It was raining the day I came to visit you. The driveway was long. The buildings all looked the same – made of red brick, full of history. Under any other circumstances I would have found them beautiful.
They had planted so many trees on the front lawn. The little streets were all named after them – pine, birch, maple. They’re always doing things like that, aren’t they? Trying to make it look like a nice, welcoming place. The kind of place you want to come to and never leave. It’s for our benefit. Not yours. You couldn’t even see them.
Outside your building was an old, untouched barn. There was a field that I couldn’t see the end of. It looked possible. It drove my wild heart crazy with ideas.
Your room was at the end of the hall, your name handwritten and taped to the door. It was white and empty except for the beds. Your roommate was sleeping. “He laughs all through the night,” you told me.
We found ways to laugh, too. We sat in the kitchen on chairs bolted to the table. We drank sugary water disguised as juice from Styrofoam cups. I played with the giant key that kept my things locked up front. We talked about movies and music. You sang a little.
“Is it scary?” I asked. “It is for you,” you said. You weren’t wrong. I was on edge. I kept looking around. An alarm went off once. It didn’t faze you.
People knew you by name and it was clear you had made friends. If anyone could in a place like this, it would be you. I’ve always admired this in you. You knew everyone’s story. You had spent the afternoon playing ping-pong. You joked a lot. You seemed almost happy.
And it was almost nice. It was almost what it was once and perhaps a glimmer of what would be again. Had we been out in the field, I would have called it wonderful. Inside those red brick walls, I was cautious to use such words.
You seemed hopeful. Not just that you had hope for yourself, but that I, for the first time in a long time, felt that I could have hope for you. Real hope. Not the painful kind that felt more like wishing, and wanting, and begging.
We could see a future for you. Not everyone there has that. My possessions were locked away. Your hope was something to cling to.
The windows were translucent. They were an illusion of freedom. It seemed cruel somehow, though I know necessary. You couldn’t see the trees or the barn.
When our visit was over, I had to leave you. I hugged you and kissed you and they locked the door behind me. “Have a nice night!” the woman behind the counter said.
I sat in my car and listened to the rain. It was cold. I watched lightening crack down over the field. Your building was behind me. I thought of you, sitting inside, staring at translucent windows, waiting.