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The air literally shimmered with sound. The waves of music crashed over the sea of spectators, and we were completely infatuated. Our hearts were tied to the rhythm, beating oddly to keep up with the music’s innovation. The rise and swell of the bass line hugged and released our diaphragms, pulsing hungrily and making us short of breath. The lyrics were understandable. I could hear the words, but what really made me smile was the undulating undercurrent of emotion that was tugging at me. It all made an unbelievably perfect amount of sense.
His voice was incredible. Did he know how good he sounded? How attractive he looked with his hair a little ruffled from the breeze and his forehead glistening a little from the effort?
And his music—his music was perfect.
“That was brilliant, boys!” Dad clapped me on the back.
“Thanks,” I grinned as the rest of the band whooped triumphantly. I really appreciated how my old man had always supported us. He was our roadie, our manager, and my rock. I knew I could always run lyrics by him, try out a riff on his well-trained ears, bounce ideas off his concrete opinions, and I knew even more that he would always be there for me.
I started wrapping up our amp cables. “What’s up, Glenn?” When my best friend said nothing, I looked up and glimpsed his goofy expression before looking past his thumb, over his shoulder, out the door of our van, where my eyes fixated on her. Long, honey hair and a magenta headband, woven with little white daisies through the locks and behind her ear. She had perfect glowing skin and this smile that caught me completely off-guard.
“She had her eye on you the whole concert,” Glenn winked. “Go talk to her!”
I considered punching him, but then she met my stare, smiled an exceptional smile, and tucked her hair behind one ear. I felt my cheeks flush redder than cherries. “Holy cow. She’s fine.”
“Well go say hi, Freddy!” Glenn gave me a shove and I stumbled forward, then turned to give him the hairy eyeball. “Go on!” I flattened my hair, straightened my collar, and stepped out of the van. She watched me walk towards her with a coy grin. Boy, was she fine.
I almost tripped over my own feet as I approached her. I flattened my hair again nervously, hoping I didn’t make a total geek of myself. The closer I got, the more I began to see the more idiosyncratic subtleties in her features—a sprinkling of pale freckles across her perfect nose, like jimmies on ice cream; the deep dusky blue of her eyes; a little space in between her two front teeth. Then I realized how close I was. She tossed her hair behind her shoulder. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Dawn.”
I flattened my hair with the hand that wasn’t in my pocket. “Freddy Tyler,” I replied awkwardly. “I’m in the band.”
“I know,” she laughed, tucking her hair again. She looked up at me with her pretty evening eyes and smiled. “Fab concert.”
“Well gee, thanks,” I nodded. “I like your laugh. It’s really neat.” She did it again. “Yeah, that’s the one!”
Dawn eyed me, sizing me up. “You’re all right, Freddy Tyler.”
We joked around for a while and then Glenn hollered at me to get going. “We gotta book, Freddy! Come on!”
I groaned. “He’s such a spaz. Give me a minute, will ya?” I asked her.
“Sure,” she said, but I didn’t move. “It’s okay, I won’t go anywhere,” she repeated.
“I believe you,” I said, “but I don’t want to leave.”
Dawn tilted her head and smiled. “It’s okay,” she said again, but I still hesitated. She sighed, stood on her tip-toes, and kissed my cheek. “Now go on,” she insisted. “I’ll wait right here.”
I staggered back to the van where the guys were packing up the last of the equipment from our gig. “Holy cow,” Glenn gaped. “He’s completely gone with that chick. Look at his face!” He put his hands on my shoulders. “Freddy, what happened?”
“I don’t know.” I grinned suddenly, realizing that she had kissed me. Dawn, the most gorgeous girl in the world, had kissed me with her perfect lips! “I think I’ll hang here for a while, Glenn.” They’d be all right without me. Our drummer, Charlie, could pick me up later in his Chevy.
My best friend studied my face closely for a minute and then threw up his hands. “He’s ditching us, fellas! He’s ditching us for that fox!” I was about to round on him when I saw his ridiculous grin. “I’m joshing you, Freddy,” he laughed. “Have fun.”
“Welcome back.” She looked even prettier than when I’d left five minutes ago.
I took her hand. “Thanks. Miss me?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Well, you’re assuming a lot, Freddy. You’re assuming I’m keen on you.”
“You are keen on me. You kissed me, remember?”
Dawn smirked. “How can you be so confident?”
