There are nights when darkness falls and the stars scatter themselves about the sky and I’m still plodding away at my desk because the day has run amok and the night is all I have left to accomplish something. Anything. By that point I’m not too picky.
On this particular day the boys had come by after school . . . or maybe they were just out and about. Time loses its meaning after a while but it was definitely before they all ran away to Memphis. As we started down the service hall—that special place that leads to almost every other room on the main floor of the building—Anderson began jumping with excitement. “Can we go in the secret room? Can we?! Not that secret room but the other secret room? The one with the toys?! Can we!? Please?!?!”
The first secret room, the one Anderson didn’t want, is the lounge. It’s a secret because I showed them how to get in from the hallway instead of going around and using the public entrance. They were amazed and wanted to know how I knew you could do that. Point to remember—young children are easily impressed. The second secret room, the one with the toys, is beyond a door on the other side of the lounge—the one that opens into the remains of what was once my parents’ apartment. Across the landing and up the stairs and you’re in the sitting room that separates two bedrooms, one of which belonged to my brother and one that would have been mine had I not married before the apartment was ready for residing.
They wandered all over the upstairs, playing with what are now vintage toys, using my mother’s recumbent bike that still occupies its appointed spot in the sitting room, and generally being amazed that such a place existed. Then it was time to go and we headed downstairs; they climbed into their trusty van and drove away and I went back to work.
As I backed off the carport much later in the evening, preparing to make my way across town, I happened to glance up at what would have been my bedroom window had I remained single just a tad longer. And the light was on. Well, crap. The cost conscious side of me demanded that I pull back up on the carport, park the van, unlock the door, enter the building, turn off the alarm system, lock the door behind me, walk through the lounge, unlock the door to the apartment, climb the stairs, turn off the light, and repeat the process in reverse. The practical side of me that had worked all day said the light could just burn all night. But before I got down the drive, I stopped and looked back.
Suddenly the realization washed over me that, years ago, this light would have meant someone was at home. Someone was upstairs, preparing for bed or rummaging through the closet hunting tomorrow’s clothes. Someone who had not been there in so very long, but for just a moment, had returned.
I put the van in park but left it running with the lights on (like that was gonna be helpful in case I needed to quickly escape from something), pulled out my camera, and pointed it toward the window. A few pictures later I packed it away and then just stood, looking, remembering the moments of family that light represented . . . the times I still miss on certain days . . . the times I find myself longing for more and more as I grow older.
And then the police pulled up asking what business I had in the funeral home parking lot at that time of night . . .