At the age of thirteen, I fell madly in love with my older sister’s friend Eddie, a shy boy with cinnamon hair, dirty jeans, and hiking boots. His crystal blue eyes were often red from drinking, but I mistook this for soulfulness.

My room was over the garage, far from my parents’ and sisters’ rooms. Each night I’d lie awake waiting for Eddie. He would visit me sporadically, tossing pebbles at my window to let me know he was there. I would hurry downstairs and let him in the back door. On those nights when he didn’t show up, I’d frequently imagine I heard the soft tick of a pebble against glass and sit up to peer out the window, hoping to see Eddie leaning against my mother’s scratched blue Subaru, the glow of a cigarette between his thin lips.

When Eddie didn’t visit for a week, I slept lightly and awoke to the smallest sounds, only to fall asleep again, disappointed and alone. I felt like the laboratory rat I’d read about in science class who, when rewarded infrequently for pressing a lever, wore out his paws in vain attempts to collect his prize.

It took several weeks of Eddie’s absence for me finally to give up my vigil and sleep normally again. Yet for months, every once in a while, a moth would bump against my window, or rain would start to fall, and I would awaken with a quickened heart and look out, longing to see that head of cinnamon hair and the glow of a cigarette in the dark.

Nicole Lonner
Santa Fe, New Mexico

In the summer of 1979, I flew to New York City to meet my future husband, whom I’d never seen before. I didn’t even know who he would be, because the Reverend Sun Myung Moon hadn’t picked him out for me yet.

I’d spent the previous four years living an intensely devotional life within the Unification Church. Now the reverend’s “blessing” offered the possibility of a change, although I was skeptical of the idea that someone else could pick out my soul mate for me.

The huge ballroom of the New Yorker Hotel was filled with thousands of other Moonies. In the first hour, Reverend Moon managed to match up the man I secretly loved with a beautiful blonde. Things went downhill from there. The reverend strode relentlessly down the aisle that separated the men from the women, pointing out match after unlikely match. In the fourteenth hour, as the faithful were beginning to wilt from anxiety and lack of food, he looked straight at me and said, “You,” and then pointed to a bearded man on the far side of the room: “And you.” Together we bowed in acceptance.

Though probably not a bad guy, my new fiancé was, in my estimation at the time, an utter turnip with an unpleasant smell and the ugliest green sweater I had ever seen. Over the next several days, I numbly went through with the various ceremonies and rituals, but each night I sobbed in despair.

By the fifth day, I was coming completely unglued. I collapsed onto the bed in my hotel room, where an open window let in the faint sounds of traffic, a playful breeze, and a spot of late-afternoon sun. I spread out catlike in the puddle of light and entered a state of deep peace. It was then that a voice spoke to me. “I love you,” it said, with incredible sweetness. And then the voice came again, and again, over and over — “I love you, I love you, I love you!” — as if from the dancing breeze and the sunlight pouring in the window, from my bones, even, flowing from the recesses of my sad heart: “You are free!” it laughed. “Free!” The crushing weight of the previous week dissolved, and I fell into a dreamless sleep.

I awoke the next morning, packed my few belongings, walked the several blocks to the Greyhound station, and took the first bus home.

Sue Jo Mitchell
Blue Hill, Maine

In the prosperous 1950s, my father decided to add a room to our cramped postwar home. The only good thing about the new room was a picture window that looked out on our back yard.

After the room was finished, some men came and took down a huge pine tree and the fruit trees in which my brother and I had played for most of our lives. We were devastated and couldn’t understand why our father had wanted the trees cut. But when we looked out our wonderful new window, we saw why: our plain, cramped little house had a spectacular view.

Our back yard sloped down to a wide, shaggy pasture dotted with horses, at the end of which stood a tiny white barn. Then the landscape swept upward over geometrically plowed fields and ended at a distant clump of trees centered on the horizon.