“Easy,” I replied. “I’m holding your hand.”
She pulled it away, and I took it back. She laughed again, and it was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard. Her eyes sparkled a little in the late afternoon sun, and she left her fingers linked with mine. “Well, Freddy, what do you want to do?”
I shrugged. “Talk?”
“Okay,” she agreed. We strolled through the crowd of concert-goers still milling around the park and Dawn Daveson told me all about herself. She was a flower child, for sure, but that much I’d guessed from her headband and her bare feet. Her folks were real bummers, from what I could tell, but her brother Todd sounded all right.
“They’re square. They don’t get it. Music is the only thing that makes sense any more. They just sit around listening to those flaky politicians and droning on and on about useless things. I mean, if they just took a minute and actually listened to some rock and roll, they’d understand.” She twisted her hair around her index finger and looked up at the clouds. “I guess it’s up to our generation to change things. It’s all different with us. Our eyes are open, you know? We see what they don’t see. They think we’re all just stoned—we are. We’re stoned on life.” She stopped walking and shook her head. “God, I hope I never get old.”
I looked around. We were on the outskirts of the park, and night was crawling up on us. The horizon was bleeding sunset colors and across the baseball field, we could hear the raucous laughing of some kids getting really screwed up. “Are you into that stuff?” I asked.
“What, drugs?” Dawn shrugged. “Not really.” She looked up into the sky again. “I don’t need to be stoned to see how beautiful life is.”
“Neither do I,” I agreed, watching her. Tiny strands of her hair did a ballet on the breeze. She caught me looking at her and stuck her tongue out, grinning. Out of nowhere, red and blue lights spiraled across her skin, and I heard sirens. “S***, it’s the fuzz!” I cried.
Dawn grabbed my hand and pulled me behind her. “Come on, we’ve gotta cut out!” she shrieked. “Hurry up, Freddy!”
We hauled ass into the forest and away from the flashlight beams darting quickly in our direction. Dawn tossed a glance over her shoulder and squeaked. “Help, they’re catching up!”
I slid my arms around her waist and tossed her over my shoulder in a fireman’s carry. “Quick, into the shadows!” I bellowed, sprinting into a thick tangle of trees. We hadn’t gotten far before my foot caught on a root and we tumbled to the ground behind a thick oak. We lay still, breathing heavily, until the lights began to dim and we could no longer hear the police shouting. “Those pigs are roasted,” I whispered into Dawn’s ear, and she started giggling like crazy. “Shh!” I cried. “They’ll hear us.”
“No, they won’t,” she laughed, and got to her feet. She walked out from behind the tree, stood in the clearing, and spread her arms wide. “Come get me!” she shouted. “I’m a dirty, music-loving teenager! Come find me!” She waited and I held my breath, but seconds passed and the bushes were still.
“You’re crazy,” I grinned.
She put her hands on my chest. “Well, that’s okay,” she said, “as long as I’m not sane.”
I took her hands and kissed her fingers, and she watched me intently. I had a mind to kiss her for real when she looked straight up through the space in the tree canopy at the darkening sky. “If I had a girl, that’s what I’d name her.”
She smiled softly. “No, you dipstick.” She pointed at the deep blue skyscape. “Indigo.”
When I met her parents I understood immediately why she asked so many questions. Her favorite was, “Why is the sky blue?” I could never answer, and she never minded. She insisted that she just wanted to know where her favorite color came from. She wasn’t worried; she knew she’d get her answer someday.
She was the only preschooler who cried the day I brought a live monarch butterfly in for them to see. While the others were awestruck at its bright patterned wings, she insisted, sobbing, that we let it go, because it couldn’t possibly be happy trapped inside that little jar.
On parents’ day, a woman in embroidered, faded jeans and a man wearing small, round pink sunglasses entered the classroom. The four-year-old altruist immediately ran to the woman and hugged her around the knees. Her father swung her up in the air and said, “How’s my gorgeous little flower girl?” and her mother tickled them both, laughing.
They outlined their parenting for me. “We want her to be in tune with nature and with herself,” her mother explained. “She’s a vegetarian. She loves animals of all kinds.” I recalled the butterfly earlier that week and understood why she had been so distraught. “I hope this won’t be a problem for you.”
It was almost a challenge. Her mother’s gaze was steely and her father was watching me expectantly with his arm around his wife. They were used to being ridiculed, that much was obvious to me. “No problem at all,” I assured them. “Indigo is a wonderful little girl.”
