It started with a kite.
I grew up on a farm outside of town and, other than my sister, there weren't many kids around to play with which meant lots of hours of entertaining myself.
And so it was, one suitably windy sunday afternoon, that I was flying my sister's kite out over the fields. It was fall, october probably, because I remember broken corn stalks poking up through plowed earth and the air was crisp and cool in a way it never was in the early spring.
The wind was coming in from the direction of town, pushing smoothly over the house and out over the broken corn, out over the empty fields. Lifting my kite up into the air, pulling the string smoothly off the spool.
I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea, though I'm even more surprised that I had never tried it before, but this afternoon, alone with my kite at the edge of the field, the wind holding it strongly in the sky, effortless, motionless... boring.
So I let more string out, slowly at first, cautiously. But soon letting the spool spin freely in my hands, the kite climbing higher, shrinking away to a tiny dot.
So intently was I watching the kite that I didn't notice the string reaching the end of the spool. Even if I had have realized it was nearing the end, I doubt I would have been able to tell that it wasn't actually attached. And even if I had have realized it wasn't attached, I don't think I could have caught the string before it spun itself free and took off after the kite, lifting lazily over the field.
Luckily, when the string pulled free, it caused the kite to dip, and the string fell lower and began to drag along the ground. I took off after it running out into the field, over the rough ground and the broken stalks. As the string dragged along, it would catch on the corn stalks, tugging and pulling the kite slowly out of the sky. It crashed not far into the field, and I was able to grab the end of the string and start to pull it in. But the wind kept pushing the kite, and it rolled and tumbled over the ground. Being a 10 cent cellophane special, I knew it wasn't going to last long that way, so, in a panic, I began to gather up the string as fast as I could, winding it around and around my hand.
So with the kite safely in one hand and the string wrapped firmly around the other, I went back to fetch the spool, which I had dropped when I went chasing after the runaway kite. As I walked, I let the kite go and it immediately jumped back into the sky behind me, following along as I marched across the field and back into the yard. I knelt down to pick up the spool and began to let the kite pull the string off my arm, concentrating intently on the end of the string grasped firmly in my fist.
But it was october. and my fingers were cold. and the string had been wrapped around my hand for a while at this point and by the time I got to the end of the string, my fingers were completely numb and the string slipped from my grasp and sailed away a second time.
This time I just sat in the yard while the untethered kite lifted higher and higher, fading slowly away, obscured by distance and the tears of a boy who had just lost his sister's kite.
I walked into the house, climbed the stairs to my room and buried my face in my pillow. I cried both for the loss of the kite and for the legendary beating I was sure to get at the hands of my sister whose kite was now probably halfway to the sea.
But my father heard my crying and offered to come with me to find the kite. He was sure that it couldn't have wandered too far.
So my father and I put on our coats and our boots and set off across the field. I had never been to the far end of the field before. It was, it seemed, farther than I'd ever walked in my life. But together we walked, strolling and talking and enjoying an autumn afternoon. We walked to the very end of the field, and then across the field after that, and began to walk across the next one after that. It seemed like we had been walking for days, but I was afraid to turn back, afraid of what my sister might do.
And then halfway across that third field, a miracle appeared in the sky. It started as a little red speck in the sky. A bird perhaps, or a plane, or a cruel, cruel trick of the eyes.
But we kept walking, and the dot stayed. and grew. it bobbed and dipped and fluttered in the breeze.
It was only when we reached the fence that I realized what it was. A tiny knot at the end of the kite string had hooked itself on a tiny barb at the top of the fence and hung on. Hung on with the most precarious hanging.
We stood for a moment, watching the fence fly the kite. And then my father asked, "well? Aren't you going to grab it?"
I grabbed the end of the string, expecting it to jump out of my fingers again. My father helped me tie the end to the spool and I reeled it in slowly as we walked back to the house, back across three fields, three times farther, it seemed, than I had ever been in my life.
It was heroic really. and miraculous. and all of those other superflous words that don't actually apply to anything that happens in our daily lives. In my mind I can see us, ten feet tall and swaggering like cowboys, kicking up bits of dirt that glowed in the setting sun. And swelling music and rolling credits. I swear it happened just like that.
My father got sick a year ago, and by the time I got home from Israel to see him he was shriveled and weak, cancerous. Almost the first thing I did when I walked in the door was ask him about that day that neither of us had mentioned in 25 years.
"Dad, did you remember that day that we went to look for the kite?"
"I think about that day all the time."
"All the way across the field, and then all the way across the next one too."
"I couldn't believe that your little legs made it that far."
"And was it really stuck to the fence like I remember?"
"It was amazing."
He had to rest after that. The cancer in his lungs had taken his breath.
He lived two more weeks.