My father stood in front of this window with folded arms and a tight-lipped grin, and he said to himself, “I can see my cemetery plot from here.” Then he chuckled, obviously pleased.

I strained and squinted and managed to see, between the trees atop the scenery, some faint white objects: tombstones.

My father died fifteen years later. On the morning of his funeral, my mother, my brother, and I stopped to look out the picture window. Sure enough, against the thick white layer of snow we could make out the colorful tent over the open grave, perfectly centered atop the white fields, between the barren trees.

Jane Ankrom
Quincy, Illinois

Twenty years ago, I was going through a difficult time in my marriage and suffering a fairly severe depression. I had long, frustrating discussions with my husband, trying desperately to get him to understand my feelings and tell me his.

One snowy Saturday afternoon, during one of these talks, I began to walk out the back door, and Mike yelled for me to stay. Angry at being told what to do, I drew back my hand to hit the door, but ended up putting my fist through the glass in its center. We quickly calmed down as Mike ran cold water over my cut wrist.

After that, I began having fantasies about breaking glass and the calm it could bring. Of course, as a responsible wife and mother, I could never deliberately break a window.

The following year, we decided to replace the large picture window in our living room with one that would open. The old window was about four feet by six feet and made of thick plate glass, not at all like the glass used today. The contractor got it out in one piece, the wooden frame still around it, and left it on our back patio, leaning against the house. Over the next few months, I worried constantly that the kids might accidentally run into the window and get hurt. Then one night, after another fruitless conversation with my husband (following close upon another fruitless session with my therapist), I felt an overwhelming desire to break that useless old window.

A rationalization came to mind: It’s OK to break the window. I can stick the pieces in the garbage, and then there will be no more worrying about the kids’ running into it. I went outside, picked up a garden hoe, and stared for a while at the mud-streaked window. Then I drew the hoe back over my shoulder and slammed it into the glass as hard as I could.

To my amazement, the glass did not break, but instead bent the metal rod that attached the blade of the hoe to the wooden handle. Furious, I struck the window again, and this time it cracked. After several more hits, it broke into pieces small enough to put in the garbage can. Only then did I begin to feel calm.

Annette Fetler Daymon
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Watching the world through the dirt-streaked window of a moving car, I feel a strange calm, a sense of safety carried over from childhood: nothing can touch me here.

The road was the only safe place for my family, the back seat more my home than any place we lived. Whenever things got bad, my parents knew how to make them right again: pack everything into boxes, sell what wouldn’t fit in the car, and move on to a new house, a new town, a new state. We purified our lives with motion, and the car windows kept the world at a safe distance.

Inside the car were the radio and my parents belting out Beatles tunes; laughter and alphabet games; stories about our parents as children and made-up stories to pass the time; conversations about science and religion with answers to all our questions. There were no fights here, no one slamming the door and driving away, no one draping his or her sadness over my small body and crying about being left. There were no week-long depressions, no moaning about poverty, no regrets about the past, no family ghosts to haunt us. We were driving too fast for the darkness to catch up, on our way to a better place.

At night, I’d press my face against cool glass and watch the moon running along beside us, letting me know that we weren’t leaving everything behind.

Aurora B. Berkeley

The Gundersons were the only retired couple on my block. They had little social contact with their neighbors and seemed to enjoy their privacy — although once, when I was twelve, Mrs. Gunderson did give me a quick lesson on how to prune our abandoned-looking roses. She told me that few people understood the importance of a beautiful garden.

From my second-story bedroom window, I could see over the Gundersons’ high fence and into their back yard, which was full of exotic flowers and foliage. I could also see directly across into their upstairs TV room. One summer evening, while Mr. Gunderson was watching TV, Mrs. Gunderson turned out the only light in the room and left chuckling. Her husband cursed and rose from his La-Z-Boy to turn the lamp on again. A few moments later, Mrs. Gunderson returned, unplugged the lamp and the television, and scampered away, cackling hysterically. Mr. Gunderson hollered something after his wife, then dragged himself out of his chair once more. Their game eventually escalated into a loud shouting match. I was fascinated, never having heard a married couple fight before. The next day, I secretly observed them working contentedly together in their garden, apparently no longer angry. This pattern repeated itself about four times a week.

