Thursday, May 26, 2005

Jonquil among the Amish

I frowned. "I'll wait till you're up, anyway. In case you come down."

"Okay," she answered cheerfully, and hopped out of the van into the night.

She had forgotten her key, so she was going to climb the tree up to her second-floor window. She climbed not like a cat, as I had expected, but like a boy, like Tom Sawyer, with vigor but no grace. In the faint night-glow of a distant street-lamp I watched her scramble up. When she was all the way up she waved. I could go now. She was safe.

I feel odd, waiting for her to go in. I have always waited for kids and for women. And lately I've taken to waiting for just everyone, at night, to get safely into their house. But especially a seventeen-year-old girl. With Jonquil, I feel a little silly, knowing how unprotected a life she has led, with her undependable parents, her peripatetic life, her scrounging of meals. What does she make of me, waiting for her to get in, when her father doesn't even check to see if she's gotten home of an evening?

She watched me intently, Martha said, while I read to them. I think our household is a curiosity to her -- an intact household, no big fights, no drinking, no drugs, no television. We do something as quaint as read aloud. We say please and thank you. Martha's nephews refer to us as "Amish."

Jonquil's a survivor. I was impressed with her when I first met her, because she was socially an adult, carefully thanking us for everything, warily monitoring how much impact she was having on the household, watching for signs of irritation. Touching base with both of us. Nice, in a way, after thoughtless kids, but it grieves me. She's been doing this, I bet, since she was ten. Scoping out refuges, maintaining connections, just in case she needs them.

She's a beautiful girl, brown and slim, with wide dark eyes and an engaging smile. It gives me an odd twinge, to be a generation older than she. I remember being intoxicated by girls that age. I still was, when I was in my thirties, sometimes. But not now. It's not just that she's a friend of my son. I've crossed some kind of boundary. I don't live in that country now.

Her friendship with Alan puzzles and pleases me. They aren't lovers -- I don't think so at least -- but I've found them on the couch, Jonquil sleeping with her head on Alan's chest. They're affectionate in a casual and completely unselfconscious way. They play Dungeons & Dragons and computer games. They butt and punch each other like billy-goats. Perhaps she comes here to be a little girl, to be un-grown-up. Most of the world, I imagine, is pressing her very hard to be adult. Here at the Amish household, with a fourteen-year-old boy who is in many ways young for his age -- who still likes Pokemon and has a strict sense of propriety (where did that come from? Not from us) -- she can play.

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