Reader Essay: The Window Across The Street
This essay was reader-submitted for our Summer Essay Series on themes of growth, aging, transformation, and renewal.
I said a lot of goodbyes that week. There was a lot of “We’ll catch up” and “I’ll call when I’m back in town.” I wonder if we all knew in those moments that our words were empty. That none of those promises would eventualize. I think most people do.
Someone told me once that you never realize you’re doing something for the last time until the moment is gone. That’s always bothered me. The idea of something passing without having the time to really understand what it means. I think that’s why I remember the goodbyes I said that week. Because I knew as each farewell was happening that it was for good.
I packed everything I could into three suitcases. After living in the same west coast town for 23 years, I was moving out of my childhood home and across the country. At the time I would have told you I was running towards something—towards excitement and newness on the east coast.
I’ve always been an overthinker. Imagining every possible outcome of a choice. Meticulously planning every detail of a decision before I make it so I can cause as little of a disruption as possible. In the week leading up to my move, I could only imagine painful and messy outcomes. But I knew I was going to do it anyway. I needed to put distance between myself and the fear of staying in the same place my whole life. When it feels most scary to jump, right?
Saying goodbye to my mum in the driveway was the hardest. The memory is still the most vivid. I always waved to her when she left for her night shift in the maternity ward, and that final night I did as well. I’d stood in that garage maybe a million times. The cold, faded, grey cement floor beneath me. Staring at the cracked spaces between the cream bricks of the walls. Listening to the trees sway and the newborn cries coming from the house next door. Feeling the rush of wind hit me as the garage door scraped open and then closed again.
Each time before, I’d stood there until the last moment. Watching the midnight blue SUV back away slowly as the door descended, before returning to my room in the back corner of the house. A journey I wouldn’t be making tonight. I think knowing that it would be the last time I would be there, in that exact way, made the air thicker. Made my heart beat faster. Everything slowed a little. Felt a little more. She smelled like she always did, sweet and warm. Like jasmine and peaches. She was in her navy work shirt that had been too long for her torso since before I could remember; her pants bunched over her runners, stopping just before they touched the ground. She had asked me to pin the bottoms so she could hem them a little shorter.
The white garage light had gone out. We’d been standing there for a while. It was just us and the yellow streetlights when I kissed and hugged her for the last time that night. I said I loved her very much and I didn’t know why I was doing this. I needed to be without the safety of her for a while. To see what would grow in its place. Holding her in that moment made me wonder if the pain of leaving would be worth it. She said she was happy for me. That she wanted this for me. Her voice broke when she spoke. She said she loved me, and it made me cry even harder. Her green eyes look almost blue when she cries.
I stared at the light that came from the window of the red brick house across the street. Under the moonlight, the bricks looked darker. Mum climbed into her car and reversed down the driveway. I held her hand through her driver’s side window, walking alongside the car until it was time. She was sniffing and blowing her nose in a tissue. Using the action to hide her tears, like always. I said I loved her again and that I’d see her soon. Meaning it this time. I watched her taillights flick to red as she turned the corner away from me. Before putting my suitcases in my car, I stood and stared at the window across the street for a while.
Karleigh Arakua is a NSW based writer and artist, born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. She spent her formative years developing a love of the arts; running wild with her four sisters, surrounded by music, dance, writing and drawing. Her little women-esque upbring fostered a never-ending interest in the female experience.