The Shining Joy of Falling Flat on Your Face

Author: Douglas Curran ’00MFA

I wish I could forever remember but suspect I will forget — as so much is forgotten — my days with Jack, the little boy, my nephew, at the lake house. Just 3 years old, he is sly, covertly funny. He pretends he does not know what he is doing when he faces me at a slight angle, standing on the bed, his back to the undulant brass headboard that is taller than he is. I know what he will do because I have seen him do it several times already, and still it makes me smile. He does not yet speak much, but these days, suddenly, words are passing through his lips, words are settling on the surface of his mind and then emerging, and when I call him “wacko” or “kook” he sometimes repeats the words. I say to him, whatever you do, do not fall forward, do not fall on your face. He is standing innocently on the mattress, not quite looking at me now, his face a blank as if his mind is a blank. Not even the whisper of a smile on his cautious pink lips. And then he falls forward like a small tree coming down timber fast, like an amusement-park ride gaining speed as the distance closes between his face, his small body and the old comforter on the bed. He lands upon his face without hesitation or care and with joy I can feel as the memory of having so fallen myself as a boy of 3, perhaps, I do not know, but with all my being want to feel again. I exclaim, no! Oh no, you have fallen on your face! And he laughs the laughter of the most wonderful 3-year-old boy you ever met in a small explosion of repressed mirth that might have at another time or place been a scream or a cry. And he rolls toward me, arms tucked in, now a log on its side rolling down the hill toward me fast, and he allows me to put my arm around him and to hold him close in a protective embrace filled with exquisite love and joy. And then I let him go, I know I must, he pulls away, a child who loves freedom as much as he does love, who will seek liberty before all else if held too long in place. I let him go by half, then pull him back again, and he giggles and wriggles (we have been reading The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham) and escapes, and hops back toward the headboard, bounding over the bed that is a moon, then climbing the wall, holding onto the headboard, his legs passing through the bars, then standing, turning, silent, all innocent, unknowing, not giving anything away as if he were emptiness and light and air within a face and form of unassuming beauty. All set to fall again. And he falls — once, twice, thrice. Nothing ever so nice. And each time I hold him to me for a moment that goes faster than his fall, and together we laugh the fleeting, forever laughter of pure happiness.

Douglas Curran is an editor at Rizzoli International Publications in New York.