The city rolls past, block by dirty block, and people on errands carry on without even a glance my way. This is the usual way home, on a usual day. We pay our fare and take our seats side-by-side in the third row back. Sometimes when it’s busy, people make room for us to sit next to each other, and sometimes they don’t. We are just going home, and they are just going home. Sometimes people catch my eye and smile and wave, and I grin for them. I stare out the window most of the time, looking for red cars. Red cars are my favorite. But I also like to see dogs, and street performers, and observe the humans in their natural habitat.
They say it’s a charmed life, being four years old and still living at home. They say “you have no worries,” but I say that’s a falsehood perpetrated by those who have conveniently forgotten what it’s like to be four years old. I worry about the monster in the closet, and the beast under the bed. I worry that my mother will fix broccoli for dinner again, and that my sister will get to choose the channel for cartoons. I worry that the baby in my mother’s belly will go away like the last one, and I worry when my dog runs away from home. Whenever I see my father drinking, I worry that he will raise his hand to us again. I worry that tomorrow will not come.
Maybe not every four year old worries about every thing that I do, but every four year old has worries and troubles and woes, just like everybody else out there. And, just like everybody else, we have our joys as well. I feel free as a bird when I zoom down the slide or catapult from the swings. I dance in daylight through summer sprinklers, my toes catching on the carpet of grass. My sister takes my hand and leads me through the bushes in the backyard to where the ravine is full and dry at the same time. My dog sleeps in front of the heater on cold winter days, and I sleep next to him. My mother bakes brownies and lets us lick the batter. On his good days, my father holds my hands and twirls me around until we stumble around giggling uncontrollably.
With joy and sorrow comes wisdom, and though mine is unconventional, it is short-term wisdom gained in a long-term learning process. I ask “Are we there yet?” and you answer “Just fifteen more minutes!” For you, those fifteen minutes are a pittance, but you have been around so much longer than me; for me, those fifteen minutes feel like fifteen hours. You don’t see it that way, or think of it that way, but I know it, and you know it, too. You laugh at me for this, but I know that the wind blows because the trees are waving it along. Your smile falters and quivers when I say that we wished the baby away, and it went away, and now it’s back again, like a stubborn cold.
Nobody ever thinks to ask me what my woes are, or what the best things in life are. They never ask my sage advice, or even how my day is going. They smile and condescend to kneel down to my level to ask me what my name is, what my favorite color is, what animals do I like. These things are things about me, but not things that form who I am. The “me” inside is a sum-total of all the experiences of my short past and my long future. All they see when they look at me, when you look at me, is just a little four year old boy on the bus, so cute and so sweet, blithely staring out the window.