The first time she climbed through my bedroom window in the middle of the night I was ten and she was eight. She didn’t say anything, just clung to me beneath my purple unicorn blanket and quivered. I wrapped my arms around her and held her and cried without a word because the truth was, I saw the blood smeared on her thighs as she climbed in.
She climbed through my window a lot that summer. I didn’t mind. We never talked about why she trusted me or why she felt safe here. We just were.
Sometime in October I saw flashing lights on my wall and heard yelling next door and looked out to see her mom’s husband helped into a policeman’s car, his wrists wrapped in cuffs as her mom screamed obscenities and hurled his clothes across the yard. I never saw him again.
For a while I didn’t see her either. I heard her mom tell mine that she had been “insta-lushun-ized”, whatever that meant. I also learned that “motherfucker” didn’t actually have anything to do with a mother and more to do with a bad man who hurt little girls.
When she came back home, it was summer again. She had new scars that looked liked stripes and scratches and holes on her arms and the skin beneath her eyes was grey. When she smiled, it never seemed as if her eyes smiled with her lips. She left again before school started again. This time I didn’t see her for another two years.
Back home again, she still snuck into my room sometimes. I still held her. She didn’t have blood on her skin but she still seemed to think there was still some left there. We talked a lot. Or maybe, really, I talked and she did a lot of listening. I liked to tell stories and I usually wrote them down. She always listened and had questions and asked for more and more. I think maybe it was during those times I sat there brushing her hair, telling of the adventures in far off lands that she was somehow there too. If my brush stilled, she’d gently say, don’t stop. If my story ended, she’d ask for another, a hint of desperation in her voice.
When I was seventeen and she was fifteen, she climbed into my window and told me they were moving. Her and her mom and her new dad. He, at least, was a good dad. She adored him and his eyes were soft when he looked at her. I think he must have known she was broken and so he held her very gently, so as to not break her bird-like bones.
When I was twenty-two, my own parents decided to move away, but they let me buy the house from them, because I loved this town and I loved my job and I was just getting ready to publish my first book. We hugged good-bye on the front lawn and they drove away to Florida, where apparently it’s warmer and winters aren’t so cold.
So it was a quiet December evening several years later and there was a little snow building up on the window ledges when I heard a tapping on the glass in what was once my bedroom but was now my office. I set both my book and my tea down and went in to investigate, my soft grey kitty following me silently.
The last time she climbed through my window I was twenty-four and she was twenty-two and we laughed a little as she struggled a little to climb through, bundled as she was in her puffy winter jacket. We hugged each other tight for what seemed like forever but really was only a few minutes. And when we at last pulled apart, I saw her cheeks were still rosy with the winter chill and there were melted snowflakes clinging to the knitted hat which attempted to tame her soft ginger waves and her eyes were still wide and hazel with flecks of gold and blue.
Inviting her into the living room where I had a fire going in the fireplace, she curled herself in front of the chair closest to the heat, arms wrapped around her knees and back resting against the footrest. She chose to stare into the flames as I busied myself brewing a cup of tea for her and filling the space between us with an endless stream of words.
When I set the cup beside her, she turned to rest her cheek on her knee and looked at me for a moment before smiling a little smile and I noticed this time it reached right up into her eyes and I realized just how beautiful she really was. I smiled wider and told her how happy I was to see her again and how I missed her. Her eyes grew soft and she said, brush my hair?
I laughed a little and left to get my hairbrush. When I returned she’d gone back to watching the flames and I noticed my little grey kitty had already curled up next to her. I couldn’t blame her, really. Then sitting behind her, I gently removed her hat and began to use my fingers before moving on to the brush. She sighed and then murmured, tell me a story.
I smiled and shook my head but started in anyway. I told her a story I had been working on, for my next book actually, up to the point I was at, at least. She hardly moved except to sip her tea or run her fingers through the fur of the soft puffball beside her. Sometimes she would ask a question but mostly she simply listened.
A few hours passed and I hardly knew where the time had gone yet it felt so perfectly natural here with her. When it came time to go to bed, I stood up and held out my hand to her and pulled her to her feet. And with her hand still in mine, I turned and led her to my bed where sleep came to us much, much later. I held her in my arms that night, like so many nights before. Only this time my tears weren’t of helpless sorrow but instead they were tears of sweet joy. Tears of quiet completion.
She never climbed through my window again.
tara caribou | ©️2019