Note: Inspired by Scarlett’s excellent post yesterday and to honor my departed mother’s 91st birthday, I’m reposting this article from last October that was originally titled Shimmering: The Lost Home. I’ve changed a couple of words, shortened the paragraphs and added a song by Jo Stafford. Thank you for reading.
"There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there."
G. K. Chesterton
In the space of one sentence: a quote from G. K. Chesterton, the identity of a genus of poison ivy, and something in flawless Castilian Spanish. These moments of brilliance contained within a stream of cigarettes and awkward, forced conversation. A forlorn piano sits unplayed next to a blaring TV set.
From across the linoleum, on another vinyl couch-- a grunt of recognition, or maybe a drug side effect. Around the fidgeting visitors, loll the patients gibbering and waxing polite as they bum smokes from each other. The visitors bide their time until the discomfort, the stale sick tobacco air and the endless religious tirading will be behind them. Once they had a home...
The sparkling waters of the Anacostia River danced in the early evening sunlight. The city of Washington was ending its workday. The government workers headed home to bungalows in the suburbs. The political officials, their staff and hanger-ons freshened up for cocktail hours and dinner parties.
A small group stood on the grate in the middle of a bridge over the Anacostia River — a mother and her three small children. The mother urged the children to lean over the railing and look closely at the water. As she hovered behind them the nervous children could see through the grate underfoot. They felt as if they were suspended in air over the water shimmering below. The discordant whir of rubber tires on the metal grate from the traffic of the bridge drowned out all other noise. The bridge shook each time a car crossed and the insistent sound scared them.
The group on the bridge certainly couldn’t hear the clinking glass and silverware or the glittering witticisms and bon mots from the parties transpiring in the city nearby. As darkness fell, the group remained in place; the woman pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, the children clutching the rail.
Relief came in the form of a family friend that someone had called to find them. The friend searched the streets in his car. He found them on the bridge, collected the children from their perch, and with the mother took the small group home.
Who knows what thoughts were in the mind of the woman when she placed her kids in that jeopardy? Perhaps she was thinking about how as a small child she had been taught to swim by her father who simply threw her in the water and let her figure it out.
That her father had used such a harsh method to teach her to swim was a story the woman would often repeat to her children when later they visited her in the mental hospital. There were other incidents, screams, sirens, and, yes, a white truck that took her away.
She was committed to that mental hospital. There she would spend most of her remaining forty years. Maybe, on that day over the Anacostia, the voices she heard in her head urged her to send the children to freedom; a freedom that beckoned from the enticing waters; a freedom from the tormented world wherein she dwelt. Later, when asked about the incident she would claim not to remember it.
Water shimmers in certain lights; at sunset in some angles the light glints off the surface and is diffracted by its waves. A childlike wonder can be found in these small things as the dull business of life passes by.
At late evening the water of the Anacostia reflects a glow and twinkles as the flickering city readies for the night. A lull in traffic and a symphony of collateral noise with the rushing water can be heard. Sometimes in this rush a word or phrase can be noticed like the fleeting brilliant reflections of the water. But in the chilled air, jangled sound and suspended wonder of that night long ago the children only thought of home.