Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

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McKenzie and Eowyn3   I also chase two younger Montgomery moppets around Toledo Zoo …

More, Scotty! shouts Screen Six in his best James Tiberias Kirk impersonation.

Captain, wails Screen Three, I’m givin’ her all she’s got!

Ignoring the argument occurring inside my head, I keep eyes focused on Brianna, at 10 the eldest of four daughters parented by friends Travis and Carol Montgomery. We are running –

She is running, observes One. At warp speed. You move erratically in a combined forward-sideways motion similar to that of crabs eluding groupers.

– around Toledo Zoo in mad dashes, my heart unable to decide whether to continue the Great Race or exit the Human Race. “No … single-decade … girl … beats me!” I sputter in pain.

Come on, Blackie, bellows Six, throw your half-dozen decades into this!

I slap brakes. Screens tumble forward in my head and wrap ’round one another so tightly I cannot tell who speaks and who squeaks. “I’m not – not 60,” I gasp as titanium knee throbs from the unreasonable effort I’ve just asked of it.

Well, 58, points out Four. Almost 59, actually. Close enough.

Brianna strides away and joins birthday girl Abigail, her equally swift, younger sister. Abby, newly nine, shows no ill effects from the overnight aging process. In twin-like fashion, the girlzelles –

Girzelles? laughs Three. Still got it, Boss!

Zoo race– turn and, unconcerned this old lion may be right behind them, appear surprised they so easily outdistance me. Two youngsters make mocking motions, then disappear into foliage. Brianna peeks back once, her face etched in concern, but flees when I take a false step toward her.

The laugh I mean to utter does not reach lips but impolitely catches in my throat.

Struggling to catch a breath, or are you about to cry? asks Two, finally disentangling from Four. Everything OK?

But One knows everything is not OK. Embarrassed, he confesses, I just showed Blackie a similar moment from years ago, off his own timeline. I do not think he knows how to handle the memory that is rolling ….

Shaking my head, I stand on a tennis court and watch the opposing player – my father, 53 – scramble for the shot I “chopped.” Bright yellow ball bounces curiously, eluding my dad and granting me a key point.

You just won the set, 6-4, admires Six. For the first time in your life, you are beating Doug Blackwell in tennis!

There are no feelings of elation. There is no on-court exulting. Right now, my 25-year-old heart knows little but disbelief and sadness. I am unsure of what to do with this unexpected development.

You are not dethroning a king, soothes Five. The contest is merely a match of speed, skills and strengths.

Dad Blackwell“But my father has always been the strength,” I whisper. “And I have neither the skills of my two older brothers nor the speed of my two younger brothers.” My chest threatens to launch great, wracking sobs. “This isn’t right. I’m beating my hero.”

I look at spectators absorbing this contradiction, their faces reflecting the confusion of mine. Dad uneasily bends, scoops the offending sphere that taunted his unanswering racket, painfully straightens. White-faced, he breathes hard, his white tennis shirt plastered to soaked frame. I fear my shot may prompt cardiac difficulties.

The heart problem here is within you, not your father, says Two in hushed tones that respect my agony.

Black, assures One, this is the natural order of things. Do not dial back. Your dad will know.

Second set ends at 6-3. I win, set and match. My father meets me at mid-court. Towering, he leans over the net, wraps me inside his classic bear hug, pushes a kiss into my hair and commends me on “giving the old man a lesson.”

I smile wanly, flee the court and weep far from the astonished eyes greeting my dad. The universe has changed – age gave way to youth – and not for the better. I am unprepared to run the world.

“Hey, old man,” shouts Brianna, all too perfectly breaking my reverie, “you haven’t caught me and Abby even once yet.”

Laughter erupts despite my heart’s irregular sad beats. I know “my time” has come – it is the natural order of things – and I never again will catch these two swifties.

“You can’t go two steps,” boasts Abigail over her shoulders as she glides away, “but I can run the whole zoo.”

Good practice for running the world, remarks Three.


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Postscript: Ever the encourager, next-youngest brother Thor sets aside my “age” concerns when he writes, “I came across this website – www.deathfigures.com – and you can look up our family surname. Although I didn’t find Dad, I did find some interesting stuff, including Grandpa Albert.

“We, [members of] the Blackwell family, live to be approximately 72 years old, which is the national average.

“But you have three more years ’til you hit 70. In cat years. Enjoy the time, my brother!”

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