Clara was too young to comprehend. Daddy’s little girl with the platinum blond curls and omnipresent smile stood at the attic window swimming in utter confusion as she watched her father walk away from the house, get into his car and drive away. Once again she tried the attic door – why would he lock it? Clara had never been locked inside a room before. At only 4 years old, she had never been left alone in a house before.
Her gaze swept around the attic of the old house, stuffing the cracks in her soul with the shadows and cobwebs, trying desperately to prevent the tears that might leak out. The chill of the attic seeped into her, threatening to drown her, suffocate her, to break the thin thread that tethers existence to sanity. A creeping panic arose deep inside her that she quickly squashed, feeling more fearful of the panic than of the circumstances.
Something scurried in the far corner and Clara crept over to investigate. She had never shied away from wild things, and subconsciously needed the company now. Whatever she had heard was much less interested in her than she was in it – there was nothing to be found amongst the debris in the corner.
Throwing herself down on a dusty, moldering sofa she began to cry – no sobbing, only quiet tears streaming down her cheeks. The feelings of abandonment and betrayal consumed every ounce of energy that might have been used for a good cleansing tantrum.
Years hence, and for the rest of her life, she will wonder whether that really happened, or whether it was a vivid nightmare, indistinguishable in a young child’s mind from reality. Each fall the emotions of abandonment and betrayal will hang over her like a pall whenever she sees an attic window in an old house. By early December the feelings will have evaporated – drops of water on the wood-burning stove – the memory of the incident (or was it a nightmare?) gone again for another year.
But the years of her life will be marked indelibly with this annual anguish – the literal and figurative chill of that betrayal. And she will often wonder if the fingerprints of that experience can be found over all the aspects of her life. Waiting invisibly for someone to dust for them, explain them, and then wipe them away. Wishing she knew how to do it herself.