“…the border between the Inside and the Outside wasn’t as impermeable as she liked to believe,
and he knew that sooner or later, the Outside would want in.”
~from If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie
Today I planted tulips and pansies Outside, yanking out the weeds and cutting back debris I’d left since August. It was wet and grey and the grass came out in clumps, snuff-colored soil and worms clinging to the roots. This is optimistic, I think, planning for the spring. Thinking someday it will be pink and purple and white and alive. It’s green and lush right now, but nothing is really growing. It’s a ruse, a fake, it’s just a cover crop.
Sirens pierce through the bird song. I quickly inventory, wondering if you’re Outside. Are they screaming in your direction? They cannot be, they will not be, they are NOT coming for you.
Do you know I check on you every morning, first thing as the coffee brews? Usually your shoulders need covering, and sometimes as I pull the striped duvet over your shoulder, you smile. In that moment, in that smile I see the real you, the child I know will be ready for Outside soon. I pick up a damp towel and a dirty juice glass and click the door shut behind me. Exhale. You’re Inside, it’s quiet, and we’re safe.
I walk in her room, too. I’m not sure why I do – she’s never there. It’s cold and white and full of a starkness that only happens when someone doesn’t live there anymore. I pull the shades open, sigh and run my hand along her dresser, my fingertips making faint lines in the dust. She’s Outside now, out of my control, where I want her to be and where I want her to leave. But the years are minutes, I scream to the silence.
You tell me you want more independence, you want me to trust you. You want to go Outside until after dark. You want to pick up your skateboard and throw your house key in your pocket and skate away with the homemade wax you made in my best stainless steel pan…and I’m supposed to be OK with that. I’m supposed to say yes, go meet your new friends and your new girl and just be careful, I whisper to you as you leave. Be careful, Outside.
This won’t last forever, I remind myself, these moments when life pushes along and I sometimes chase after it. These years that are really moments, these moments that hold my breath and make me pause midway through and wonder if this is the last time…
It’s getting late and I need to think of something to teach tomorrow – Steinbeck, The Pearl, and Kino who thinks all his dreams will come true now that he’s found the Pearl of the World and then the baby dies. He thought he had it all – for a moment. Yes, years are minutes, Kino. Stay Inside.
She calls to tell me she loves her Avalanche class, mentions she’ll be skiing out of bounds this weekend. But don’t worry, Mom, she says. I’m with my group. She’ll click on her skis just like Bryce and Ronnie and please don’t go Outside, I silently scream, please don’t slide down, buried with a smile on your face like they did…
I shower and slip into my new fleece jammies, soft and fresh from the dryer, and walk down the stairs. You laugh when you see me and tell me that’s a whole lot of leopard. That you read somewhere that women my age shouldn’t be seen Outside in leopard – certainly not head to toe.
But I’m Inside, I reply. I’m safe. No one can see me Inside here.
I hear your key in the door. It’s dusk now, and you’re Inside. Your cheeks are glowing and your eyes sparkle as you explain all about your new tricks, how you’re learning and persistent and you’re better than you were before you broke your leg, better than that August morning I texted you to be safe Outside and you said you would.
But you weren’t.
This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie,about a boy who’s never been outside, thanks to his mother’s agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.