I lifted Río out of his car seat and slung him onto my hip. I hold onto things tightly, so I don’t lose them, so we don’t sink into darkness. Things in this world can be very heavy. I used to put myself down before I had him; before I had someone– something that needed me to be strong. I’m extra strong now. I show him the lightness of it all. I lie about how light he is. After all, who am I if I can’t carry him? He’s three years old, still under 30 pounds– still in the ‘ask a doctor’ section of a Tylenol dosing cup. He’s never experienced real pain– nothing 5ml of Tylenol couldn’t cure. Not yet. I grabbed our go-bag and shut the door to the truck with my other hip.
“Mama?” He said. He knew I was scared.
It was the type of night that convinced me we’d run to the edge of the world, alone except for a little pink plastic dinosaur keychain that hung off the bag zipper. A single blue chunk of broken glass sparkled, its edges were soft and worn down between the rocks. Birch trees reflected the full moon’s silver light; they hovered in the night like white ghosts. Río’s black curls smelled sweet like rancid juice. His eyes were tired, swirled gray with the colors of used Play-Doh. His hands smelled like wet dirt. His rain boots, maybe a size too big, clung to his dangling feet. I took a step and adjusted his weight on my hip.
“Hold on,” I said.
I know all too well how good it is to feel weightless and held, especially in the dark. I thought I’d seen it all until I saw Río. Now, he shows me the world as it could be; the awesome howl created by blowing across the top of a glass bottle; the “cuteness” of a dead bird; how friendly a pile of earthworms in your palm can be. After a couple more steps, my feet entered the water. I wish I could say I wasn’t scared of the dark. I wish I could tell the truth. But I’m an adult. I lie, especially to my son. I tell him all the time that there’s no reason to be scared of the dark. I tell him nothing can hurt him. The full moon is a spotlight following us. I’m up to me waist in water now. I walk up to a rock jutting out of the water and let him down on it for a moment. He is still dry. He lands on his feet. I taught him that. How to walk. How to fall. How to Velcro his shoes. I taught him how to land on his feet whenever anyone lets him down, including me. I taught him not to be scared of the dark.
Sometimes back home, he’d run into the fields at night. When there was no moon, it was like a thick paint, and I’d lose him. I’d stay put, waiting for him to boomerang back. I was scared that if I ran after him, neither of us would ever find each other again. We’ve lost so much to the dark.
I told him to hold me around the neck. As he slid up onto my back, Río stopped and looked up at the sky. He pointed at the moon and said, “I live there.” He’d said this many times before.
“You live on the moon?” I asked in my inquisitive mom voice.
“Yes. En la luna.” He answered.
I love the way he pronounces the ‘S’ in yes. He’s an old soul and doesn’t slap letters off a word willy-nilly. The man on the moon was awake and unable to break his gaze; a rubbernecking driver staring at a starry accident; us. His face was carved from lunar sea’s, and his eyes locked on Río’s, like two old souls from across the bar.
“Yea?” I said. “Well, the moon looks like a beautiful place to live.” Another lie.
Our long other-worldly shadows stretched out behind us on the river rocks. As we began to cross the water came up and I could feel our shadows crawl up and into our bodies. Río’s body felt lighter now in the water, bobbing with blood and floating with magic and creatures from a past he hadn’t met yet.
I named him Río because like all rivers, he was born in the mountains. I named him Río because I want him to have a long life with bends and falls. Because I want his journey to end somewhere other than where it began. Maybe he knows that a life on the moon would have less gravity. Things in this world can be very heavy, but I’m here to carry him through the nights for as long as I can hold him.
Anaïs La Rocca is a director and mom of two. When she is not traveling for work, she sits in her kitchen crafting prose between her son Río, and daughter Rosa. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times’ Modern Love column. Her children’s book titled, The Little Blue Planet, is available on Amazon, 100% of the proceeds going to 1% for the Planet.
A lovely story.