Birthday in Central Park

Cassie gave this to me on my 60th birthday. She’d written it three years earlier when she was 12. I was incredulous that I hadn’t known about it. I’ve illustrated and am sharing it. It complements ‘Cassie and the Magic Castle’, which I wrote when Cassie was five or so.

Joanna and I never taught Cassie to act nice when she didn’t feel nice. People would stop and say, “Oh look, there’s Shirley Temple”. Being treated as an object infuriated Cassie. Joanna and I secretly enjoyed ‘Cassie’s rat-face’. Too bad so many people spoke to her like she was a baby instead of a real person. We’d quip, “Did you see the horror on that woman’s face when Cassie snarled at her? She probably thinks we’re the world’s most inconsiderate and permissive parents”. Cassie later reprimanded me for encouraging her to be frank and direct instead of teaching her to be tactful and diplomatic. I told her we did her a favor and one day she’d thank us.

A Day in Central Park by Cassie Seltman

There’s a small girl and a man. The girl looks about 5; maybe 6.Their backs are to you. You wonder if the girl, with her short stature, and bouncing golden curls, might be Shirley Temple. When she doesn’t break into a tap dance in the next five minutes you realize she’s not. The man’s taller, and in the silhouette of his outstretched arm, you see her skinny arm, the two arms form a ‘V’, and where they meet you see a large fist of the man, where, you assume, the girl’s hand is hidden, safe inside.

The little girl is me. I look up at my father who smiles down at me, and gives my hand an affectionate double squeeze, which between us, has wordlessly come to mean, “I love you.” His smile reaches up on either side of his face, daring to touch the sky. The smile lines on his eyes are in synch with his mouth, and all the stray wrinkles, that were once without purpose, run, like paper clips to a magnet, to the epicenter, which is his corner eye. From there they fan outwards, and add age to his almond shaped eyes.

While white sailboats float on the small boat pond, Alice sits atop her voluptuous mushroom. To her left is the mad hatter, and to her right the Cheshire cat lingers on a branch. I run up, jump on the mushroom, and sit in Alice’s lap. I look up at her and run my stubby fingers over her metal eyes. I look back at my dad for approval, and he smiles.

cassie under Alice2I want to be like Alice, who lives in her own world of friends and foes and crazy hatters. Who can stumble upon a mushroom or wander around a cave, and have her life change in an instant. I crawl below the mushroom, and underneath the bronze is cool. Small bronze animals surround me. My dad crawls next to me, and though seemingly awkward, he slides right in. With dad here now, I become one of the bronze animals, or maybe the animals become us. The lines between bronze and flesh, night and day, cold and hot, merge. They become something that’s all of them, and nothing at the same time. We live in an alternate reality, where time doesn’t exist for us or anybody else. Our bodies don’t belong to us anymore, and our new ones are weightless. We don’t care what we look like, and if we did we couldn’t, because everything changes so fast our appearance can’t keep up with us. Things like gravity that are dulled, are amplified in other ways. You know things, without having to realize them, and all that’s there are concepts and emotions, that float like thick, white clouds in the air around us.

Soon we hit the trees. Cherry blossoms fill one tree. With wide set branches, we climb up and lean back. Almost instantly I’m with Bobo the gorilla. I’ve come to visit him in the jungle.

“I brought you a backpack full of red bananas,” I tell Bobo, because they are his favorite, and rare in the jungle.

“Oo oo ah ah” my dad says. If any tigers or animals threaten Cassie, Bobo swings them over his head, beats his chest, and banishes them from the animal kingdom forever. We eat cashew nuts and climb down.

cassie and the ugly ducklingCircling back around, we see the ugly duckling and Lewis Carol. The ugly duckling was always one of my favorites.  I always reassure it that it is indeed, not ugly but beautiful, and give it many strokes. I stare at the webbed bronze toes. I turn around to my dad.

“Maybe he wants some cashew nuts,” my dad suggests. As I take them from his warm palm, I look back, and it seems as if the duck (which is really a swan) has waddled a little. We walk on.

Cassie on Balto smFarther along, Balto poses heroically, his shaggy mane immortalized in bronze. I struggle to climb up on him. For a while I wiggle and fail. I look back at my father, expecting him to lift me up. He stares back at me.

“Keep trying.” I finally wiggle my way up to Balto’s back, and sit, perched on top. Soon I slide off, and climb down the edge. I jump into my dad’s arms, which seem always to be warm.

 

We walk down the cement roads of central park. I look up at my dad, and think of how many days we spend together playing in this park. I think of making artwork with chalk on the sidewalk; I think of watching him build a tree house. I think of turning over rocks in the woods, seeing what creatures live beneath.

We stroll out of the park, and into the busy streets of New York City. Sirens sound, cars rush, the sour smells of garbage, urine, and car exhausts fill the air. I feel the warmth from his hand in mine, following me always, as we step into the concrete jungle.