1. I was three.
  2. Okay. Maybe I'd turned four.
  3. Early in the morning, my dad - who is an art professor - and I picked up the fifteen-seater van and waited in the college parking lot.
  4. Dawn had not yet come.
  5. I sat in the dark with a pillow propped behind my head, a blanket on my lap, and, for some reason unknown to me now, a red balloon in my hand as we drove to Washington, DC with the students.
  6. I don't remember much.
  7. We bought a Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt for my mom.
  8. I rode the carousel on the Mall.
    The stand that sold the shirt was just next to it.
  9. I've no memory of what I ate or everything I saw that day.
  10. Three things stand out among all the images of red balloons, carousels, t-shirts, planes, monuments, and paintings.
  11. The Hope Diamond in its case in the wall and the worn out carpet in front of it.
  12. The moon rock in the Air and Space Museum. Standing in front of it and rubbing my finger over it again and again.
  13. Standing in the upstairs gift shop on the Natural History Museum. My dad was at the counter. I stood at a rack and played with dinosaur keychains. There was a door to my right that led out onto the ramp leading downstairs. I went to the door and stopped. I stood there until my dad found me, staring at the pterodactyl on the wall.
    The image of the giant bird is one of the most vivid memories I have. I'm not big into dinosaurs. I don't know the various species and such. But since that moment I have always loved looking at their remains. Loved to stand in a museum in amazement while I look at them towering over me.
  14. I was only 3 (maybe already 4) and it left me in awe.
  15. How I would love to go back to that day.
  16. To hold my daddy's hand and let him lead me to magic.
  17. To see paintings I now know so well for the first time.
  18. To ride a carousel.
  19. To touch the moon.
  20. To be amazed by the beauty of a diamond.
  21. To be astounded by the wonder of dinosaurs.
  22. And to do it all with my dad and a red balloon.