The way he delicately grabbed the large crayon big enough for a baby’s hand but too big for an adult's hand reminded me of the way I wanted to pick him up and hug him: You are so loved. Rohen didn’t yet know about substance abuse or poverty or hunger or sadness or loss. I could tell he knew what love was when I crouched behind the counter, called his name, and popped out at him as he rounded the corner into the kitchen: “LOLLY!” he screamed and jumped and clasped his hands together as though it were his birthday and I was the present he unraveled from the glistening bow. Life is simple for him; he can climb into his Fisher-Price red and yellow car and drive to Mommy’s House. He understands the complexities of jokes: Rohen, can I have one of your fries? He gave me a low-five and a smile.
I hope he knows he is loved just like I wish I could tell my younger self how loved I was.
Am I smart enough? Am I confident enough? Am I thin enough? Am I fast enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I worthy?
I wondered all of these things when I should have focused on smiling and laughing and playing and telling jokes and eating fries. Instead, my self-confidence hid behind the kitchen counters, and when I ran around every empty room looking for it, it remained crouched and concealed. It was out of sight, and so was I.
When I look at Rohen and see how much of a true, real human he is—albeit smaller—I feel both happiness and sorrow. His favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate and his favorite sport right now is basketball. It was soccer the last time I saw him. He changes every day, and he possesses this ability to understand the calming voice of his mother when she tries to reason with him. She doesn’t scold him or berate him: she understands he is a child and he needs to feel loved in order to gain his respect. Through his tears and his screams after he knocked over a walker, her voice reached him and his eyes widened—they opened up and let her inside: Don’t break things. Grandpa needs that later. A smile spread across his face as he turned to run toward his car. It was time for a joy ride.
Yet, I still felt sorrow.
When he brought out the washable crayons and coloring book again, he gracefully drew across the page—away from the lines and far enough away from the edge of the paper.
“He’s so careful when he colors,” I found it almost remarkable as I spoke to his mom.
“Right? That’s how he is when he paints too,” her voice was as gentle as his sketches.
He is a gentle soul.
At two years old, he does not yet know his father’s artistic talents. For his birthday, his father drew him a picture of an owl accompanied by a soothing nursery rhyme:
A wise old owl sat on
The more he saw the
less he spoke
The less he spoke the
more he heard
Why can’t we be like
that old bird?
The same colors Rohen used as he sat perched at the kitchen counter had been displayed in that picture.
“Ro, what color is this?” We had been working on colors.
“Orange.” He was correct.
“What about this one?”
“Lellow.” Right again. It continued: red, blue, green, brown. He knew them all.
His grandma had his father's drawing framed. Her and his mother gave it to him. We will all watch over him like that old bird.
The hairspray stuck to my mirror, the metal of a spoon in my cereal bowl, the broken protective glass of my phone: imperfect reflections look back at me. The ripples dancing over the water, barely reflecting my silhouette in the murky green of the largest reflective pool in the country: desires to become great.
I sat cross-legged on the cement edge of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. It was a 70-degree February day, and my winter scarf juxtaposed with my thin veil of sweat around my neck felt like regret. My mind thought about the history, the role models engraved, implanted throughout our nation’s capital—their ashes scattered across the lawn. I tried to take a picture of the pool with the silhouette of Lincoln’s legacy placed in the background. The photo’s result kept reappearing as a crooked image. Grass on the left side of the pool appeared full, green, emblazoned with promise. Grass on the right side appeared overused, unappealing.
People scaling the Lincoln Memorial in the distance looked like black ants on a sidewalk.
The depth of the pool seemed fascinating—the water looked completely undesirable, yet also strangely appealing. I remembered the scene in Forest Gump in which Jenny half-swam toward Forest, but I think everyone remembers the cultural undertones tucked between Forest’s innocence and determination when they stroll through D.C. I thought about Nicholas Cage and the Declaration of Independence. Let it be known I didn’t have any thoughts of thievery; however D.C. does have a tendency to make us feel as though we can do anything. I wanted to dive into the water and pretend I was swimming through the Black Lake during the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I could blow a bubble around my head for protection and harried breaths, and my hands could surge through the water. But I wasn’t in a fictional novel. I didn’t dive into the pool.
Gentle May wind rippled waves across the pool even though it was February. A snowstorm was supposed to arrive soon, but it didn’t seem real. The imminent weather shift felt almost impossible, but then again, I guess anything is possible in D.C. Look at our Administration.
We left our perch and decided to walk toward the Lincoln Memorial. A child pushed his younger brother in a stroller and weaved throughout runners and tourists while they both laughed. Their mother followed and admired them from afar. She took her time. There was no point in rushing, in making the happy moments fly by. We took turns walking and giving each other piggyback rides. Girls rode by on bikes while simultaneously trying to take pictures of each other. We wondered how many people fall into the pool annually.
There were more stairs leading up to the Lincoln Memorial than I remembered from two years prior and eight years prior to that. Memory seems to do that—it alters with age. Everything seemed impressive and incredible when I was younger. There was always a sparkle. When we reached President Lincoln’s feet, we turned our backs to him—physically, but not mentally—and we admired the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool. The monuments were great in the grand, robust sort of way. But during this trip, I appreciated the Reflecting Pool and its tranquility and softness more than the sureness of the concrete. It gave room for thought—for reflection. Rather than looking at another face or the careful stiffness of concrete, I was able to self-reflect. Am I who I want to be? Am I going in the right direction? How can I do more?
When I walked into the coolness of the Lincoln Memorial, I took the time to lean against a pillar and practice my breathing techniques as I read The Gettysburg Address. Quality over quantity. Deep breaths over short breaths. Pace yourself, Lauren. This time in D.C., unlike the times before when I was a true tourist with an agenda, I read about strides toward equality and unity—toward greatness. There were great lengths to make then, and there still are now.
I then walked back toward President Lincoln. His hands and feet seemed larger than my entire body. I wished he could talk, encourage, and help those who are lost. I wondered if he ever imagined people would travel thousands of miles to see a concrete image of him. I wondered if years from now President Obama will receive the same honor.
A young girl traveling from China stopped me as I was about to descend the stairs decorated with stray Starbucks cups and asked if she could interview me. Sure, I said. Why not? She asked me how I felt about Donald Trump. He’s my least favorite person in our entire country, I said. I didn’t feel regret when I said this. I didn’t worry about why she needed this interview. I didn’t worry about who could potentially see it. I stood in the middle of a city in which people before me fought for my right to freely say what I think. As far as I was concerned, none of my interests were even in the peripheral vision of our current Administration. They would never glance my way. I needed to stand for what I believed in. I still do.
We then walked along the Vietnam Memorial. A girl who wanted a similar interview approached my friend. Perhaps they are just students who are curious about how we feel, we thought. All I really had left to say was, I’m so sorry.
How could we let them—the names on the wall—down?
The White House lawn sat between office buildings. It observed runners and dogs and litter along the sidewalk. There weren’t spotlights highlighting its presence or its meaning or its importance. Locals didn’t even glance toward it. It blended with corporate mongering and food trucks.
Lauren is a Ball State University alumna with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. She enjoys breakfast for dinner with a side of literary enjoyment.