiding him to not eat too quickly, to refrain from drinking coffee that is too hot. When he is lost in thought as we churn through the blocks headed back uptown, I am the one that has to hold his sleeve so that he doesn’t get plowed by a car speeding through the cross street.
At random intervals, Daddy will chime in with some tidbit of history or an anecdote about a particular building or a reminisce about a restaurant or a chuckle over a boondoggle with one of his goofball friends. These quips materialize out of thin air, but are always perfectly timed to our moment and place, startling in the accuracy of their recall. He is a walking encyclopedia and atlas and dictionary, if these three could be combined and had wild hair and blue nail polish. It would be easier to learn his lessons if they weren’t mumbled while he cruised at high speed and I both struggled to hear and keep up.
I look up to him, literally and figuratively, but the intensity of his love and movement can be overwhelming, if not completely terrifying. One night, after we had laid waste to a huge ribeye steak and buttery mashed potatoes and had hit up an artisan ice cream shop, we were on our way back to the apartment when I dared Daddy to amble at what I consider a normal speed. The effort necessary for him to stroll slowly was comical and, although I believe he was truly trying, he was off and running once he stopped concentrating and just let his body flow.
Back on the go, he holds my hand, both because we love the connection and because it is easier for him to direct me through the erratic perambulations of the clueless tourists that surround us. Daddy has not been in New York for a decade, but he somehow knows how to blend in, how to navigate, how to appear like he never left. He is at once a singular figure in the crowd, drawing the eyes of passerby, and camouflaged within the hordes. His instincts for danger are well honed from years of travel and when an Indian and Pakistani argue vehemently on the subway, a disagreement that I don’t quite clock, he quietly leads me away from them lest the heat turn violent.
I am a lot like him, but also not at all, a more reserved counterpoint to his gregarious nature. We are a funny and formidable duo that have survived quarantine and ongoing traumas together. He has given so much of his time and effort to making sure that I am safe and happy, that I have the opportunities that I do. He should probably sleep more, but his life is full and I am at its center, a lucky place to be, but not always a simple one.
Still, as I sit on the plane headed back home to the mountains, there are two certainties imprinted on my heart and brain: Daddy will always protect me and I am perpetually doomed to have sore legs.