One evening, while I was watching Mrs. Gunderson play her usual pranks, my mother unexpectedly walked into my room. I thought she would punish me for invading our neighbors’ privacy, but instead she joined me at the window. She would return many nights thereafter, sometimes laughing so loud I feared the Gundersons would hear her. Suddenly, I didn’t like watching them anymore. Observing them alone had seemed innocent enough, but when my mother joined in, I felt as if I had betrayed them.

Julie Sevenich
Kirchberg in Tirol

For Thanksgiving, my husband invited my brother-in-law and his wife to our house for dinner. In preparation, he dictated the menu to me, right down to the last olive, and accompanied me to the grocery to buy the ingredients. (I was obviously too stupid to purchase them myself.) Then he instructed me in how to roast the turkey, mix the dressing, and boil the potatoes, making sure I took notes. (I was also too stupid to remember simple directions.)

At eleven o’clock on Thanksgiving morning, after checking my dinner preparations (and berating me for several mistakes), my husband left, saying he had to go see a friend and would be back by one, when the guests were due to arrive. The guests arrived on time, but my husband did not. I served drinks and snacks while we waited . . . and waited, and waited. I had been given an order to serve dinner at exactly 2:30. By three o’clock I was near tears, and my brother-in-law and his wife were visibly uncomfortable. I suggested we go ahead with dinner, but they decided it would be better if they left. “We can try again some other time,“ they said.

At eight o’clock, my husband telephoned and demanded to talk to his brother. I told him our guests had gone home, without dinner, five hours ago. “You stupid bitch!” he yelled. “You can’t even entertain people. I’ll be home in half an hour. Have dinner hot and on the table when I get there.” Click.

I scurried around, reheating the potatoes, gravy, and dressing, retossing the salad, and warming the rolls. I had everything on the table in thirty minutes. Three hours later, my husband staggered in the door. He took one look at the congealing gravy and wilted salad and roared, “I told you to have my dinner hot and ready! Are you trying to be funny, or are you just stupid? This crap looks like you fixed it for the dogs.”

Seven years of stored-up pain, humiliation, and anger had reached the bursting point. I screamed, “Well, let’s see how the dogs like it, then!” And I picked up the twenty-pound turkey and heaved it through the unopened dining-room window. The dressing, potatoes, gravy, salad, and cranberry sauce followed. I even tossed out the salt and pepper and the butter. With each throw, my spirit lifted a little more. My husband was so stunned that he couldn’t say a word. Then I realized he was afraid of me! His hold over me was broken. I told him to pack up and get out, and he did. It was my best Thanksgiving ever. And my two dogs outside the window thought they had died and gone to heaven.

Barbara G.
Union, Oregon

I never thought much about windows before I was imprisoned on death row almost fifteen years ago. My first cell had no window, just three solid walls and a grill of bars across the front, facing the guards’ corridor. I didn’t really care about the absence of a window then, being too unsettled by my recent sentencing.

My second cell had only a small opening through which the guards shoved my meals and peered in at me. If I looked out that hole, I could see the outside windows on the far wall, but they were made of glass block, the kind you can’t see through.

I was in that cell for seven years. Though I got to go outside for all-too-brief recreation periods, I began to miss having a window through which to see sun or sky or snow. It hurts, after a while, to be deprived of even a tiny glimpse of the outside world. My existence was unreal, disconcerting, and, finally, depressing. Nevertheless, given humans’ adaptable nature, I became acclimated to my windowless environment. My years on death row passed. Life without a window became the norm.

Last year, the state saw fit to move me once again, this time to a brand-new death-row ward. Incredibly, there is a window right in my cell. It’s small. It doesn’t open. But it’s a window to the outside, facing west. Whenever the urge strikes me — which is often — I can put my face right up to this window and see a small piece of the real world.

