I doubt I ever noticed that there were apartments up there. If ever I had, I certainly didn’t think about the people that lived there; I did not give a thought to who they were or to how they lived their lives.
“Angel of God, my guardian dear…”
This time, as I drove past the strip mall where the old Jungle building, now some sort of medical office, still stands, I did notice the line of windows at the top floor of the structure. In their streamlined sameness, they made me think of a submarine, or a cruise ship, where people boarded without knowing what their destinations would be.
“To whom His love commits me here…”
She still wore her school clothes, her pressed white blouse and navy trousers, when the social worker brought her to our door late that September afternoon. There was something in her eyes, a light that shone brightly then retreated to what seemed almost a haunting hollowness, something that she could hide in favor of the brightness when there was a threat, when she thought she was in danger, when she needed to be safe.
“Ever this night, be at my side…”
I could hear the girls forced conversation through the window. Their words followed the breeze as though they had no choice in the matter. “I like to read. What do you like to do?”
“I like to read.”
The air on that early autumn day, with its freedom, handed the burden of getting to know yet another family, yet another set of rules, yet another new persona. It also handed the burden of digging her fears, her hurts, and her secrets just a little bit deeper.
She likes to read, because that is what she believes others think she should do. She wants others to think she is the same as them, though she has no intention of opening a book.
Within a matter of days, she figured out how we operate. She learned where things are and when people do things, and she learned the things that none of the others have ever needed to know. She even learned where I kept my secret stash of chocolate chips, the ones that I might need for emergency Emily cookies. She, too, might need them for her own personal emergencies, or in case she thinks I have done something to her, in which case she may need to hurt me by taking what is mine, by taking what nobody else even knows is mine.
“To light and guard, …”
I loved living above the Hall of Cards. I may have stayed there forever if the semester hadn’t ended, if I didn’t have to student teach, and if I didn’t need to know what was going to come next. Likely, there were many people that had no idea that anyone even lived upstairs from the shops downtown. My whole life, though, every beat of my daily rhythm, was up there, inside that apartment, in that space of time.
If we climbed on the roof of our apartment, we could peer through the windows of the mysterious building next door. At the top level of the structure, Bold letters, nearly as tall as me, sprawled across the windows that faced the street: V-A-G-A-B-O-N-D. Word had it that this had once been an antique store of sorts, and the owner had closed his doors and gone away, leaving the contents of his shop as an object of speculation for curious college students. I looked in wonder, fascinated by images of old caned chairs, depression glassware, and vintage cookie jars, each with a history of its own and a tale to tell, one which I would never have the privilege to know.
“To rule and guide…”
There is so much I will never know about her, about my child who came to me by way of sadness and pain. I can speculate, and I can learn bits and pieces if I look into her eyes when the light shines. When they are hollow and dark, though, I know that however deeply I try to understand, I will never see clearly into the window that houses her soul.
In the wake of her hypervigilance, I, too, have become as such. In my quest for peace, calm, and healing for my child, I am now on edge. I need to make sure that darkness from days lived through windows of the past does not overcome the light of today.
She was a bit like a vagabond, moving from place to place over the years. The dust can settle now, though, as she is here, officially, to stay. It has been a while since she has flown about in a frenzy of anger and fear, packing her things and asking to move to a new home.
And now, thanks in part to books on tape and to an intensive reading program at the school, but mostly to her own tenacity, she actually does like to read. She knows now, too, to ask if she wants chocolate chips, because I will usually give some to her.
I can’t see into those windows above the old strip mall by Greek Row, but I know that each is home to someone whose story began much before today.