Sunday, January 13, 2013


We stood there in the sleet, just outside the door of her new house in the ghetto, with its flaking paint job and clashing trim. I used to drive through those neighborhoods at a crawl, desperate to know what life was like behind the windows covered from the inside with faded Sesame Street sheets.

Now I know. Or at least I know a little.

I know what it looks like in there. I know exactly what it smells like - cigarette smoke, cooking grease, urine, rotten food, sweat. She has stayed in five houses since I've known her and the only thing that stays the same is the smell.

She showed me around while I side-stepped garbage bags spilling baby clothes and cracked toys, and all I could think was, this place could be a knock-out. You'd never know it from the outside.

The carpet was filthy, but a vacuum? How in the world could she ever have a vacuum? Small appliances aren't in the cards for this one. She'd just like to get her hands on some dishes.

I was tired on my drive over to see her. I didn't want to go. I wanted a regular Sunday afternoon. A nap. A book. Something cozy. Something just for me.

I wanted to tell her I couldn't help this time, because I see into the future. I know her fingers on that rental agreement had better be loose. I thought of the book, and how it's such a convenient excuse for when we'd really rather not help.

Then, there she was. I saw her from a block away - I'd know her anywhere. I saw her red cheeks and nose, bitten by the air. I saw the crazy hair and the skin I would kill for. The cigarette, her easy laugh, her grandiose plans that sound to me like impossibilities. All I could do was smile.

So we stood there in the sleet. I watched tiny pearls of ice collect in the part of her hair, catch light from the arc of a curl. I don't know that I've ever stood so long in the sleet, but I would have stayed so much longer.

I went in with my own big ideas and listened while she shattered each one with the clean crack of truth. She needs help. She's drowning. She's alone in the entire world, raising four little boys while every single dad sits in jail. She's taking a step, then taking more in reverse. She has one person in her corner.

So I won't leave, even when I think I want to or I run out of ideas or enthusiasm.

I'll promise to always play it straight and I'll expect the same from her. I'll say no sometimes. I'll say wait.

She drags her untied shoes through the mud and the slush and something happens between us. I still don't know what it is, or if it's even for me. I have my doubts about her future in that house. But maybe two or three months is plenty. Maybe she'll show me a thing or to about my big, stupid plans.

Maybe we'll shine it up, that job she's waited on will land at her door, and we'll watch the months collect like lucky pennies in our jar.