I cherish the delicate streaks of dawn, the fog, the lowering sky. I watch rain, clouds, wind, and birds and insects flying by. Even the tiny patch of prison-yard grass visible from my window is pleasing to look out at. I often enjoy glorious sunsets that flood my cell with brilliant shafts of light. At night, I observe the changing phases of the moon and whichever stars and planets come into view. I see everything now with new eyes.

Roger Buehl
Waynesburg, Pennsylvania

A year ago last summer, my husband of twenty-six years made love to me and afterward told me he was seeing another woman. It hadn’t gotten sexual, he said, but it was headed that way. He claimed he still loved me. He wanted to be “in my time” when with me and “in her time” when with her. Then he explained that in China a married man often brings home a younger wife who just starts to cook.

That night, I didn’t sleep. At 5 A.M., I got up and went to the bathroom. It was stuffy and warm in there. The only window had been caulked shut against winter for ten, maybe fifteen years. It was a barn window, the cheapest one we could find when we built our salvaged house. There was no mechanism to hold the sash in place, and when the window did open, it had flapped in the breeze.

I’d asked my husband to unseal this window many times over the years. Finally, I’d given up. Now I impulsively decided to open the window myself, to take my anger at this situation — a twenty-nine-year-old woman sleeping peacefully across the foothills, holding his heart in her hands — and put it to good use. Besides, I wanted to let in some fresh air.

I located a screwdriver and began to pry off the caulk, which was hardened by years of sun. Sometimes a satisfying two inches broke loose, other times just a chunk. I cried, swore, and worked a solid hour until I had most of the caulking freed, but the window wouldn’t budge: the sash was nailed shut from the outside. Still I was determined to do this job as proof that I — the old bride — was worthy and capable, and meant business.

I pushed out against one side and then the other, afraid I’d break the window. Finally, one side came open, and I reached around with a hammer to remove the remaining nails. A morning summer breeze came into that room, which had felt no outside air for years. I took this as a good omen and went back to bed.

A year later, on a stormy day, my husband and the woman sat on our porch. She was crying because she had to leave a man she had met soon after her relationship with my husband had ended. My friends and I had prayed she’d meet somebody else, and she had — but he, too, was married. Unlike me, my husband wasn’t jealous.

While the two of them were sitting on the porch, the wind kicked up, and I ran upstairs to close the bathroom window, which was flapping in and out. After an entire year of braving the elements, it was cracked.

Until then, I’d convinced myself that being cracked open by this experience had done me some good. Now I wasn’t so sure.

Name Withheld

When I was a child, my mother and I made frequent nighttime trips to the convenience store to escape my father’s drunken rages. Once we’d purchased milk for the next morning’s breakfast, we’d take our time returning home. Mom would slowly navigate a round-about route through our suburban neighborhood, creeping along the vacant streets. The best time of year for these drives was around Christmas, when holiday decorations cast a soothing glow throughout the neighborhood.

Sometimes we drove in total silence. Other times one or both of us cried. I always peered into the lighted windows of the split-level homes, trying to catch a glimpse of life within: the glare of a television set, a family seated around a kitchen table, or even just the tops of moving heads. These silent pictures of family life appeared safe and tranquil, and I wondered why we couldn’t be a normal family, why every evening had to end with accusations and insults.

When the length of our absence had become questionable, my mom would say, “The milk’s getting warm. We should probably head home.” And we’d return to our house feeling defeated, yet with enough strength to go back inside.

L. M.
Mount Holly, Vermont

When we bought this old house, the windows still had their original wavy glass. You had to look carefully to ascertain the exact shape of something outside.

