There was a time when she would not go to sleep unless she held my hand. Night after night, camped out on the floor of our room, my hand draped down over the side of the bed so she could know that I was there and still attached. Not comfortable with a toddler in our bed, I compromised with a pallet on the floor between our bed and the wall. She seemed more than comfortable there. I always made sure that her hand was not going to go anywhere when she fell asleep and let go because that always got her awake with a jolt. Paralysis in my shoulder became more common than conjugal encounters (and far less satisfying).
Certain Man, a prince among men, was never jealous or resentful. “She won’t be here forever,” he would say good-naturedly with his half-grin. I wondered. Thoughts of a ten year old camped out on our floor became less and less attractive all the time.
He was right, as usual. There came a day when she decided that being in an older sister’s room had decided benefits, and away she went. She’s been going ever since.
I thought today about all the roads this girlie of ours has walked down. Many, many have been the miles that she has walked in unfamiliar and even unsafe territory. She has slept in hostels and tents and cars and bus and train stations as well as airports. She has narrowly escaped falls from high places, got food poisoning in Luxembourg, vomited in the trash cans of Paris train stations. She has lived in big cities, walking the streets where Satan has a heyday. She has witnessed the selling of drugs and ammo and bodies and souls. She has bicycled alone through the darkened streets of Bangkok at unearthly hours. She has encountered terrifying situations, been divinely rescued more than she knows, and been in situations that caused her to face her own mortality square on.
And I don’t think she has told me the half.
Today she seems so far away. Almost every day there are letters from a college in Ohio reminding me that when she does come home, there will be but five days (5!) for her to walk the country roads around Shady Acres with which she is so familiar. I wonder if she will tramp the length and breadth of this old farm the way she did when she was a little girl, and if she will remember the days when her world was this small. I wonder if she will sleep soundly enough for me to creep to her bedside in the still of the night and watch her even breathing and drink in that face that feels almost unfamiliar. I wonder if this practice of being alert has become so much a part of her that she never sleeps soundly.
What I wonder most about is her heart. It’s difficult to see the hard side of this destitute old world and still be soft. She’s adapted so well, grown so much, expanded her horizons so far beyond what I have ever needed to, or, quite frankly, wanted to. She’s an adult, with life dreams and the fire to fuel what she believes is her calling. What about her heart? Over the months, I’ve come to realize that, had she stayed at home, and been content to be safe, that heart of hers could be even harder than it is this way.
Staying safe, and being comfortable hardens hearts, too.
And in the worst sort of way.