There was one child in that year’s kindergarten class who never failed to confuse me. On the first day of class, while all the other girls wore sundresses, she came to school in faded denim jeans with a thin pink ribbon tied around her head. I asked her to take the headband off, but she refused. She said her mother had fixed it perfectly that morning, and she vowed she would wear it all day.
“It’s a lovely ribbon, dear, but you need to remove it during class.”
It was impossible to argue with her determined smile and crossed arms, so finally I gave up and let her wear it—and wear it she did. She wore that ribbon every day for two weeks. Some days it was around her head, some days it was around her wrist, and once it was complemented with three tiny daisies.
She had really striking features—a perfect complexion, fantastic blue eyes, and her hair was the fairest of browns. When I met her parents at their open house, I was shocked at how well she resembled her mother.
In fact, I was even more shocked at the type of people her parents were; in retrospect, I suppose it all made sense. The daisies, the denim jeans, the pink ribbon—they were hippies, fresh from the sixties, trying to raise a flower child in a modern world. I almost felt sorry for the little girl, but she seemed so happy, it was hard to summon any sort of pity. I had the feeling that even if I could, she wouldn’t accept it, or even understand why I was offering sympathy. She was oblivious to her social deviation, because it was just the way she had been raised.
I hoped her parents knew what they were getting her into.
“I don’t have one,” she repeated.
“Sweetheart,” I assured her, “everyone has a middle name.” She shook her head, and her miniature pigtails swung at her chin. “Did you forget what it is?” My eyes were met with the most strikingly honest gaze I had ever seen from a child. Innocence is one thing when talking about children—because they are the true personification of innocence—but the stare she was giving me was the essence of truth, as if the notion had never even crossed her mind to tell a lie. “Well, then, you can just leave it the way it is.”
Her little eyelashes fluttered as she studied her project intelligently. Her doll-sized fingers touched the pale blue construction paper, and her white sandals went tip tip tip on the floor. She’d written Indigo Tyler in tilting, childish print, but I’d asked the children to include all three of their names. “Miss Bradley?” she asked quietly, her eyes still occupied with her nametag.
I knelt down beside her chair. “What is it, Indigo?”
“Why don’t I have a middle name?” She looked genuinely concerned as she examined her handiwork, and let her fingers rest on the space in between her first and surname.
I wasn’t sure how to answer. Indigo looked wistfully across the table at Sarah Ophelia Preston, and then to her right at Nigel Paul Crawford. I rubbed her shoulder, unsure of what to say, and she looked at me and smiled. “It’s okay, Miss Bradley,” she said. “You don’t hafta answer.”
That day for a snack, I watched her unwrap a tiny Tupperware container and set it in front of her with a plastic fork clutched in her hand. The boy next to her sneered as she punctured the lettuce and put it in her mouth. She noticed him watching her and held out the plastic container to him. “Do you want some?” she offered.
He laughed meanly. “Indigo’s eating rabbit food! That’s weird!” Her shining face fell, and I stepped in.
“Michael,” I chided, “that was not very nice. It’s up to Indigo what she wants to eat. She’s made a very healthy choice.”
He scowled at me and crossed his arms. “But it’s weird,” he insisted. “It’s all green. It’s yucky.”
The other children were eyeballing her snack with wary expressions on their faces. “Does she like vegetables?” I heard one girl whisper. “Ew.”
I looked around at them. “Boys and girls, there is nothing ‘yucky’ about salad. It’s good for you. I like salad, too!” Little Indigo was still staring sadly into her lap. My heart broke to see her so crushed. “Indigo, honey,” I murmured, “do you want to tell your classmates what you like about your salad?”
She hesitated, and then quietly said, “It tastes green.”
Michael sat up straight in his chair. “You can’t taste a color!” he taunted.
“I can,” Indigo said uncertainly.
Her arguer was stagnant. “You can not!”
“I can too!” she disagreed, her tiny voice rising.
“I can too!” she shouted, placing her palms flat on the table. “I eat salad every day, and it tastes green every day, so there!” Her eyes were bright with tears.
