Before I started school my mom worked in a local church/community center in their administrative offices. Instead of sending me to daycare or preschool, I had free reign of the entire nursery and would spend my days alone in a room full of toys. Sometimes old ladies would come visit. There was one named Mary who wore perfume that smelled like roses and used to hold me on her lap and sing “rock-a-bye baby” and when the cradle fell she would sort of roll me away and I loved it. I loved her. She was my favorite person in the world.
My mom’s boss had a daughter about five years older than me and sometimes she would come to the church after school. Her dad would send her to the nursery to do homework, but as a lonely, anxious four-year-old I would immediately demand her attention. I assumed she was there for me, to play with me, to be my best friend and surrogate sister. I don’t remember her name, but let’s call her Kirsten because…well, just because. Kirsten went to Catholic school and wore a uniform with white knee socks and one day she came in with a streak of blood down the outside of her left sock. When I asked what happened, she said there was a nail on her desk and it snagged her leg. There was a band-aid over the wound, but the stain on her sock fascinated me. It was so tortured and romantic and it was exactly how I imagined myself as a worldly nine-or-ten-year-old. I would wear knee socks and tragically be maimed.
One weekend my mom had plans so Kirsten’s dad took me in for the day. I thought it was a play date and was so excited to spend the day with my older, wiser, very mature older friend. Kirsten, as she was older, wiser, and very mature, very clearly wanted nothing to do with me. Her dad sent us upstairs to play and said that we were not allowed downstairs. It was the 80s, guys, parents were very hands-off. So Kirsten put on a movie for me and disappeared. Like, for HOURS. When she reappeared I asked where she’d been and she got super excited, told me she had just been to Wonderland, then she handed me a quarter and said the White Rabbit asked her to give it to me. I, obviously, to put it mildly, FREAKED THE EFF OUT. I wanted, nay, NEEDED to go to Wonderland. I asked how she got there and she told me that she saw a rainbow outside the bathroom window, sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Dorothy AND Alice came and took her to Wonderland. I didn’t even care that she was mixing stories because wtf this was all of my childhood dreams in one majorly epic afternoon.
I took her place by the bathroom window. I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I have no idea how long I did this. The rest of the day, for sure. Hours. Kirsten would come check on me and I’d sadly report that nobody had come back. She said maybe they were in the middle of a tea party. Keep singing.
I genuinely believed in the power of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” “The Wizard of Oz” was my favorite movie and in department stores I would hide in the round racks of clothes like I was leaning into a hay bale singing of bluebirds. I’d get lost in there, listening to my mom look for me, panicked. I knew if any song could transport me, it was that one. So I kept singing. I clutched my quarter. Nobody came. I had to go home. It was the saddest day of my life.
Years later I wondered where she went when she disappeared. I remember looking for her in every room upstairs, including closets. I concluded she must have hid herself by standing in a pair of boots and wrapping a coat around her. Literally a year ago it dawned on me that she probably just went downstairs.