I didn’t know it at the time, but he was doing it already. I realize now that it happened more naturally that time than it ever has since. Well, at least, ever since I found out.
Back then, I was so oblivious to it, I didn’t even realize my dad does the very same thing. Granted, I haven’t walked—let alone stood for nearly an hour—on a sidewalk with my papi for a very long time. One of the side effects of having a long-distance family, I guess.
I realized my dad does it, too, years after Eric did it that first time. When I realized it, Papi and I were walking to our first lunch alone together since my move to Portland, for one of my last meals as his unmarried little girl. (Let’s be clear: I’ll always be his little girl, just never again an unmarried one.)
Seeing Papi do it that day made me ache to be small again. To get a do-over for all the times we had walked together before. To this time, be 12 and on vacation and walk along that sidewalk on Rodeo Drive, and take that detail in instead of taking adolescent angst out on him. To see him doing it, and know he was imprinting on me what to look for in every man I’d someday meet. To know it was little things like that I needed to hold out for, and that I’d find it, because he taught me I deserved it.
I want to say that when I saw him—my him—do it that sun-kissed evening as we waited for our ice cream, that I knew. And that I said to myself, “That’s it! That’s the sign Papi told me about! Better hang on to this one.” But like a Pavlovian puppy, I just did as my training taught me, clueless as to why. I just knew that this one—he was different.
He didn’t tell me that time, the time now recorded in history as our first-date-that-wasn’t-a-date, that he was doing it, like he has to now. He couldn’t have told me that he’d do it every time we walked down a street together, for the rest of our lives. That we would—walk down the street, together, for the rest of our lives.
But he did it. He stood on the outside of the sidewalk, doing that old-fashioned, chivalrous manly thing of shielding me from the dangers of the street, the cars, the other passersby. He did just what my dad has always done, without telling me.
And in doing it, he showed me he was the one. So no matter how many times I forget and try to take the wrong side of the sidewalk, I know I’ll never, ever forget that.