I grasped her shoulders gently. “Indigo, sweetie, it’s okay,” I said calmly. “Everyone sees, hears, and tastes things differently, Michael.” I gave him a stern look. “Some people are special. They can taste things that other people can’t taste.” He fell silent, but his surly expression remained. “Michael, I want you to apologize to Indigo.” Michael remained quiet, staring at the girl in front of me with his brow knitted. “Michael. Say you’re sorry.”
His voice dripped with irritation. “Sorry.”
I was about to press the apology further when I felt Indigo relax under my hands. “It’s okay,” she mumbled reservedly.
I didn’t catch him, but I was sure when I turned my back that Michael had stuck his tongue out at her—because when I faced the class again, Indigo’s lip was trembling.
Some children were taking the first grade by storm, but as I watched her working silently at her chair, I began to feel more and more strongly that Indigo was quietly taking up the rear. She understood more than any of the other children, but she was quickly losing her will to speak her mind. She stopped volunteering her hand in class and stopped eating her snack, and I could sense she was confused. Michael’s attack on her eating habits had clearly brought to the surface what all the other children had been thinking—that Indigo was very, very different. And with children, different is not okay.
All Indigo knew was that she was being excluded, but she couldn’t understand why.
“Good morning, boys and girls!”
“Good morning, Miss Bradley.”
“I have a very special activity planned for today. We’re going to make something very special. Can anyone guess what it is we’re going to make? Sue?”
Sue folded her hands neatly across her desk and her bronze ringlets bounced at her shoulders. “Finger painting?”
“No,” I chuckled, “but good guess. Anyone else?”
I called on tall, dark-haired Ian. “Are we going to make believe?”
“A wonderful idea, Ian, but that’s not it either.” I scanned the classroom once more, but no one else offered a guess. “Well, children, today we’re going to make music. Isn’t that exciting?” Excited whispers broke out across the tables. “I have recorders, conga drums, tambourines, and even a couple of guitars.”
In the scramble for instruments, I didn’t notice that she had taken anything until I heard the beginnings of an A chord coming from her corner. I approached her, smiling. “Indigo, I didn’t know you could play the guitar.”
Her azure eyes were confident. “My daddy plays the guitar,” she said in her soprano voice. “He showed me how once.” She thought for a minute and her tiny fingers tickled the frets absentmindedly. “Mommy teached me to sing.”
“Taught,” I corrected her. “That’s wonderful, honey.”
She slid her index finger up and down the first string. “I could play the piano, too,” she ventured to add. “And bass guitar and, um, sometimes drums.” She paused. “Plus, I paint with watercolors sometimes.”
This was the most she had opened up to me all year. “I’d love to see some of your paintings, Indigo. Would you like to show them to me some time?” She nodded, examining her guitar. I notice that she had chosen the instrument with the bright blue dots on the fret board. As I moved on to the other students, I thought I heard her play the first few chords of “Stairway to Heaven”—but when I looked back, she was tracing the wood grain with her right hand, lost in thought.
“Um, we like to play tea party and dress-up,” Heather finished. She curtsied and took her seat again, clutching her doll.
I clapped along with the other students. “That was a good show-and-tell, Heather,” I congratulated her. “Were you nervous?”
She shook her head. “No, Miss Bradley, not even a little.”
“Well, that’s very good. Let’s see, who’s next? Oh, Indigo, it’s your turn!” I leaned to the side to see her where she sat at her corner table. “Sweetie, what do you have for show-and-tell?”
She jumped down out of her chair and took tiny, measured steps to the front of the class. Her fingers were closed protectively around a thick white paper. She faced the other students and turned the paper around to reveal a delicate watercolor painting of a woman with flowers woven into her long blonde hair. “This is my mommy,” Indigo said proudly. “I painted her.”
There was movement and electricity to the painting, and while it was clearly done by a child, it had the pull of a professional piece of art. The woman on the page seemed to glow brightly. She was facing to the left, her nose angled down as she examined something in her fingers, and her wavy hair was tucked behind her ear. I felt love and admiration in each of the brushstrokes. “Indigo, that is beautiful.”
She turned bright red and looked down at her flip-flopped feet. “Thanks,” she whispered.
I gave Michael a stern look. “Michael, that’s not nice.”
“It doesn’t even look real,” he sneered. “It’s ugly.”
“Michael!” I snapped. “Go sit in time out! And say you’re sorry to—.” I looked to see an empty space at the front of the room. A long golden ponytail disappeared around the doorframe at the classroom entrance. “Stay in your seats.”
