For my parents
My first memory is of my brother. Seeing his head bobbing along in front of me as I chased him down our street, calling after him to wait for me. And he’d turn around and grin, his baby teeth smooth as pearls. “Come on, Wing!” he’d say to me, his little sister.
I would have followed him anywhere.
This one time, the first time I can remember, we were at the swings, they were bright red swings, I can still picture them. Marcus held his hand out to me. “I’ll help you up,” he said, using all his six-year-old strength to hoist my tubby four-year-old body up on the swing.
“Ready?” he said, and before I said yes he gave me a big push and I was flying. Marcus made me fly.
“Like this, Wing! Kick your feet like this.” He had climbed on the swing next to me and was pumping his legs as hard as he could. “We can go higher!”
And I felt like we were blasting off into the blue, blue sky.
“Higher!” he called out, and I kicked my legs as much as I could, but my calves weren’t as strong as his and I couldn’t get as high, no matter how hard I tried.
We couldn’t have been swinging on our own for very long, but at the time, it felt like for ever that it was just us, on a rocket ship, climbing higher and higher. I didn’t think we’d ever come back down.
“Wing! Let’s jump!”
I remember looking over at Marcus, seeing his face set in determination, his lips puckered, brow furrowed, same face he still makes right before he throws a football, clutching the metal links of the chain, and then throwing himself off the swing into the air, shouting like a warrior. He landed in a crouch and stood, brushing sand off his hands. “Your turn!”
I should have been scared. But I wasn’t. I was with Marcus. I kept my eyes on my brother, who was beaming at me, clapping, hopping up and down. He couldn’t wait for me to join him back on earth.
“You can do it! Let go!”
And I did. I let go of the swing and tried to catapult myself into the air like my brother had. And for just a second, I was airborne, just like he had been.
But then I landed. And I didn’t land in a crouch. I landed in a heap, my ankle under me, twisting in a way it shouldn’t have.
I remember trying not to cry as Marcus kissed the top of my head and then my ankle. He said a kiss would make it better. Then he ran to get our grandmother, LaoLao.
“Stay here, Wing!” he commanded. As if I could get up and walk with a broken ankle. “I’ll be right back!”
He took off running, sand scattering around his feet as he left me curled up, trying not to cry, staring at the clouds.
When my dragon flew down from the sky that first time and lay next to me, I wasn’t scared or surprised. It felt like she’d always been there, invisible until now. She was so beautiful, so majestic, that she made me forget all about the pain. Green and gold and shiny all over, with steamy breath that smelled like the Chinese tea my LaoLao loved. The lioness appeared on my other side, tawny and soft, smelling like vanilla and cinnamon, like my Granny Dee, and I wasn’t surprised to see her either. She curled up close, her warm head nuzzling my broken ankle.
Time is funny when you’re little. I couldn’t tell you how long I lay in the sand, buffered by my dragon and my lioness, but they were gone by the time Marcus came back, dragging our huffing and puffing LaoLao, our Granny Dee a few paces behind them.
“I’m sorry I left you!” Marcus was crying now, he always cried when I got hurt, he couldn’t stand it when I stubbed my toe or got a paper cut.
“I have a dragon,” I told him proudly, my pain momentarily forgotten. “And a lion!”
“Where are they?” Marcus sniffed and looked around.
I shrugged. I didn’t know. But I knew they would be back. Someday.
“I’ll show you,” I said, and was rewarded with a wobbly smile.
My dragon and my lioness never did show themselves to Marcus. Just to me. And it was a long time before I saw them again.
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
The cheers are deafening.
Even though I’ve been watching my brother do this his whole life, watching him get knocked down and knocked out, I tense and hold my breath, waiting for the four guys chasing him to tackle him.