Julia. Ah. That sweet little soul.
I pulled up to the school and there was her happy little freckled face waiting to head off for our weekly homework date. One of my most precious moments of every week.
I drive quietly and listen to her pour out little nuggets of her day, her worries, her concerns, her happiness, her sadness. Sometimes she just wants to sit quietly looking out the window and other times she just chatters on our entire drive to Paradise Bakery.
Today was a chattery day. How old do I have to be before I can have a cellphone? Why are girls mean? I like basketball. What happens when a dog dies? Do you like chapter books? Why am I good at Math? The puzzling questions that a first grader struggles with every day.
For the past several months when we get to Paradise Bakery the sun is at this perfect spot and when Julia steps onto the sidewalk her face and hair are just illuminated. I store each memory of her face away in a special place in my heart hoping always to remember the plethora of freckles and the specific blue of her eyes.
Don't you have these moments stored away? I can remember so clearly what Jessie's silky hair looked like in the sun or the luminous quality of Angie's eyes as a child. I can hear Greg's voice in my head expressing his joy or dismay. I save little memories of the Reds against the day they are grown.
Today Julia picked her cookie and her salad, a process of great deliberation but rarely variety. We have our little routine of paying and getting drinks and bread samples and heading outside to sit in the sun. This routine usually involves picking about three different tables before we find the perfect one.
We had settled in when a young woman came walking around the corner with a friendly looking dog. She stopped fairly close to our table. Julia asked what the dogs name was. Barnabus was a good looking dog with a halter. Julia asked if she could pet him and the woman beamed with pride. I commented on the halter and the woman proceeded to tell us that Barnabus was her service dog. I was confused. She looked whole. She proceeded to tell Julia and I that she was recovering from agorophobia and then pulled up a chair.
She told us how Barnabus gave her the courage to try getting out of the house. How she had gone from taking one step from her front door and now could go almost a mile. We chatted for about 15 minutes as she waited for her parents. It's amazing how people can survive their lives. It's sad that some people have so much to survive. Her tale was a sad one and when her parents arrived she introduced us to them and then thanked us for talking to her.
Julia and I proceeded with spelling; bunny, silly, one, hungry...
Eventually Megan arrived with Julia's little sisters and they all ate at the next time while Julia finished up homework.
I helped Megan get them to the car and kissed them all goodbye.
Driving home the night fell quickly with only a remnant of peach sky illuminating the western horizon.
I wonder...what makes some people able to find the courage they need to change and to forge a new life for themselves leaving the destruction and ugliness behind?
I wish I knew this magic answer so these beautiful little girls could always find a path in the world and a way through their troubles and sadness.