At first, I scarcely believed what I saw through that wavy old glass, because it seemed like a dream. For years I’d wanted to live in a house with some character on this part of the island and be able to watch my horses from the kitchen window. Now, standing at the sink, I could see my horses grazing in the pasture and the great sleeping volcano Haleakala behind them. From the living-room windows I could see the ocean, glassy by morning light, and the nearby island of Lanai.

But lately, when I look out the windows, I don’t see the pastoral perfection of my dreams. Instead, I see the unfinished fences and the pile of rubble from the water-line excavation. I see the gaps in the crumbling rock walls and the spots where the grass was torn up by the carpenters’ pickup trucks.

Midway through the renovation, we had to replace all the window glass. There were places where the termites had left only a fine veneer of wood to hold that old, distorted glass in place. And no matter how carefully the finish carpenter tried to pry the thin glass from the window sashes, little cracks would appear and shoot through it like lightning. Now we have flawlessly clear safety glass in newly milled, finely crafted windows.

I can see that it’s silly to pin my hopes on some material object, even the house of my dreams. The kids are having a hard time adjusting to life in the country. One of the horses has hoof problems, the other an attitude problem. The pasture they graze in is drought-prone and framed by rock walls in need of repair. Children and horses alike are comical, troublesome, ornery, demanding — real.

Maybe it is this complicated, undistorted reality that dreams are finally made of, after all.

Elizabeth Russell
Kula, Hawaii

Everything was wrong with our new middle school, built in an ultramodern style over what had once been a pretty green meadow. For one thing, the classrooms were designed on an “open” plan, with no walls between them, while our curriculum was as fiercely divided as ever. Teachers practicing vastly different methods were forced to work side by side. The sound boards that were supposed to absorb all the noise failed. So did we. So did the kids.

After much finagling and arguing, we got tall partitions on big rollers. But when the kids would lean their chairs against them, these so-called walls would collapse, often onto other students’ heads. So the rolling walls were replaced by real steel walls affixed to floor and ceiling.

Placated by our new walls, we were free to worry about other things, such as the lack of windows. With all the clamor over the walls, I’d forgotten how much I missed the little glimpses of the outside world at my old school, where windows had let in bird noises and firetruck sirens and unregimented life. Outside the new building, the Wyoming wind could rage and howl, the snow could turn from fluffy, innocent flakes into a blizzard, and all we would know of it inside would be the perpetual clunking of the air vents on the roof.

I began to harbor improper, un-teacher-like thoughts, such as a deep yearning to pull the fire alarm so we could all file outside and get a breath of fresh air. But I restrained myself. Three years later, I transferred to an old-fashioned building with deep, wide windows across the length of my classroom.

One day, I heard terrible news from the modern building where I had taught: during lunch hour, a seventh-grade girl had gone into a bathroom, put a gun to her head, and shot herself. I didn’t know all the facts, but on an instinctive level, I thought I understood how a depressed child, cloistered against her will in a windowless environment, had been unable to see beyond her desperate situation, even for a moment. Perhaps it would have been different had she been able to glimpse the sun breaking through the clouds in bright, searing shafts, or the new blooms announcing spring.

Ann Garcia
Las Vegas, New Mexico

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, my family lived for a time in a house with a spectacular view of the city skyline. I spent long hours at the window, gazing at the dense rows of shining office towers, picturing all the people working away inside. There was something vaguely satisfying about the busyness and clutter: an aura of complex systems at work, of industrious and purposeful powers.

I thought offices were fascinating places, though I’d had only brief glimpses into them: my father in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk; people clicking down long corridors in polished shoes; clean, pleasantly lit interiors; hushed voices. Office workers seemed to perform mysterious and important tasks with little fuss or effort. Everything ran cleanly and smoothly, like a well-oiled machine.

I now know that the machine is quite an imperfect device, greased by slumped shoulders, catatonia, cruelty, Faustian bargains, and the ghosts of countless busted dreams.

Ed Chue
Everett, Washington

I awoke before five and dressed in the early-morning darkness. The ranger station where I worked was just a two-minute walk away, and I easily negotiated the path in the moonlight.

