All around me children are staring. They have been forbidden to make noise by the teacher, but still there is mocking in their eyes. The first grade teacher of my new school has reprimanded me in public for not following instructions I didn’t understand. It’s not my first day here, but I am still quite new to this school and I still feel like a stranger. I feel like I don’t belong.
My mind wanders away from this hostile environment and seeks a place of safety. A place of comfort. I return home and sit on the couch in my mind. I lay on my stomach and feel the texture of the fabric on my cheek, and I look up and watch my mom ironing. As she sprays her spray bottle I can smell the steam, the starch, the heat of the iron as she sets it down to arrange the shirt so the sleeve is ready to be pressed… I am safe. My body is still at school, but for now I am here. I am safe.
As Aisha and I were talking I asked her about the home she grew up in. Her eyes got that same look I imagine mine had all those years ago. In her mind she’s traveling back to Miami. To a tiny apartment where she grew up…
The golden light of a fading Miami summer day is spilling into the small apartment where Aisha and her family live. To her this is no small place, it’s her palace, and she loves it here. She and her brother begin the nightly tousle, jockeying for position hoping to get to the bedroom they share with their mom first. If they are there first, they might get to sleep in her bed with her. They run down the hallway, golden in the fading light, toward the bedroom. The french doors have been left open hoping for a breeze to blow through in the hot summer evening… she loves those doors. They remind her of open airiness, a hint of the style and charm of that place she lived. Aisha loves those big open doors.
Sleeping in mom’s bed is the ultimate luxury in Aisha’s small world. Mom’s bed is near the window, and catches the slight breezes of the night. It’s cool there, and a softer bed than hers. But more than that, it’s safe. Mom is there close, breathing in the warm night air. The safety and love of this woman seems to surround Aisha when she sleeps there. The tumult of the city just outside of the open windows seems somehow to become a lullaby, safe in the protection of her mom’s bed, all is right with the world.
But this night mom wants to sleep alone. Aisha trudges back down the hallway to the kitchen. She gets a cup of ice, pours water in it from the sink, and pads back down the hallway to her room. She carefully climbs to the top bunk, her bed, and pours the cup of ice water onto her pillow. The coolness of the water will keep her comfortable so she can fall asleep.
As she drifts off she can hear the sounds of the city around her. The smells of latin food drift in, and somewhere in the distance she can hear music playing – maybe there’s a dance tonight. She thinks of the tarot readers and the people still working at the farmers market, and the noise of the city becomes a murmur as she drops off to sleep.
Aisha drifts back to me and smiles. The peace on her face fades as she comes back to the place we are. She moved to Utah when she was 11. She and her mom still miss it in Miami, miss it terribly. Both would love to return, live in that same place, go back to the way it once was.
As Aisha and I finish our chat, I walk to my car. As I get in I could swear I can smell steam coming off of a hot iron.
Describe your safe place. Either now or when you were a kid – leave a comment and let us know where you go when the world is a little too rough for you.