Our street is one block away from the main road that divides Golf Terrace Drive with its quiet $500,000 homes leaning against the golf course from Orange Avenue with its public housing and pedestrians. I take Clara and William for a walk along the golf course almost every morning, and sometimes I have to share the sidewalk with the men and women walking to the bus stop who already look exhausted at 9 in the morning. Once there was a man walking who made me look both ways to make sure there was plenty of traffic and to consider walking down another block so he wouldn’t see what house I lived in. I had no reason to be afraid of him except that his eyes looked crazy.
This morning we took a walk instead in a park called Lake Ella. Its main feature is a half-mile sidewalk wrapped around a large lake filled with lots of warty ducks and fountains. On the other side of the sidewalk are small businesses and old homes. Today at Lake Ella I realized why I like living between the chain-linked fences and the “members only” country club. I would rather be different than be the same.
At Lake Ella, ten wheelchairs are lined up to face the lake. I see that the heads of the people sitting in them are tilted in such a way that leads one to think they are drooling and paralyzed. We see the man on the end. He lifts two fingers to wave at us. Later we pass the American Legion building for Chapter 96 of Vietnam Veterans. In front of the building is an old Red Cross medical helicopter and an even older man with a P.O.W. hat using his walker to move around the lake. He stops and whispers to Clara: “How are you today, young princess?” She whispers back the new phrase she acquired upon heaving the gallon of milk out of the fridge: “I’m a strong girl.” We walk past Black Dog Community Coffee Shop and see a woman covered in tattoos feeding carrot cake to her baby. On the right, a heavy-set man reads Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. On the left, a skinny man does one-armed push-ups. A woman pushing a large stroller and talking loudly in the cell phone scrunched between her shoulder and ear keeps lapping us. A few yards ahead, a girl in a wedding dress is taking pictures with her father by a willow tree. The man using watercolors to paint the lake on canvas takes out a camera instead and begins to photograph the bride. An elderly Asian couple walks slowly in front of us. The man uses an umbrella for balance; his arm is around her shoulder and she is gripping his hand.
Clara can’t stop asking “what’s that?” and in this park full of things and people that are not the same, I am also full of curiosity, which makes me feel happy to be there. In Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison said, “The world is a possibility if only you’ll discover it.” In a small park teeming with diversities and differences, it is impossible to feel invisible. It is impossible not to feel as though you are being discovered, too, while you discover those around you. I come to think that to be discovered is to be defined. At the park with William slung against my chest and Clara eating string cheese and an apple on the green lawn, I feel I am as much a story to those around me as they are to me. I am defined by the ways in which I am different. At Lake Ella and in our small home that separates the bus stops from the professional landscape, I find I am a mom who holds her baby close and lets her two-year-old romp in the grass and feed the ducks. I am a mom who takes her children to a park on a nice day.