The three story school house sits in dark brick implacability, as it has for decades, square in the middle of a town block. The perimeter is lined by buckled sidewalk, tired grass and ancient horse chestnuts. The flag pole is off to the right of deep steps leading to double doors that open onto acres of scuffed hardwood floors. For five years, from second grade to sixth, I sit with my classmates on these steps to have our group picture taken with our teacher. I am always the one with short bangs, long braids, and a smile I wish desperately someone would see through.
Whenever the wind blows, the metal clip that holds the flag in place clangs in a syncopated beat against the metal pole. My mind tells me that there has to be more than one clip, but it is only one that I ever hear. I don't know why that is. It is the constant song of the clip and pole that keeps me steady company for those five years.
Some wind ghost has been playing the music of that flag pole in my head all week. Sometimes it's a real sound. The wind chimes in my back yard. Something banging against the old milk can welcoming visitors from my front porch. Even a particular metallic ring of a car door closing. Sometimes the only vibrations are happening somewhere deep inside of me.
It's lonely, this sound. When I hear it, I'm the only person on the playground of that old school. A lost little girl for whom life is bleak, and who waits for a time when she can be free. Being alone isn't all bad. It means I'm safe from those who will hurt me. It also means I have no hope of being close enough to anyone who might love me.
It's compelling, this sound, full of longing and urgency. It promises something more, better, safer - if only I can hold out. It tolls like a bell marking the hours of my life, a life that can't start until I'm somewhere else.
It's heartbreaking, this sound.
It's the heartbreak I feel now. The heartbreak of a child who will never know clean, unconditional parental love, and who will believe it's because of something wrong with her. The heartbreak of a child who survives the desolation of that loveless life by believing she can make someone love her that way - when she's older and in charge of her own life. The heartbreak of a child mind contained in an almost old body just beginning to realize that there is no way to have that unconditional love. The window closed long ago.
That child will always be alone in the schoolyard, imprisoned, and kept company only by the lonely music of the wind playing metal against metal. Unless she can finally accept that her loss is real, and permanent, and in no way her fault. She's tired of the schoolyard and the lonely company of its ghost children and ghost music and ghost hopes. She longs for substance.
I hear you, my dearest school girl. I'm here for you, with you, enfolding you. It is time to release the ghosts, to grieve the loss, to face yourself. You're ready. I'm ready. The wind is ready to carry us both up and away and into. Love. Life. At last.
This is my third or fourth grade picture. I'm in the second row from the top, fifth from the left.