Most afternoons as a child, I would sit cross-legged and rest my chin on my bedroom windowsill and watch the world in front of me. The windowsill was chipping, and my picking at it didn't help. The panel at the base was even beginning to bend from my leaning on it. On rainy days I was hypnotized. The tiny metal strings of the screen took in moist soil and the cool aroma of the cypress tree that stood alone in the back yard. Billions of soft putterings and slappings of thin drops trickled on the cement driveway below. Beyond, the smatting of the drops on the maple's deep green leaves would slip off in an accumulation and slap the ground, completing the rhythm that played so majestically. Except for the rain, these were silent days, days where I learned patience, patience for a dream.
Mrs. Soul had a lovely house on the other side of our driveway. Sometimes gusts of wind got caught in between the neighboring Victorian houses, and I could inhale the scent of mountain-breeze detergent and the peace of a calm laundry Sunday that shot out of the pipe on the side of her house. I often watched her tend to her orange daylilies that trailed along our driveway. She was finicky, never satisfied with their growth. I watched her kids come and go in and out of [End Page 35] their house. Their screen door squeaked and quickly slammed back, echoing through the neighborhood. It was always a signal to look out and check what exciting things were happening that day. Sometimes they'd run off with a basketball or sit with each other and draw with chalk along the street. The two older brothers and the younger sister picked at each other, but it always ended in laughter. Their laughs would radiate between our houses and into my room. Hearing it so clearly almost made me feel a part of their moment, their laughter. Their kitchen window was directly across from my window. I could peek down from my second story and see their feet under their table. If there wasn't a lot of traffic, I could hear their parents engage in conversation and observe their thoughts on their day. I vicariously lived through their dinner conversations. Such laughter and compassion didn't exist on my side of the driveway. When the clanking of their dishes was over and their kitchen went dark, I'd look out at the street and imagine having my own kitchen table, with my own family's conversation and laughter.
In my first apartment, the kitchen sink sat below two giant open windows that cornered at a ninety-degree angle. The view was perfect. On my left side, I could watch dirt-faced little children dig holes in the yard that I shared with my neighboring tenant. There was always the right side to turn to when I lacked patience for children and personal space. At that spot I could watch the main road from a distance. It became a ritual: I would pull my stool up and eat my canned dinners at the corner. Sometimes I'd laugh at the kids, dreaming of my own and hoping that things truly could be different for them than they were for me. I would often think about the way parents develop a new attitude towards the small things in life. I would imagine being a parent, picking up sharp action figures, wiping up milk spills, and laughing off chaos every time my kids made me smile. I knew that if there was ever a chance I could be a mother, I would be more than glad to have my kids destroy everything with curiosity, including my yard. I knew that if I were lucky enough to ever have that innocence in my life, I would probably be out in the yard digging with them. Until then it was only the dream of a peace that I had to hold on to. [End Page 36]
Later, my husband, Chris, and I stood in our new house. The back door was set in...