Seen. But Known?
“Is there any more?” I asked my Mom as she heaped macaroni and cheese into three bowls for my sisters and me.
“Why are you worried about that? We haven’t even started eating!”
I opened and closed my mouth to respond, then accepted my bowl and sat down on a cracked bar stool around the kitchen island. Hillary sat next to me, her red hair in a wild ponytail, long legs stretching out past denim shorts. A sun-bleached blonde bob framed Olivia’s five-year-old face as she rolled her eyes backwards into her head to make Hillary giggle between bites.
I wasn’t worried about going to bed hungry. I never had before, and I knew the refrigerator held plenty of food. But I still found myself portioning my noodles into smaller bites to make them last.
As the others finished their food I slowed my own eating more. I tried to think through the food in the pantry I could find on my own. Why couldn’t mom just tell me if there was extra?
I studied my little sisters. Hillary’s giggles grew louder and my eyes darted between Olivia’s funny faces and mom’s expression. I couldn’t decide if I felt more confused by how little they seemed to care if mom corrected them, or by the fact that she hadn’t.
I wanted to set my confusion aside and giggle with Hillary. I wished I were Anne of Green Gables, not Abby. Anne wouldn’t have just sat there wishing. She would have made everyone laugh herself. I could imagine worlds not my own, fancy myself Anne or Jo March or Mary Ingalls, but I couldn’t dream up the plan that would tie me up with the people closest to me.
Instead I planned to jump off my stool and run upstairs to my fortress. Safety waited behind my closed door. My masterpiece spire of books reached to the ceiling from the floor next to my bed. It towered over my desk. I smiled thinking about it.
I managed to stay at the kitchen island, lost in thought but at least present in body. We finished dinner and I retrieved The Witch of Blackbird Pond from my bedroom. I paused at the door, safe within the four walls of my castle. But Anne would go be with her sisters, so I walked back down to the living room. I wanted to lose myself in colonial Connecticut, only with the low hum of my family around me. Maybe if I studied them like I’d studied Anne, I’d figure out how they seem to navigate the world so easily.
I sat in a chair in the corner of our living room and wondered why my presence didn’t automatically draw others to me. I could have stayed in my room, but I didn’t. My sisters retreated to the upstairs gameroom while my mom finished cleaning the kitchen. I made the effort to come back downstairs. Why did everyone scatter?
I read for a while, occasionally glancing up toward the second floor when my sisters’ shenanigans echoed down the stairs, until my mom called for the three of us. We all walked into the master bedroom and flopped onto the bed, watching as she flicked on the clock radio and turned the dial. Our dad’s voice came through the speaker, and our eyes lit up. He may have been the Bible Answer Man to everyone else, but to us, he was our dad who got to be on the radio.
“Before we take our first call, I want to say hi to my daughters,” my dad said. “I love my girls.”
I smiled at my sisters and they smiled back at me.
“Now,” our dad said, “go to bed.”
My sisters bounced off of the bed, cheerfully reentering whatever world they’d invented after dinner. I felt my cheeks flush as I replayed my dad’s final words in my mind. Why did he always have to tell us to go to bed for the whole world to hear? Now they would all think I didn’t listen to my parents.
I followed my sisters up the stairs and said goodnight to them as I escaped to my soft-sunshine bedroom. The floral comforter reminded me of Anne’s Avonlea. The vanity counter boasted a mess of hair clips I could never put in correctly, Amy Grant song lyrics scribbled onto Lisa Frank stationary, and last night’s pajamas that seemed clean enough to rewear. I’d told my sisters goodnight, kissed my mom, and listened to my dad over the airwaves. It was just me now, and I walked straight to the cassette player sitting on my bed to press “play.”
The Adventures in Odyssey story I had stopped when I had to leave for afternoon ballet class began to play. I entered the doors of Whit’s End, the fictional town’s ice cream shop, as I brushed my teeth and slipped beneath the covers. I settled in on my stomach with the right side of my face burrowing into the pillow and Avonlea comforter touching my shoulders. I closed my eyes and reached out my arm, finding the volume dial by touch. I adjust it to the perfect decibel for falling asleep to the story, then slid my hand under the pillow, and imagined my way to sleep.