My eighteen year old son called asking if I’d allow him to go out to eat with his friends tonight. He reassured me that all chores were completed. It was 6:00 pm, I’m on the bus on my way home from work, halfway through a 1.5 hour commute and still needed to pick up his two younger brothers from daycare. The idea that it would be one less mouth to feed was a glorious gift in itself, so without hesitation I supplied him with a quick “Yes! Go have fun”. No need to ask me twice. I reach my stop, scoop up the little ones, grabbed some pizza and finally made my way home. I slowly drive up the gravel driveway. As my son knows to do before he leaves the house, he kept the front porch light on as well as a dim light in the living room. Same routine. Nothing out of the ordinary. The kids climb out and run up to the front door anxiously waiting for me to catch up. I click on the alarm and make my way around the car. As my eyes set on the house I instantly caught the shadowed image of someone gliding by the dining room window and then lost sight of the person. My heart made a divers leap straight down in to the very pit of my stomach. Light-headed at the idea that there was a stranger in my home, I think I forgot how to breath for a just brief moment and the thick darkness of the night closed in on me. I frantically waved the boys away from the porch and back toward me. I do consider myself an intelligent woman, I promise you I am. But in this very moment I became that senseless character in every horror flick that moves TOWARD the sound of danger to investigate instead of away; far, far away. I reach for the door handle since it must be unlocked. Its locked. What am I thinking? I put my ear to the door hoping to hear some sort of commotion inside. Silence. Did they hear the car alarm go off? Did they sneak out the back door? I quietly insert the key; apprehensively open the door at a snails crawl. I’m an idiot, I know. It seems as if this entire time I had forgotten about the two rugrats behind me that deserved my protection. Where’s my head? As I step in to the room with my keys intertwined between my fingers in weapon mode ready for something (I’m originally from the Bronx), I’m instantly confronted by this “gliding image”. I let out a scream flamed with fear and then relief puts it out quickly after that. My head finally connects with the moment. “What the hell are you still doing here? Why are you weirdly hanging out near the foyer? You scared me! I thought someone had broken in!” all in one breath. My son apologizes with compassion in his eyes for scaring his ‘old lady’ and explains he was just waiting for his ride since they were behind in schedule. He adds a small chuckle in hopes to lighten the moment. My hand is on my chest feeling the rise and fall of the emotions still struggling inside of me. Still shaken about the incident, I hug him with un-quantifiable relief. He returned the gesture then off he went as his chariot had arrived.
The little ones aren’t still outside with no help from their “super-mum”. As nature would dictate they followed me in, without realizing the potentially dangerous prowler that lurked inside. They weren’t alert to the obvious signs of my body language nor did they question why I had waved them away from the porch in the first place. Why would they consider that their very own home could warrant recoil? Why would they fear their haven? They have never had to fall back on a past experience that would have made them all the wiser in this type of situation. My children have been protected; sheltered from the life and environment I grew up around. They live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, with good schools and have never been personally affected by the actions of scary human beings. My husband and I do what we can to help this continue as such and as long as it’s in our reach to control.
But what happened tonight has me
skipping running down memory lane. No yellow brick road that leads me to a powerful wizard that would grant my inner wishes of peace and safety. No fairy godmother, no guardian angel. Just a tough, dysfunctional and concrete environment I would never want to revisit.
I recently overheard a song on the radio by Twenty One Pilots called Stressed Out. Aside from the catchy tune, I found it to have a deep emotional message worth discussing. The chorus goes as follows:
“Wish we could turn back time to the good old days when our Momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out”. The song continues to speak of a happier time when they’d play pretend and build rocket ships and dreaming of outer space. A time of when nothing really mattered. That given the choice between student loans and tree house homes, they’d take the latter.
My psyche has chosen to loop these verses in the past few days, challenging me to come clean if I’ve ever felt the very sentiment that is so simply delivered in this song. A related sentiment to the one that many adults chant to their own children; “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a kid again”, “You don’t know how good it is to be a kid” or referring back to the ‘good old days’ as they gingerly reminisce the days of their youth’. As I sit here deep in self-interrogatory thought, trying to channel THAT nostalgic feeling, it seems to be completely vaulted in some dark abyss never to surface. I question though if it ever existed. When I press myself to recollect, there are no doubt some pleasant keepsake moments to look back on. From my 4th birthday party to the times I’d stay up late watching the Twilight Zone with my mother. From watching Saturday morning cartoons to cooling off in the hydrant on a steamy summer day.
Despite these flickers of lovely memories, my childhood cannot be described as a carefree one. Don’t get me wrong, arguably it could have been that much worse. My heart is heavy with the understanding that so many children have and continue to suffer at the hands of some very scary adults and I cannot begin to ever know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. But when I reflect back to the “little girl” version of myself; I feel sad for her. She was exposed to more than what I would have liked her to have seen or heard at such an early age and with such constancy. The memories that flood the recesses of my brain, to mention but a few are more along the lines of drug dealers cajoling on the corners; the occasional gun shot echoing outside my window; coming home to an apartment that others felt at liberty to trespass and help themselves to our possessions; getting groped by a passerby on my way home from school; one friend that lost a game of Russian roulette; another friend was taught a fatal lesson when bound to a chair and pushed off the rooftop; a single mom that cried and prayed incessantly because she never knew where the next meal or pair of shoes for a growing kid were going to come from; a home invasion while we slept then woken up in a terrified state when confronted face to face with the intruders, of which I never truly recovered from the duration of my dwelling there. Interlace that with all the personal “secret” dysfunctional issues that occurred within the household circle itself.
As a child, I may have daydreamed, but it was dreaming of a time when I could control my own destiny. As a child I didn’t get to choose. I had no personal power against my surroundings or even my own life. My life belonged to the adults around me. I obeyed and quietly worried about not having money, food, rent, at too early of an age. Too young to contribute to changing my current fate. I dreamed forward, I wished in to the future, I hoped for the years to pass quickly so I could earn my way through life. I needed to get through school, I needed to choose a career, I needed to work. Work would be my magic carpet out of these scary streets. Along with this carpet came student loans, bills and rent continued, but I welcome it. Although I didn’t build a rocket ship to fly in to outer space, I most certainly built a new life far, far away from the one I grew up surrounded by. A life that has propelled me away from the time when no song from my Momma could put me at ease. And THAT is better than the old days.
— The Pretty Platform