It’s the kind of day you would light a match just to watch it burn, if not for the drops that would extinguish the flame. Not those falling from the sky, but those traveling down your face. It’s the kind of day you long for the numbness you’ve trained your heart to embrace because allowing anything else might break you.
An old, brown Ford LTD pulls up to the school announcing its arrival with the screeching sound of brake pads that should have been replaced long ago. And yet, the little girl in the back seat finds comfort in the familiar sound, as her finger nervously plays with a tear in the leather. Her red curls bounce as the car comes to a stop. The green ribbon she pulled off the dried-up bouquet on the kitchen counter isn’t enough to hold her hair back. She blows a loose curl out of her face as she peers out the passenger window at a red brick building where she will try to blend into the background once more. The place where Monday through Friday she will field questions she has no answers to, and those she can answer most people wouldn’t believe anyway.
This place will be much like the rest. Children will ignore her other than to mock her thrift store clothing, her worn out shoes, and her mother’s sad excuse for a lunch…on the days she remembered to pack one. The teachers won’t see her past the pitiful look in their eyes. It’s okay. She’s gotten good at making herself invisible.
She does it every time her mother brings home a strange man, wanting her to call him daddy, and promising their lives will change for the better. This time, they’ll be a family like the ones in her favorite tales, the ones with the tattered pages she keeps under her bed. They are her only escape on the inevitable nights when the shouting will be the beginning of the end once again. Her tiny knuckles wrap around the book’s edge, her little heart bursting with fear, tiny drops adding to the already tear-stained pages. Is it possible to run out of tears? She wonders.
Grabbing her pink backpack with one hand, she struggles to open the car door.
“Hurry up! Get out or you’ll make me late for work!”
“I’m sorry. Have a good day, Mom.”
She enters the school, inhaling the familiar scent of every school she has ever attended. The hall is empty as she makes her way to the school office. Knowing she’s tardy on her first day, still, she takes her time. As she passes each classroom, she catches glimpses of students unloading their school supplies and for a moment wonders if the Bic pen she found in the car will make it through the day, or if it will draw attention, enlisting a barrage of endless questions. The receptionist’s counter is high enough she has to raise herself on tip-toe to ring the bell. At the sound, an older woman with an orange headscarf hurries out of a back office. The end of the scarf is so long it weaves through her long, silver strands and comes to rest on her chest.
“How may I help you today, sweet child?” Her voice is warm and soothing.
A tiny voice floats up from the other side of the counter.
“I’m a new student. Today is my first day.”
The woman looks toward the door and tries to hide her surprise. She shuffles some papers in search of a roster.
“Students are listed in alphabetical order by last name, so it should only take me a minute to find you. What’s your last name?”
The little girl gasps. The question brings tears to her big brown eyes. She knew something was missing this morning. In her haste to drop her off and get to her new job, her mother had forgotten to tell her what her last name was these days. As she inches ever closer to the counter, tears threatening to spill, she whispers, “Just look for Eden.”
We all have our once upon a time. This was mine. I guess I could’ve let it define me and set the tone for my life story. Instead, I chose to let it be just that…the first couple of chapters, not the whole story. I chose to believe the only piece of that beginning I still carry with me are the memories I’ve tried for years to erase only to find I may succeed in toning them down to a dull tint, but they are forever present just below the surface. Try as I may to ignore them, I catch glimpses of them in my reflection and that of the tiny silver compass I wear close to my heart.
It takes many parts to make a whole. While those early experiences can be categorized as a part of me, there is so much more to me. Yet, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t yearn to find the whole me. I search for answers that always seem to elude me. I look at other families that seem to have it all together, the kind who share birth stories and love stories. I don’t necessarily long for that family. Truth is, I only long for my story.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in Just Look For Eden.