Today I learned that I am adopted. The news was quite unsettling and took me by mild surprise. Over the years, I have mulled about the possibility that I was indeed genetically different from the others in my family. But such thoughts of differing lineage came more from moments of boredom than anything else. It was never because I doubted that I was truly loved. At the Hensons, we don't shy away from saying how much we love each other. We don't hold back displays of affection either. Hugs, a tousling of your hair, pats on the back, these are rather common. My days are peppered with many moments of joy. So, to be honest, except for some curiosity about my origins, I didn't really care to talk about this new found revelation with anyone. There will be time enough for that.
It was in passing that I had overheard mom speak on the telephone about how quickly times passes and how fast I had grown. She was discussing our plans for the evening and how I may not enjoy it as much. I refer to her as mom. I guess I could call her Mrs. Henson what with me being adopted and all that. But, I really love her. She is the kindest and gentlest of people that I know. And she is so even under duress. When most people would think it natural to react unkindly. She was very proud of me she was saying on the phone. That made me feel warm and tingly inside. I don't quite remember my early days, but there is this faint memory of smiling faces peering at me and sounds of people fawning over me. I remember feeling welcome and protected. Everyone wanted to hold me. I was light at a few months old and was picked up often. I don't think they would be quite so eager to do that now. I have shot up like a weed they say. I turned seven today.
Now dad (Mr. Henson?), on the other hand is your man's man. If he is not indoors with a beer in his hand watching football, he is outside working on his never-ending list of fix-its. Some of them being broken by yours truly. I love watching his fingers at work. For a man his size he can move them with suprising dexterity. He doesn't let me come too close to him while he is working though. He often cautions me to stand back so that I don't get hurt by heavy tools and hardware dropped on the ground. "Okay, this is going to get loud" he would warn me before turning on some of his tools. Sometimes, he would notice me watching him and say "You would love to help me, wouldn't you?". I don't think I will ever be able to do these things. But I know that the sounds of someone at work will always remind me of him.
The pitter-patter of a little feet running towards me rouse me from my reverie. I brace myself for the impact as I feel Katie's tiny hands squeeze around me. She has her familiar grin etched on her face when she puts her face close to mine and says "Katie go play ball. Come Tom". She knows I will not say no like how mom and dad do sometimes. I like lounging in front of the telly but playing with Katie trumps much of what I like to do. "Tom love Katie. Katie love Tom" she likes to say. She runs out of the kitchen door and I find myself racing to keep up. She can move fast, this little one. No taller than a couple of feet she has learned to climb over things and disarm all the child-proofing in the house. I like to keep a close eye on her . If we are not playing with a ball in the backyard, we find ourselves chasing butterflies. And that's what we do today. She can barely jump, but that does not stop her from trying to grab them in flight. I run behind her but I don't jump at the butterflies for fear of hurting them. When we are exhausted, we fall on the grass and stare up at the clear blue sky.
"Alright guys, we are heading out" mom calls out, thwarting us from dozing off. We are bundled into the mini-van and dad says "Off to the park we go!". As we cruise along the neighborhood I notice the flags all around and realize why we are going to the park. And that makes me nervous. All those people, the loud music and the fireworks! Oh no! not the fireworks. I have never been very fond of them. While they look all pretty and nice, the loud pops startle me and I have this fear that the sparks will land on me and burn me. It has never happened, but the fear persists. I usually huddle close to mom and dad and sometimes close my eyes. Katie on the other hand, loves the incendiary display. I wonder if she is foolishly brave. I like to think that I am the brave one. When we reach the park and find a spot to set our picnic mat, Katie and I start running around. It's hard to find much space with all the people milling around.
While the adults are busy greeting friends, Katie and I manage to slip past the trees, towards the lake where it's quiet and open. And we find fireflies! Katie squeals in excitement and tries to catch a few. She follows one that is flying low and, before I realize, she is at the edge of the lake. As I rush towards her, she lunges towards the moving light, loses her balance and screams when she hits the cold water. I look around in panic as I see Katie bobbing in the water. Katie can't swim and neither can I. I see the fear in her eyes as she splashes in the water, trying to grab on to something. I don't see anyone around. Through the trees, I see that everyone has turned towards the flag while the band plays a deafening tune. I try to attract some attention but no one hears me. I am scared. I don't know what to do. My eyes meet Katie's terrified ones. Just as I see Katie's head go underwater, I find myself leaping through the air and diving into the water. God it's cold! And dark. I seem to working on some kind of instinct. I stare hard through the sting of the water and see something shiny. That must be Katie's belt buckle. It seems forever as I reach towards the shiny object and grab hold of Katie's dress. I reach under her and push her towards the surface while moving towards land. Suddenly I hit the side of the lake. But my feet still aren't touching the bottom. Katie's weight pushes us down under the water again. It takes everything I have to push her back up. My body aches as I am kicking my feet furiously. I can now hear Katie fearful screams. She tries to climb on me, pushing me down. I feel us begining to sink again. When I finally give up and relax, I feel the weight on me is gone. Is this how it ends for us I wonder? As my eyes close, I feel strong hands grab me and pull me up. It's dad. As I am laid down on the grass I see that mom is clutching Katie to her chest. I think I smiled.
After a quick visit by the paramedics at the park, the next day, we are back to our old selves. News of my heroics have made the rounds. I have noticed people stopping on our street and pointing at our house. Mom showed me a picture of myself in the paper. I don't really like the attention. "You are going to get a bravery award today!" she says all excited. I know my protests will be in vain.
Come twilight, we find ourselves making our way towards the town hall. There seem to be quite a few people gathered and I find myself subject to those flashing light bulbs again. We are made to go up on a stage. While I nervously look around I hear the Mayor say my name and something about courage. Then the Mayor calls me forward and places a shiny medal around my neck. There is loud clapping as the mayor looks at me and says "We are so proud of you Tommy!". Then Katie hugs me and tries to see what's on the medal. Mom bends downs, inspects the medal and says "Katie, do you know what this says?". "It says, To Tom, from the city of Middlesby, for his selfless act of canine bravery!"