I took them without asking. I wasn’t conniving. I just had the sense of entitlement that comes with childhood, the kind you can afford to have when the whole world belongs to you. They were an integral part of my adventure. I needed them to explore. So I took them, without thinking and without asking, and made my way out the front door.
And it wasn’t until they slipped from my hands that I knew they didn’t belong to me. It wasn’t until I heard the crack on the cement that I knew what I had done was wrong. It wasn’t until I handed the broken pieces back to my mother that I knew I had robbed her of something.
The binoculars were my grandfather’s, a surviving fragment of a life long gone, a collection of my mother’s memories compressed into prisms and lenses. And I had shattered them.
I waited for anger. I searched her face for it. But all I found was sadness. A deep, profound sadness that I had yet to learn. The kind that only arrives after loss.
I apologized again and again. I wanted her hurt to stop. I wanted to rewind the day and put the binoculars back on the shelf. I wanted to fast forward to tomorrow when we could begin to forget the past. I wanted time to move.
But instead we stood there, frozen. Me, waiting for tomorrow. My mother, holding so many yesterdays in her hands.
I was too young at the time to understand the safety of objects, the way a person can become the possessions they leave behind. I didn’t care about the history of things. The only world that mattered was the world that belonged to me, the one right in front of me, the one happening now.
Because in childhood, there are always more tomorrows than yesterdays to worry about. There was no time for regret or grief.
It is only later that we feel the shift. Because eventually, for every one of us, there will come a time when our yesterdays far outweigh our tomorrows. And when we feel that shift in time, we begin to cling to things. We imprint ourselves on them. We make collections on shelves.
It is a way of remaining. It is an integral part of our adventure. It is a way of saying “I was here.”
One yesterday, many years ago, I watched my mother’s eyes well with tears, and felt responsible for them. It was my first lesson in regret. But I had yet to learn grief. I had yet to feel the shift in time that comes only after something has been lost that cannot be replaced. I had yet to understand the longing for a past that cannot be repeated. I had yet to see through the lens of my mother’s eyes.
I looked at her hands and saw that I had taken something that didn’t belong to me. I had broken something that didn’t belong to me. I had hurt someone who did belong to me, and who I belonged to, and I wished I could have taken it all back. I wished I could have changed history and protected my mother from sadness. I wished she could have seen how truly sorry I was.
But she already knew, and had already forgiven me. She was already somewhere else, in a past that I could never know, in a series of yesterdays that existed before I did. She was already desperately clinging to the safety of those memories, holding in her hands my grandfather’s binoculars, the ones that made the distant past feel so large and close.