Before opening the station, I stood for a minute to admire the mist over the Snake River and watch the water vapor rise from the hot springs on the other side. Then I disarmed the alarm, opened my cash drawer, raised the flag, and sat down on my stool. Outside the window, the sun was creeping up over Huckleberry Ridge. As the darkness lessened little by little, the only sounds were the roar of the heaters, the calls of the sandhill cranes across the river, and the elk bugling in the distance.

From that same window all summer, hundreds of times a day, I would tell people that Old Faithful was forty miles away. I’d check entrance passes and watch thousands of excited tourists drive through to see their little piece of the West. In July, I’d sorrowfully inform visitors that all lodging and camping within a three-hour drive was full. And I’d listen as people told me in awe about the natural wonders they’d just seen. Each morning, I sat at that window and felt the peace of having a job I not just tolerated, but loved.

Marc Moss
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

Two years ago, I lived in Seattle. Every time I looked out the window of my place there, I would see the colorful, bustling downtown scene — a sight that filled me with hope and happiness. Now I live in Scottsdale, Arizona, and when I look out the window, I see the house across the street. I could almost cry.

Rachel Walther
Scottsdale, Arizona

The first floor of our house used to be the local general store. Its walls are almost all windows, and not one of them has curtains. From the outside after dark, our house looks like a people aquarium. Neighbors say to me, “When I walk by, I can see you making dinner,” or, “Last night we saw the kids running around the living room.” They usually end by asking, “Don’t you want curtains?”

No, I tell them, I don’t want curtains — we have all the privacy we need upstairs. Our downstairs is where, for sixty years, neighbors stopped by to get their milk and eggs, and kids on bikes came to get popsicles. Now it’s where we make our meals and practice the hula hoop and read by the wood stove and play music. Why would I want curtains? How could I wave to my neighbors if I couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see me?

Anjelina Citron
Bellingham, Washington

When I was growing up, my father’s conduct was selfish and often obscene. His disagreeable personality was the combined product of alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder from “the Good War.” Life in our home was such a hell that each child escaped the family at the earliest opportunity. But my mother, who received most of his abuse, would never leave him.

One morning, I was awakened by a call from the hospital: My parents had been in a car accident. My father, in no condition to be driving, had lost control of the car. Upon arriving at the hospital, I was brought first to see my mother, in intensive care. When I saw her struggling for life, I called my brother and sister and told them to come immediately.

My father had only a moderate injury to his shoulder, but needed to remain under observation. The doctor’s orders were that, as long as my father was in the hospital, under no circumstances were we to tell him of the gravity of our mother’s condition. When I visited his room and witnessed him flirting with the nurses and using his charm to get attention, I had to hide my disgust. Each time I returned, he was more jovial than the last. I could barely contain my rage.

After my father was released, we appointed my brother to inform him of our mother’s condition. The nurse led the two of them into a small, glassed-in room and left them there. My sister and I seated ourselves just outside the room, so that we could watch our father suffer some long-overdue remorse.

The experience did not turn out as I had anticipated. As my brother spoke, my father’s face fell, and he doubled over in his chair. Slowly, he stood and looked at my sister and me through the glass with tears in his eyes. I had never seen such a look of grief and despair, even in his most self-absorbed moments of drunken anguish. My craving for retribution instantly melted. He was my dad, after all, and I loved him.

Name Withheld

The year my son Adam was born, our family attended Grace Episcopal Church, a Gothic cathedral in the heart of lower Manhattan. At the time, many of the church’s spectacular stained-glass windows were being restored.

During one late-summer sermon, I needed to breast-feed Adam, so I moved to the back of the church. Mind you, I am not shy and have breast-fed my children in many locations throughout the city. But since this was a church, I chose a quiet corner in the rear. As I sat inconspicuously feeding Adam, the priest directed everyone’s attention to one of the newly restored windows — the one directly above my head. Imagine how I felt when two hundred heads turned and stared in my direction.

