It would be a long time before my sister came to bed and begrudgingly let me snuggle up to her back to feel the protection of her closeness. For the past few weeks, since we had moved to this upstairs room, that had been the only time Icould let my eyes close, my fears fade, and sleep come.
With all the passion of my small self I wished to return to the tiny room downstairs that had been my haven for the first nine years of my existence. In that tiny and cozy room off my mother’s kitchen, I could hear adult voices talking and laughing. The warm fragrance of my mother’s daily bread baking would come wafting into the room. How unfair to replace that comforting room with this one!
I stared up at the purple walls on which bright moonbeams glaringly cast shadows of my grandfather’s whorled and knotted cottonwood tree. I rolled over, trying in vain to blot the entire room from my mind, but my only reward was the creaking and groaning of the old-fashioned bedsprings.
This room was dreadful! It was ugly, and it made me hate my great-grandfather for building this house where my father had been born, even though I loved it so completely during daylight hours. More squeaks from the springs! My hand made a dash for the bed lamp, but it seemed a long way from the warm protection of the quilt to the old light that my father had attached to the ancient iron bedstead.
The light helped. Then I heard footsteps on the stairs. I closed my eyes, pretending I was asleep. My brother entered the room and walked to my bed. I held my breath and willed my eyelids not to flutter. His hand reached over to turn off the light. Then he turned and left, his footfalls receding down the stairs. The light was on again before his last footfall faded.
Five more minutes of purple paint. I noticed a spider in the far corner making its way unerringly toward me. Another set of footsteps on the stairs. I switched off the light and waited. I realized with sudden clarity the footsteps were my father’s. I closed my eyes against the reprimand I was sure was coming. When his footsteps paused by the door, I could imagine him framed in the doorway of the room.
I waited for the words that could only mean trouble. Perhaps there would be nomore light—Mother had told me I should turn it off. But no words came. Only the sound of footsteps, lighter than before, as he found his way to my bed. Then the bedsprings howled their torment as they took his weight.
I pretended to be asleep, my eyes glued shut; then I felt the warmth and gentleness of his calloused, work-worn hand as he caressed my face. I opened my eyes and saw above me his full and ruddy cheeks, over which his eyes glowed. I saw only love and caring and understanding, and my own eyes brimmed full of tears as he pulled me to him. With my head cuddled on his chest and his arms wrapped around me, my fears temporarily fell away. Sensing he would listen and not condemn, I poured out my garbled fears. I talked, and he explained and counseled and assuaged my fears.
We talked of mountain lions, purple walls, trees scratching against the window, and strange creatures that issued from the pond below. We talked of the wind as it crept through the cracks around the window panes, of spiders, night, and bedsprings that creaked. I told him every fearful thought. Finally, when I could find nothing more, when every last fear had been dredged up, he taught me the friendship of the night. He talked to me about the night sounds of the things I loved during the day. He talked of how the lengthening shadows brought peace and needed rest to all living things: land, creatures, and people. He taught me of living with the night, not in it. He helped me listen to the leaves talking to each other outside my bedroom window, the wind whipping around the corner of the house gushing through my window. And he spoke to me of Heavenly Father, who breathes life and meaning into everything and who cares for me too. My father gave me these gifts and more—his love.
The purple walls rested now, and moonlight glistened off them. The springs of my bed softly sang to each other. As the spider searched for its own resting place, I found the peace to sleep, just as my father wanted for me.
I am a grown woman now, with children of my own. The night and I still share the friendship found long ago in the circle of my father’s arms.