You Grow Up
You grow up with a kid but you never really notice him. He's just there -- on the street, the playground, the neighborhood. He's part of the scenery, like the parked cars and the green plastic cans on trash day.
You pass through school -- first grade, second grade -- there he is, going along with you. You're not friends, you're not enemies. You just cross paths now and then. Maybe at the park playground one day you look up and there he is on the other end of the seesaw. Or it's winter and you sled to the bottom of Halftank Hill, and you're trudging back up and there he goes zipping down, his arms out like a swan diver, screaming his head off. And maybe it annoys you that he seems to be having even more fun than you, but it's a one-second thought and it's over.
You don't even know his name.
And then one day you do. You hear someone say a name, and somehow you just know that's who the name belongs to, it's that kid.
The Bright Wide World
He is one of the new fitter of boys tossed up by this brick-and-hoagie town ten miles by trolley from a city of one million. For the first several years they have been home babies -- Zinkoff and the others -- fenced in by walls and backyard chain-link and, mostly, by the sound of Mother's voice.
Then comes the day when they stand alone on their front steps, blinking and warming in the sun like pups of a new creation.
At first Zinkoff shades his eyes. Then he lowers his hand. He squints into the sun, tries to outstare the sun, turns away thrilled and laughing. He reaches back to touch the door. It is something he will never do again. In his ears echo the thousand warnings of his mother: "Don't cross the street."
There are no other constraints. Not a fence in sight. No grown-up hand to hold. Nothing but the bright wide world in front of him.
He lands on the sidewalk with both feet and takes off. Heedless of all but the wind in his ears, he runs. He cannot believe how fast he is running. He cannot believe how free he is. Giddy with freedom and speed, he runs to the end of the block, turns right and runs on.
His legs-his legs are going so fast! He thinks that if they go any faster he might begin to fly. A white car is coming from behind. He races the car. He is surprised that it passes him. Surprised but not unhappy. He is too free to be unhappy. He waves at the white car. He stops and looks for someone to laugh with and celebrate with. He sees no one, so he laughs and celebrates with himself. He stomps up and down on the sidewalk as if it's a puddle.
He looks for his house. It is out of sight. He screams into the never-blinking sun: "Yahoo!" He runs some more, turns right again, stops again. It occurs to him that if he keeps turning right be can run forever.
Sooner or later the let-loose sidewalk pups will cross the streets. Running, they will run into each other. And sooner or later, as surely as noses drip downward, it will no longer be enough to merely run. They must run against something. Against each other. It is their instinct.
"Let's race!" one will shout, and they race. From trash can to comer. From stop sign to mail truck.
Their mothers holler at them for running in the streets, so they go to the alleys. They take over the alleys, make the alleys their own streets.
They race. They race in July and they race in January. They race in the rain and they race in the snow. Although they race side by side, they are actually racing away from each other, sifting themselves apart. I am fast. You are slow. I win. You lose. They forget, never to remember again, that they are pups from the same litter. And they discover something: They like winning more than losing. They love winning. They love winning so much that they find new ways to do it: Who can hit the telephone pole with a stone? Who can eat the most cupcakes? Who can go to bed the latest? Who can weigh the most? Who can burp the loudest? Who can grow the tallest? Who is first ... first ... first ... ? Who? Who? Who? Burping, growing, throwing, running -- everything is a race. There are winners everywhere. I win! I win! I win! The sidewalks. The backyards. The alleyways. The playgrounds. Winners. Winners.
Except for Zinkoff.
Zinkoff never wins.
But Zinkoff doesn't notice. Neither do the other pups.
Zinkoff 's First Day
Zinkoff gets in trouble his first day of school.
In fact, before he even gets to school he's in trouble. With his mother.
Like the other neighborhood mothers of first day, first grade children, Mrs. Zinkoff intends to walk her son to school. First day is a big day, and mothers know how scary it can be to a six-year-old.
Zinkoff stands at the front window, looking at all the kids walking to school. It reminds him of a parade.
His mother is upstairs getting dressed. She calls down, "Donald, you wait!" Her voice is firm, for she knows how much her son hates to wait.
By the time she comes downstairs, he's gone.
She yanks open the door. People are streaming by. Mothers hold the hands of younger kids while fourth- and fifth-graders yell and run and rule the sidewalks.
Mrs. Zinkoff looks up the street. In the distance she sees the long neck of a giraffe poking above the crowd, hurrying along with the others. It's him. Must be him. He loves his giraffe hat. His dad bought it for him at the zoo. If she has told him once, she has told him fifty times: Do not wear it to school.
The school is only three blocks away. He will be there before she can catch him. With a sigh of surrender she goes back into the house.
The first-grade teacher stands at the doorway as her new pupils come. "Good morning ... Good morning ... Welcome to school." When she sees the face of a giraffe go by, she nearly swallows her greeting. She watches the giraffe and the boy under it march straight to a front row desk and take a seat.