As We Were Walking

September 18-19, 2014
1. Amanda
“Amanda, Amanda”, said Robert.
“Amanda is in France.”
“Amanda, Amanda”, he repeated.
I followed with a standard response to this part of dialogue, “What about Amanda?”
“Amanda is in France”, said Robert but there was a tone of resigned confusion in his voice. He said, what he was taught to say, but it was not what he meant. We stopped for a drink at the water fountain across from the Boating Club. Years ago, two summers in a row, Amanda took sailing lessons at this club. (They cost a dollar! I don’t remember if that was a price for one week or for the whole summer of instruction.)
After Robert drank the water, he looked at me and said again, “Amanda, Amanda.”
Only then, I understood what Robert was saying. He remembered that it was the place where we were coming with Amanda then and later. Sometimes to listen to the summer concerts, sometimes to play on the monkey bars, sometimes to just walk along the river. He missed her. ” She is in France.” I said, but I meant, “I miss her too.”
2. Playground
Nobody was there. Little children with their parents were in the next playground as this one was not suitable for babies, toddlers, or even preschoolers. It was built with older children in mind. But older children were in schools. “Let’s go there. ” I said as I opened the gate. “No, no, no”, said Robert but followed me inside. He wasn’t sure if that was the proper place to be. Many years passed since he went to any playground. I knew, he felt uneasy about being there. Almost as if he was trespassing. We went on the swings. He still couldn’t pump himself well enough to go higher or faster. He climbed up the ladder, the net, and a steep wall with the help of plastic chain. He slid down on each of the three slides, but used his feet and arms to slow down the movement. He was relieved when we left the playground. I was too. The piercing melancholy of a place one outgrew without really experiencing all the promises of a joy it promised, got to me too.
3. Weeping Willows
Weeping willows grew along the river banks, not very far from Harvard Bridge. Robert used to know their names. But not anymore. So we were walking and pointing to the trees and saying their names. Except, Robert couldn’t say, “Weeping willow” clearly. He squeezed syllables, and didn’t pronounce “l” sound at all. So, we stopped every few feet, touched the twigs, and practiced, “Wee-ping will-low. Wee-ping wiL-Low.” with emphasis on spacing the syllables and a proper tongue position for “l”. Robert tried hard, and I did too. But since English is a language I started learning by myself when I was 32, I was fully aware that my pronunciation didn’t give me any credential to teach articulation. For years, I avoided that task, knowing how inappropriate, if not damaging, my efforts to teach language might be. And then I realized, that almost nobody else worked systematically and intensively on Robert’s ability to have his speech understood or, more generally, on his ability to communicate. So now, when Robert was 22 years old, a person with a wrong accent was practicing with Robert what the specialists should have taught him when he was 3, 4, 5, 6 7, 8…… years old.
As I kept walking, stopping, touching the leaves of weeping willows, and waiting for Robert to say \ “WEE-PING WIL-LOW” clearly, I couldn’t help but feel bitter.

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