She was sitting with her knees to her chest at the end of the hallway, facing the giant glass doors that lead outside. Her intelligent eyes were studying the hills, following the birds, taking everything in. “I like it better out there,” she said. After a silent moment, I sat down next to her.
“What do you mean?”
She didn’t speak for a long time, instead watching the birds’ flights intently, and I got the distinct, eerie sense that she knew infinitely more about life than I could even begin to. A child is a terrifyingly malleable creature; the slightest tremor in their lives, the tiniest of social mishaps could send their esteem crashing down in a fiery, twisted wreckage; one shining compliment could be the difference between a friendly, outgoing valedictorian and a sullen teenager.
Indigo rested her chin on her arms, still staring at the cyan sky. “Outside is a big place,” she said slowly. “It’s big enough for everybody. Nobody gets left out.” She sighed. “I wish inside was like that.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Sometimes,” I began hesitantly, “people are afraid of anyone who’s different. They feel threatened by anyone who is unlike them. Do you know what ‘threatened’ means?”
She was watching the birds on the school lawn take flight. “Yes,” she murmured. One smaller bird rose a few feet, dipped, and then rose again shakily, flapping its wings determinedly. Finally, it reached the tail end of the V-formation and became lost among the others. Indigo’s eyes were hopeful. “It means they’re afraid.” She looked up at me. “I’m not afraid, Miss Bradley.”
I kicked the car door shut with my foot and hefted a stack of drawings in my arms and the handle of an empty travel mug between my teeth. My heels skittered over tiny rocks on the driveway, but I managed to make it up the porch steps without incident. My husband met me at the threshold to stand the door open for me. I tumbled inside to the office and spilled my things onto my desk. Harold pressed his thumbs into my aching shoulders, rubbing in circles, and kissed my cheek warmly. “How was the first day of school?” he whispered into my ear.
“Mm,” I smiled, turning into his waiting hug and giving him a kiss. “Not half bad. How was yours?”
He sighed. “The network crashed the second I walked in the door, and then the rest of the day was just a string of lost passwords and smartass kids who think it’s funny to hack the firewalls.”
I chuckled and straightened his shirt collar. “So, a typical first day, then.” We smiled at each other knowingly. The children never consider it, but teachers are just as stressed on September first as they are. “Anything out of the ordinary?”
“Not really,” Harold replied, unwrapping a package of chicken wings and placing them in a baking dish. “What about you?”
I reorganized the sheaf of drawings from my two art classes and moved to the fridge to retrieve vegetables for dinner. “Not especially,” I said tiredly. “Do you want peppers or broccoli with those wings?”
“Broccoli sounds good.”
I pulled out a head of broccoli and a cutting board, but Harold took the knife from me. “I don’t have papers to grade,” he said in response to my questioning glance. “Don’t worry about dinner, Eve, I’ve got it.”
I picked up the drawings and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thanks, babe.”
Carol Donnelly, fourth grade. This is my cat Beatrice. She likes when I pet her ears. She is pretty. She has orange stripes.
Evan Grant, fourth grade. This is my baseball glove. I like to play baseball. I like to go to baseball games. My glove is my favorite because my dad gave it to me.
Donny Turner, second grade. This is a picture of my brother playing hockey. He is really good. I go to his games. Soon I will play hockey just like him.
Nichole Smyth, third grade. I drew my doll. Her name is Alice. She is pretty. She is a ballerina.
Indigo Tyler, second grade. My daddy can play a song on his guitar. He made the song himself. He says it is called “Indigo” and it is about me. It makes me happy. I drew my song.
I stared at her drawing for a long, long time. I remembered this girl. She was the one wearing a bright pink headband, the one who had asked me if she could draw anything she wanted to. I had expected a unicorn—not a song. “Hey, Harold,” I called into the kitchen. “You should see this.”
He walked into the office and stood behind me with his hands on the back of my chair, looking at the drawing with a look of confusion on his face. “I thought you only had second, third, and fourth graders this year,” he commented, his eyes traveling over the lines and colors on the small paper.
I touched the colored pencil where golden stars speckled an evening sky. “I do,” I said. “She’s in second grade.” An enormous orange sun was setting over a tiny planet earth, and the pinks and golds were oozing across the sky and fading into perfect blue. Swirling silver melted into the scene, winding its way around the other hues and twisting into shapes at wonderfully random intervals.
