We’re encompassed by a big, pink, comfy sky. It’s the perfect backdrop for pictures of her in the front yard, wearing my favorite pair of skirted, denim overalls. The grass is too long, so I try to keep it out of frame. Weeds are grabbing at our ankles in certain spots, and the sidewalk is cracked, littered with sticks. This is home.
When I take pictures of her riding that old, beaten up trike – the one that wears the proud color scheme of plastic left out in the rain no less than 200 times and that belonged to her brother before he outgrew it – I notice how small the houses are in our neighborhood. Again, this is home, I laugh to myself. In this weird way, I’m invested so emotionally into everyone of them. They are as much a part of our home as the places our floorboards creak on our way to the coffee pot early in the morning, but I still wonder if we’ll ever make our way out. Someof them are really nice, with landscaping that looks like it’s worth more than my life, owned by either really enthusiastic first-time buyers or friendly retired folk whose grandchildren like to swim at their house in the summer. Some are literally falling apart at the grout. Most lounge somewhere in between. I try not to point the camera at ones that make it look like we live in a glorified trailer park, our own some days included in the ones I consciously keep out of frame. But this is home, and I love it for all that it is, all that it holds, and all that it promises.
Decorating for Halloween was neat in that way things are when you do them for the first time, but our yard isn’t in it’s best shape ever and I’m not thrilled about drawing more attention to it with inflatable ghosts and Dollar Tree cobwebs. When you have a small house, you do what you can to make it look like something you take enough pride in for other people to view seriously. It’s not a status thing; it’s a thing I can’t explain because it’s all still a little new to me. The small, red brick face of this house, with it’s little, white railing, grey roof in need of replacement and blue shutters we painted ourselves, is the cover art of our story. It will never be grand, but I hope, at least, people can see that it’s loved.
When Autumn rolls around, the little steps we’ve taken to keep our yard manicured all through the warmer seasons give up on themselves. Today, rocks everywhere are out of place. Markers that fell under the patio furniture days are ago still lay there uncapped. And the only thing poking out from behind the lip of our stout garden bed fencing, which by the way is crooked from children playing on it all summer, are the dead stems of decapitated flowers that used to pop with color. Our hibiscus is yellowing right of the big, bay window, and that inflatable atrocity makes a thick, black cord have to run through our yard.
But worst of all, is that the leaves are starting to fall.
You can keep your colorless, barren landscapes and itchy, bulking fashion. Frankly, winter makes me want to forget that there is even an outside to miss. All fall serves to do is remind me that I better get started.
Once in a while though, after you’ve already begun to accept that the last taste of summer has been sipped, the sun will rise to unveil a surprisingly warm day for the end of October. And girls like me will have to drop everything to run out and hold hands with one, last day in bare knees before she has to go, for real this time. We planned a hike that was sure to be fantastic had we ever gotten to it, and settled comfortably instead for a walk around the block before dark. There was only the warm whisper of a breeze, our cats trailing in and out of the garden beds alongside us the whole way, neighbors waving. Scarlett smiles up at me, unwittingly searching for reassurance that they’re nothing to fear.
It’s practically perfect.
Surprised, I hear Matthew behind us, and I turn. He’s squealing in a voice that still seems kind of high for a boy his age. It’s the voice he has when a friend in Spiderman shoes is by his side, a grown-up is off his back for a while, and everything is right in the world — his outside voice. So free-range, it’s just shy of yelling, even though nothing he’s saying is important. It’s so different than inside, everything is. All the grown-ups do is laugh and feel good when they hear him being louder than he probably should, cheering him on when he does anything to break a sweat. His friend’s mom decided to take them all for a walk while he was playing at their house. Scarlett’s friend of two months younger sees her. We wait for them under a neighbor’s tree, halfway around the block, and they catch up fast. Matthew and his friend breathlessly give me a hug, like it’s the unlikeliest of places in the world to see us.
Now, it’s perfect.
Walking home, we pass 30 or 40 different houses. Every yard has a character so different than the one next to it even though the architecture doesn’t leave a lot of room for creative distinction. Dogs pace behind gates of obviously different price range, grills stand covered in tarps that look like a sports team jersey, cats stalk unimpressed, and birds flit out of the way.
Then we get home. I stand with my bare knees in a skirt that picks up the wind and dances around my thighs. I hug myself, pulling closed the sides of my sweater, facing the street. I look around at this place that I love so much with a blank, unhappy stare, and I remember Autumn.
Autumn Pasquale, a 12 year old girl. On a bike ride around her neighborhood, she was lured into a house, killed, and left to be discovered by investigators in a recycling bin two days later. It was five days ago now.
Looking on, I realize that I love this place a little less. I wonder about everyone I don’t know, about everyone I think that I do. I worry about the good neighbors my children will miss out on ever really being close to because I have to doubt every living thing around us. I think about my kids, and I mourn for all the freedom they’ll never really have because of stories this, so close to home.