Open your eyes, the world is waiting. Slowly arise from the allure of your stupored state and join the living again. Now, get up and walk out the door. Make a right, a left, a right, and you’re home-free. Walk down the street that is etched into the back of your eyelids and take one hundred and thirty-seven steps. Upon taking that last step, try to contain your excitement. Give your knock that has become an exact science from the thousands of times you’ve used it. She greets your unannounced intrusion with a smile that makes your day. Over the years, her home, and especially her presence, has become a safe haven for you. Thanks to her, you are now the individual that you have developed, and struggled, to be and for that, you will be forever grateful.
This friendship, a word that cannot fully qualify what the two of you have, began in an unlikely way when you were six years old. Strolling through your neighborhood, past the weathered houses with burglar bars made to look like hacienda windows, you notice a girl running rapid circles in her yard. She’s emitting a laugh that’s more contagious than influenza. Like that hard-headed moth, you are quickly entranced and drawn into this glowing source of light. Despite your anonymity, she invites you into her activity. “I’m trying to catch the stars!” she announces, a sunny smile sandwiching her words. “Do you want to help?” Despite thoughts of incredulity and apprehension, you join. “What if we never catch them?” you inquire after a while, voicing the doubt that has plagued you from the start. “Well it doesn’t hurt to try,” she assuages, putting an end to your inhibitions. The night grows old and yet, to no success, you continue to chase the stars. Unknown to you at the time, she has taught you the first of many lessons to come- that when you try seemingly impossible tasks, you may receive more than you ever imagined, like a new perspective on life’s possibilities, and a friend to explore them with.
It’s been several years, and it’s as if you’ve entered a whole new world, one where there is no wrong, only right. A world where there is no constant animosity between your brothers and you; where money is never an issue and there is always enough for you to eat. A place where although there is no dad to complete your family, you can still have a full life. Instead of using the TV or radio to drown out the constant yelling and fighting that plagues your house, you can read with her and escape into alternate realities where the protagonist always comes out of trials and tribulations better for the experiences and choosing to decide their own fate. The two of you can marvel at the historic election of the first Black president and closely follow and discuss current events together. With her, you’ve acquired knowledge that you wouldn’t have received anywhere else. You begin to love learning for its own sake. By eighth grade, you intently focus in school and participate instead of counting the seconds until you can leave. She has inspired you to be a better student and person, and this leads you to a path of success.
A few more years have passed and things have changed. You don’t see her anymore. You’re both too busy. Maybe this was meant to happen; after all she taught you to be social, to engage deeply in conversations, and to never stifle your curiosities. You've joined advisory councils to give your input on the running of your school and community. You’re traveling far away to participate in debate tournaments and mock trials. You’ve become the first person from your school to attend leadership conferences, study at rigorous summer programs, and eventually receive full scholarships and prestigious college acceptances. Your shell has been shed and there is no longer a need, or desire for that matter, to hide. Every once in a while, you begin to doubt yourself. You think of the overpowering enormity of the world, the almost never-ending adversities and inequities. You want to escape to your cocoon of comfort, your old crutches that kept you hidden- junk food, TV reruns, a lack of voice or vision for the future. Then you remember the years of subliminal conditioning she gave you, the lessons that were taught with no plan or agenda. You get overwhelmed, but then you know that even without her, you have yourself, and if you’ve learned anything at all, it’s that you are the strongest weapon of all against the struggles of life.
Now look up. Without realizing it, you’ve made this journey that you had made thousands of times before, except this time is different. You won’t knock. She won’t answer with a welcoming grin. The two of you won’t discover a new world together, or even the imagined ones of books anymore, and she will no longer show you things that you need to know. But it’s okay. You can turn around. Take those hundred and thirty-seven grueling steps back to the real world and enter the collection of bricks you call home. Walk past your two brothers arguing over the oldest one’s latest schizophrenic fantasy that he’s God and we’re all out to get him, the police probably already on their way to the house, not for the first time this week. Venture past your mom who’s crying because her husband was denied his parole for the fourth time in the last five years. You’ll have to help pick up the pieces later. Now open the door to your room and bask in its glory. Gaze upon the certificates of achievement, the medals of honor, the trophies of recognition, and the picture perfect memories plastered to the walls. Sit down at your desk with its strict organization and neatly arranged array of sticky notes with random thoughts and goals. Take a deep breath, close your eyes. Remember everything you’ve learned from her, and more importantly, everything you’ve taught yourself since then. Now, open your eyes, the world is waiting.