When I was four, I came up with the most brilliant solution to the “Monsters under the bed” issue. In the blackness of night, I would put my blanket over my eyes. If I couldn’t see the bad guys, then the bad guys couldn’t see me. It made me feel safe enough to sleep. Problem solved. You’re welcome.
Then when I was eight, my mom accidentally sold our house in three days. We had to be out in two weeks. Shockingly, in the early 90’s, the rental market was sparse. With about 3 days to spare, dad secured us an apartment to live in for a while. Top floor, 2 bedrooms, one bathroom, 700 square feet.
Six people, one bathroom. I’ll let you do the math.
It was the end of my world. My tenuous feeling of safety was shattered. The invisible boundary that had protected my world was now completely gone. I was absolutely certain that I would never again find friends or joy in this life, let alone safety. That house, the one my parents sold on a whim, was all I had ever known. The scars on my right palm from crashing my bike, the piano lessons across the street, the arranged marriage I performed for my little brother to the girl next door just so I could eat chips and salsa in the middle of the day as the reception food and riding my bike to the Apple store where, for 1 penny each, I could buy all the Swedish Fish in the land. Without my permission, it was there one day and completely gone the next. Nothing could block out this monster.
My parents stashed all four of us kids in the master bedroom and prayed to the Sibling Gods every night that we wouldn’t kill each other and maybe even get some sleep. Maybe.
All my possessions were gone. Vamoose. Sayonara. Adios. I owned one small box of belongings (as did my siblings) and that was it. The rest went into storage or outer darkness, not sure which. It didn’t really matter.
The first night in the apartment, I couldn’t find my blanket to cover my eyes so I could sleep. I was devastated. After a lot of tantrum, and some bargaining, I agreed to use my mom’s t-shirt instead . It had an Owl on it and said “Whoooooooo cares? Nurses do.” That feeling of not being safe was echoing deep down inside of me and there wasn’t a blanket thick enough in the universe to block it out. Everyone was sleeping except for me. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t safe here or anywhere. I was completely small, alone and scared with not even my blanket to protect me now.
The next day, I was sitting on the stoop of the apartment considering all my woes and not much else, when a pair of eyes peeked over the railing to see who was making a fuss. I managed a salutation of sorts and was shocked to see the eyes retreat below again. I know frightened eyes when I see them. I didn’t mean to scare her. I followed the little eyes down the cement stairs. She was hiding behind her older brother, who was about my age and was wearing a school uniform.
“Why are you sad?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure how much of the truth to tell this boy. However, even at that age, I remember appreciating the honesty of the question.
“Do you have a family?” he asked again.
“Yes.” The fact that I was considering trading in my older sister for enough swedish fish to fuel my bike ride back home was beside the point. So yes, I had a family. They existed and they were mine.
“Do you?” I retaliated.
“My mom isn’t home from work yet" he offered. "This is my sister. We don’t know where my dad is.”
Until this moment, the idea that a person could just not know where their dad worked, ate, slept or lived was a foreign concept. I knew exactly where my dad was all the time; at work (I still remember his phone number) or in the bedroom across from mine. Always. Just always.
“So why are you sad?” he asked again.
My worries suddenly felt very, very small.
“You don’t like moving?”
“No” I said.
“Want to meet here after school tomorrow?”
“So you don’t have to hate moving.”
The first afternoon we discussed our favorite candy and movies. He laughed at the fact that I watched The Little Mermaid at least 3 times a day until the VHS groaned from overuse and died. Over time, I looked at how alone I felt. Then I looked at how alone Travis actually was. My perspective began to shift. If I blew something up in the microwave (which has happened) my parents were there to help me clean it up and make it right. If Travis blew something up, he took care of it himself and made sure his sister was safe in the process. Time spent with Travis turned into time spent with perspective and I slowly emerged a different girl.
The first night in the apartment, I prayed that we would move back home. The second night, crammed into that tiny bedroom surrounded by my siblings, I felt warmth. Real honest-to-goodness warmth. Warmth = safe. I felt distinctly safe for the first time ever. In my adult brain, I know that I had been safe before, but I hadn’t felt it deep down in my bones like this. Everyone I needed was right here. I didn’t have to travel, or write a letter or send a smoke signal to see any of them. Suddenly 700 square feet felt like the perfect amount of space for a home. I fell asleep listening to my brothers breathe quietly in the bed next to mine. They had spent the afternoon playing basketball outside and were exhausted which just made them sleep my soundly. I remember the moon falling across their bed and how sweet they looked. I watched my sister and wondered what she could be dreaming about. I was safe. They were safe. I felt blessed beyond measure. I wondered what would happen if all people could feel this warm and be this safe? Probably something real, real good.
That was the moment that one of my fundamental core values was born: Warmth. Warmth with its re-centering affect, ability to melt ice and provide refuge. Maybe some people can live without warmth. In that apartment, I realized I couldn’t and really didn’t want to. It's one of the things that makes me...me. I can’t always choose my circumstances. I can always choose to be warm.
I learned all of this on some cement stairs from a boy.
This is my blanket AKA "Wuhbee". It's been with me 38 years and protected me from all the monsters. Don't judge.