A summer evening in 2009. Rui and I stopped at St. Mark’s Bookshop at Astor Place to read after a day in the Tompkins Square Park playground and an early supper nearby. Rui and I frequently sat on little seats in front of the children’s books there, where I read him nearly everything on the shelf. This was a favorite activity of Rui’s. If I ever suggested stopping at a bookstore, he was always game; it was hard to drag him out once we got started. Not a lot of kids found their way into St. Mark’s, which specializes in a certain kind of philosophical modernite ; but I felt at home there after 25 years of regular visits, and the kids books were special, showing the taste of the crowd that frequents this store. After an hour or so we left there happy to go home. But as fate would have it we unknowingly left one of Rui’s favorite toy cars on the shelf beside the books. We were totally unaware of its absence; Rui was nodding all the way home to his bed. In the weeks ahead, we searched all over for that car. But damn, we could never find it. I mourned that car.
Life as Daddy meant I didn’t often get to the grown-up bookstore in those days; every hour not spent working was saved to play with Rui, read to Rui, or take Rui to a park. But one Saturday a couple of months later when his mother took him somewhere without me I went back to St. Mark’s. I entered the shop feeling glad to have a short while to browse, when one of the young dude/ employees tapped my shoulder to tell me that he remembered me, and didn’t I come in with my little boy a few times? Of course, I said yeah, why? He signaled to me to follow him to the front window on Stuyvesant, where the post-mod meets the twilight.
He went behind the registers, reached up to the special order shelves, and pulled down a small light green car. You left this, he said. I stared, surprised. In a mean cold-hearted city with such millions passing a central downtown street corner like 3rd Avenue and 9th Street … here was somebody who remembered the charming sight of Rui and me reading stories in a corner at the back of the shop. I took the car and smiled broadly. The way I remember it, my feet lifted me six inches off the ground. Out of space and time as all parents do, my mind went to Rui. How it would feel to open my hand for him, where he’d find his racer, safe and sound.
Please, on Thursday, set aside a moment of silence in recognition of the left-behind parents and family members who will be spending another holiday away from their loved, abducted children.