Susan Piowaty
New Paltz, New York

As a female carpenter, I’ve experienced sexism from people of both genders and all ages. At first, I risked ruining my back trying to prove I could do anything a man twice my size could. Eventually, however, I gave in to the laws of physics and began to specialize in trim carpentry, which involved more detail work and less heavy lifting. I’d learned that, while I might change one person’s point of view, I would always run into folks who thought women couldn’t or shouldn’t do hard physical work.

One time, I was building a cabin at a remote site in the Rockies, working with two male carpenters and a young helper named Wendy. At noon, the two guys drove into town to eat, and Wendy and I ate our sandwiches by ourselves, enjoying the hot sunshine.

During lunch, a delivery truck showed up with a heavy plate-glass window. The driver couldn’t back close enough to unload the window directly into the cabin, so we offered to help him carry it across the rough ground to the building. I immediately recognized the look that came over his face. “Naw,” he said, “you gals don’t need to help.” Wendy was about to protest, but I pulled her away and replied, “Great! We’ll go back to lunch, then. Let us know when you’re finished.”

Wendy and I sat dangling our feet off a log and munching sandwiches while the driver huffed, panted, and groaned. Wendy still thought we should have proved to him that we could do the job, but I explained to her that some people just aren’t ready to see.

Kathryn G. Long
Richmond, Virginia

Whenever my mother comes to visit, she washes all my windows. It’s an enormous and tedious job, because there are hundreds of small panes in this big, old, three-story house. I rarely get around to washing them myself — I can barely keep up with the dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing.

Rather than feeling grateful for my mother’s help, however, I feel resentful, as if she is criticizing me for not keeping a clean house. I never voice this feeling, but I seethe inside, wondering why my mother won’t just relax and enjoy her visit. Why does she insist on working when she could be sitting in the garden reading or watching the birds? Why must she always make me feel as if I am not good enough?

My mother left this morning after a four-day visit. As usual, the windows are sparkling, but this time I’m not mad, because for the first time my mother has told me why she washes the windows: She needs to feel useful. She is old and tired, she says, and afraid of becoming useless. The windows are a job she can manage; they can be washed pane by pane, each clean pane a small satisfaction.

I am ashamed and contrite. I gaze out the clean windows and think of the day when my mother won’t visit me anymore. The thought saddens me unbearably. Then I wonder: who will wash the windows?

C. D. Eshleman
Berkeley, California

While I was driving down the freeway one day, smoke began pouring from under the hood of my Volkswagen camper. My husband and I took out another loan to buy a new engine. A week later, my sick father moved in with us. He immediately locked himself in the bathroom, and I had to take the door off the hinges.

I arrived home the next day, worn out from my full-time nursing job, to find my two-year-old flushed and lethargic. I took her to the emergency room, where she vomited all over my neck and shirt. The following night, while I had all four children in the bathtub, the phone rang. It was the bill collector repeating his message from the day before: “If you don’t pay your overdue mortgage payment, I’ll make trouble for you at work.” I pictured what he must look like: black menacing eyes and a half-shaven face.

Getting ready for bed that night, I could see nothing but sick kids, debts, broken-down cars, and more work ahead of me. I lay on my mattress, too tired to take off my clothes or turn down the covers. Sleep came fast.

When I awoke the next morning, I didn’t feel rested. Standing at my kitchen sink, my hands immersed in warm, sudsy dishwater, I looked out the window and saw my family playing in the yard: My husband was kneeling down to place a baseball in our four-year-old son’s eager hands, while red and yellow maple leaves fell gently around them like feathers. In the driveway, my two oldest girls were helping their youngest sister learn to roller-skate, the sound of their voices muffled by the glass. The sun shone down, and the smells of lemon dish soap and cut grass surrounded me. I felt at peace, as if we were the only people in the world and I had everything anyone could ever want.

Helen Stevens
Laguna Hills, California