She visited them every night.
Some might have labeled her a stalker. A night-watcher, a bum, a girl clueless to the ways of the world. But they did not. They didn’t even know she existed. They never saw her tear-streaked face outside their window while they ate dinner, bathed in golden light.
And that might’ve been her favorite thing about them.
She was eleven when she saw them for the first time. It was their happiness that struck her, drew her eye, pulled her in and never let go. They were like a whirlpool, she always thought. Irresistible. She saw the mother, the daughter her age, the father, the baby. The love.
She stayed close to them, from that day. Never interfered, never made herself known—simply observed.
I’ve never really kept a diary before. Never had the time. Or the money—even journals cost a few dollars.
I saw them today. I don’t know what to call them—the family, I mean. I’ll stick with “them,” I guess. There’re always four around their table, and one looks about my age.
I don’t know why I’m saying all this. I don’t have any poetic descriptions, or any worthwhile stories to tell. I’m hoping, maybe, this family can change that. Maybe they can change me.
It’s like how reading a book can change a person, I think. At least, I hope. When even though you’re nothing but a spectator, you feel their pain. You experience their triumph.
I think—hope—this might be like that. Maybe they can change me.
She knew the notion was nothing but fantasy. A daydream. She wrote the words nonetheless.
She crept in the shadows every night, following them home.
They walked in the home laughing, joking, smiling. The warm light from the door seeped out from the open frame. It enveloped them, pulling them into the home with fingers of love. She wished that she could feel the home’s welcoming arms, but rejected the thought. It was another fantasy.
I had a realization today.
I was watching them go back to their home, like they always do. The home itself was full of yellow, orange, brown—warm. The light seemed like it pulled them in. When they opened the door, it came out and welcomed them.
I thought about that as I walked home. I wonder why I call my place home—a home is what they have. The place that holds out warm, welcoming arms. Where I stay, there is none of that. My home holds out tendrils of shadow, reminding me who I am, where I come from.
I never thought myself a prose-y person, but sometimes, journaling forces prose out of you. Sometimes, life forces it out of you. It seems like the darkest times lay the most beautiful words on a blank page.
There it is again. Prose, coming from my dark abode. The irony of it almost makes me laugh, but it proves my point.
I wish my home could be like theirs. Maybe that’s why I want so badly to change with them. Someday, I want what they have. That’s all I want.
But that leads me to my realization. A home like theirs is not meant for me. I’m meant for the shadows.
But maybe someday.
She became obsessed. Not clingy, not creepy—only filled with an insatiable hunger for the light. She knew she couldn’t partake, but she couldn’t keep herself away, either.
So she settled for the outskirts. One foot in, one foot out. Watching them have dinner, filling their mouths with words of her own, crafting stories for what the daughter did at school or what the father did at work.
When she walked home, the rain washed away the warmth they had given her. She wrapped her arms around herself and tucked her chin to her chest. Her only coat was at home, next to her journal—she didn’t often need it this early in the fall. Nothing stood between her and the frigid wetness.
They always seem so…joyful. It makes me wonder if all families are like this. Most families seem to start out this way, but slowly, painfully, fracture into little pieces. Like a broken window. The shards of glass land everywhere, dig under your skin, bury themselves deep into your body.
Or maybe that’s just my family.
But they are different. So very different. If my family is a shattered window, they are a pristine panel of glass.
There I go with imagery again. In a different world, maybe, I could be a writer. Something tells me I might like that.
Three months passed. The pumpkins on their doorstep became Christmas lights above their driveway. Her routine never faltered, never changed. The family—that she now thought of as her family—grew. She stayed the same. Sometimes, the light from the doorway didn’t shine as bright as usual. She was cautious those days, and so were they. When they spoke over dinner, she could sense the tension from her customary place outside the house.
Whatever happened, they made up by the end. She stayed at the window, heart pounding in anticipation, until the moment where one of them broke down and the others rushed to comfort, to forgive, to heal together.
It was the daughter today. She came home, had a fight with the mother. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. But in the end, after dinner, they had a long conversation. They embraced at the end, like they always do.
I sat down there, with my back against the wall, staring into space. Wondering. Wondering what might’ve happened if that had been my mom in there, holding me. Things might have turned out so differently.
But I don’t have the luxury of wondering. They are the closest to an escape I can get. I want nothing more than to live in that fantasy. I know the odds—but despite them, something inside me still whispers:
Tears trickled down her face as she wrote that night. She didn’t have the luxury of wondering, she repeated to herself. But she wondered anyway.
And somehow, the wondering was the worst of all.
Numb, she turned the page and sketched. The first blank paper became a mess of jagged black lines, harsh cracks in the pure white. On one stroke, she ripped the page, but she hardly noticed as she dragged the pen over the paper. Her breathing quickened. Her hands shook. Sweat dripped down her temple. Her vision hazed red.
She took a deep breath and flipped another page.
On this one, she drew with steady hands. Easy strokes, forming a simple rectangle.
Two windows. One broken, one unbroken.
She tore the papers out of the journal and laid them out on the street in front of her. She had a foot in both worlds, half of her in the house with them, the other half of her here, in the shadowed streets.
She couldn’t keep torturing herself like this, torn between two opposites. She couldn’t become a living oxymoron. It would tear her apart as easily as her pen had torn the paper. She had to choose one world, one window, one drawing.
She closed the journal and fell asleep with the sketches in front of her.
The family was changed the next day. The daughter was nowhere to be found and the mother’s eyes were red and puffy.
The light didn’t shine through the doorway.
They fought. She didn’t know what about, but the mother and the father fought harder than she’d ever seen. Both left the room in tears. Only the father returned.
The father came to a standstill for a few beats before seizing the nearest cup and hurling it at the window. The window shattered.
She huddled against the wall of the house as shards of glass rained down, biting into her skin, burrowing their way into her flesh. Her features twisted in pain, but she didn’t cry out. She’d been through worse.
When the sharp hail subsided, she stood on shaky legs. Shivering, she let her winter coat fall to the ground. Her fingers fumbled in the frigid air, but she managed to pick the fragments out of her tattered shirt. Each one made the tiniest sound as she dropped it and it connected with the rest of its kind.
Moisture sprang to her eyes. Even the glass had something she did not.
She picked up her coat and gently brushed the shards away. Surrounded by a dusting of snow, glass sparkled on the concrete by her feet. A glittering reminder of something never to be repaired. A glittering reminder that hit her close to home.
Blood seeped from the deeper cuts on her arms, but she ignored it. A few scratches could never hurt her, compared to the gut-wrenching feeling that wracked her body when her gaze fell on the empty window frame.
She took a piece of the broken glass with her when she walked away from the house—no longer a home—for the last time.
I drew two windows last night, in this journal. I have one of them in my pocket, now—the other is somewhere in a gutter.
Did I choose right?
I’ll never know, I guess. But after what I saw with them, I had to make the decision I did. Being grounded, down-to-earth—it’s something that comes with being a street-orphan. I can’t choose fantasies.
I made the choice I had to. I made the choice that will make me stronger. I think I made the right choice.
But I will always wonder.
Maybe someday, I will know.