Watching the Girl to Safety
Seven in the morning, and the mountain is bathed in mist, clouds hanging low and blanketing the pines in a wash of spring, pastel colors. I am walking my dog on a quiet road – absent the sound of cars, people. Machines of any kind. It’s only the occasional call of a crow or screech of a Stellar jay to remind us we are in a neighborhood, albeit one many miles away from city life.
We turn a corner to walk up a gentle slope that sends us in a loop, past homes, and cars that have become familiar over the years. Where ponderosa and cedar trees reach high enough to tickle low clouds. A place where neighbors will later come outside to rake and stack twigs and boughs that fell to the abundant winter snows. I know that soon a handful of children will leave their homes to catch the school bus at the end of the road, and there will be laughter and shenanigans and parents sitting in their cars waiting to know that little feet have climbed into the bus and will be delivered to school safely.
This morning, as I look up the road to the hilltop I see a small figure emerge from a driveway and start walking down the hill toward me. Almost ghostlike, it’s hard to discern if girl or boy is slowly heading my way. Then, just behind the child, I see an adult emerge and stand in the center of the road. I recognize now that it’s a neighbor who has a daughter whom I’ve watched grow at least four inches taller over the past ten months. The daughter, I remember, looks enough like her mother to be a twin, although now, in her early teen years, is now as tall as her mother.
Mom stands in the road wearing something that looks like a white robe, her arms crossed across her chest to chase away the cool dampness of the morning. The girl walks along the roadside, staring forward, looking down, and never looking back. They are both ghostlike in the mist, and I slow to watch the simple tableau unfolding. It’s perhaps two blocks to the bus stop corner. The girl will be early. Soon, her figure clears the translucence of the fog, and I see her clearly. I continue slowly up the hill, so she does not know I am watching. That she is being watched from behind, by her mother who has not moved from her station. We pass by her, and I say, “Good Morning.” She responds with only a glance in my direction, no smile. I wonder if she likes her school. I wonder if she is popular or teased. I hope she is happy.
Mom remains firm in her place, and I see now she’s wearing a light-colored dress with a tie around the waste. A style that my grandmother used to call a “house dress.” Her daughter reaches the corner and takes up her vigil for the yellow bus that will ferry her to noise, friends, a teacher whom I hope she likes. The dog and I quicken our pace up the hill, and I see Mom unfold her arms, pause a second and walk slowly into the driveway of the home she shares with the teenager. The home they bought in the mountains where it’s safe enough to play in the streets and roam through the forest alone. Still, she steps outside in her light dress on this chill spring morning to watch her daughter leave home and board the bus that carries her to a life that’s hers alone.