Hexagons and triangles, like STOP and YIELD, are John’s favorites. From the time he could walk, he’d race towards the tall and towering: his gaze up, his feet fast. Strapped in a stroller, he’d lean forward and flap with excitement at the sight of the 2-hour parking signs that lined our road. At each one, he’d turn and follow it as we passed, like they were having a conversation.
“ONE sign,” he says as we drive to the library, passing a YIELD.
“TWO sign,” as the SPEED LIMIT 35 MPH appears.
“THREE signs,” he says, U-turn ahead.
He counts not just the ones on our side of the street, but the ones with their backs to us on the other side too (so that now even I’m craning my neck to see what they say).
He is my backseat tour guide.
After school we drive down our long dirt road and here? Here there are signs posted on trees. So many trees, so many signs — mostly with warnings about not going too fast. I don’t see them anymore. Why? Because I am gripping the wheel over potholes and bumps. I KNOW the speed limit is 10mph, thankyouverymuch. The talking from the backseat goes up and down with the car’s movement. At first I think it’s Elmo’s World, He’s scripting a video. It sounds like Wansinitry, tasinitry, thrasinitry — Elmo talk.
And suddenly I understand he is saying:
“ONE sign on tree… TWO sign on tree… THREE sign on tree.”
When we get to the last one before the driveway, he proclaims, “SEVEN SIGN ON TREE! WE’VE EARNED A STICKER!” and he waves Elmo high, triumphant. Now he does it every day and each time I smile. His face is so happy.
The comfort of these symbols nailed to trees and on posts — that at the end of a long road you are home. You struggle with disappointments big (we already know those) and small (the clouds for the beach, the Teletubbies CD already checked out at the library) — but at least the signs are there, if you’re looking and listening for them. Signs to point you home.
I suppose we all do the same, marking off touchstones one by one: The morning alarm clock, the coffee brewing, the cat rubbing against a leg to be fed. Meals made, lunches packed, work at the computer. Time passes and you trust in the familiar signs you’ve come to recognize as yours.
And if all the signs, ALL the signs were there all along? What else is to be done but to forgive and move on? Not the ones who hurt you (although they say that is necessary to your survival and you know it and you’re working on it but it’s not easy and not imminent). You stopped looking up, you see. Signs all the way back to the very beginning had you known to look. Like magic, you believed in the trick and ignored the sleight of hand.
No —forgive yourself. It’s time.