He whistled slowly. “That’s crazy. You sure a kid did this?”
I tapped the caption where she had penciled her name, grade, and description. My husband shook his head, and I felt the urge to do so myself. She had a unique perspective on things; that much was for sure. I set the paper off to the side. “Aren’t you going to grade it?” Harold asked me.
I frowned. “No,” I mused. “It’s too beautiful to write on.” I let my red pen fall from my fingers. Harold went back to fixing dinner, and I pulled the rest of the drawings back towards me, but my eyes kept traveling back to Indigo’s abstract. I was insanely curious. What had she been thinking?
My classroom was the favorite around the elementary school—it was no secret. I had chosen the perfect art to display to get my kids interested, excited about art. I wanted them to see the possibilities. The first class was always assessment. I asked them to draw something that meant a lot to them, and tell me about it. It helped me get to know my students and learn how well they were endowed artistically.
But my second class was, without fail, where the children became fascinated.
“Art is not easy.” I caught several unhappy looks, but I knew they’d change. “But you know what else isn’t easy? Breathing.” Most of the class was staring at me blankly. “I’m serious. Breathing takes a whole lot of work inside your body! Your lungs have to grow to fill up with air, and then your heart has to pump blood cells to your lungs so they can carry all that oxygen around your body. And do you know what? One blood cell can travel all the way around your body, delivering oxygen to your molecules, in seconds.”
“Cool!” cried one boy in the front row.
I pointed to him. “It is very cool, young man.” I then spread my hands, gesturing to all the students in front of me. “Who in here thinks about all that when they take a breath?”
They sat very still, stealing glances around the room to see if any of their peers were raising their hands. “That’s right,” I said. “No one. You don’t have to tell your heart to pump, or your lungs to hold air. And do you know what? Art is just like that.” They were completely absorbed now, listening to every word rapturously. “We all know how to create art. It’s inside of us, in our brains. We don’t have to tell our fingers to hold a pencil, because we know how. We all know how to draw shapes, or sculpt pottery. You,” I smiled, waving my index finger at the group, “just have to find it in you.”
I paused to let it sink in, and I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the little Indigo girl was watching open-mouthed and completely taken with what I was saying.
“Now, it might not work the first time, or the second time, or even the third time. But if you keep trying, you will be able to make something fantastic.”
Within minutes, they were all hard at work on different projects. I saw the shaky start of a paper crown, one self-portrait, three crayon drawings, and a group of four children with a six-foot sheet of paper, tracing one of their giggling friends. I moved among the children, discussing their artwork with them and getting a feel for what each of them was attempting. Some of the things I saw blew me away; but then again, my students always managed to amaze me.
After the rest of the class had settled down and begun to focus on their work, I found Indigo. She was sitting mutely by the window; in front of her, she had a sheet of paper and a set of watercolors. I watched her work. At first, I assumed she was staring out the window, searching for muse, but then I saw how her eyes traveled and noticed she was looking at the window itself. She slipped her brush into a cup of water, dipping it up and down absently as she studied her subject. I was fascinated. She was a second grader with the artistic intellect of someone far beyond her years. What she was attempting was incredible, I saw, when she finally selected a color and swirled the brush in the palette.
The miniature hairs caressed the page, laying the palest of blues as a base in long, even strokes. She cleaned the brush and moved towards a soft pea green, clouding it on top of the blue in blossoming splotches. She cleaned the brush again and melted a golden yellow in lines across empty blue spaces, finally alighting on the edges of the green clouds. I could see now what she was doing, although the shapes were indistinct.
“What have you got there, Indigo?”
She bit her lip and stood, turning her entire body around the paper as she added more yellow. “The window.”
“You’re painting the window?”
She glanced up at me. “When you paint a water glass, you don’t paint it white,” she explained. “You paint what’s behind it.”
I was stunned. This was not just someone thinking outside the box. This was someone creating an entirely new box, and then thinking outside of that box. “It’s beautiful,” I commented, still absolutely floored. “I love the way you did the sunlight.”
She cleaned her brush in the water and set it down. “Thanks,” she replied, and picked up a pencil. She tapped the tip of it on the desk, pursed her lips, and blew on the painting to dry it. The air ruffled her wavy hair and she shook it out of the way, irritated, and blew on her artwork again. The shiny spots of water shrank and disappeared, and she then took the pencil to the paper. I watched her again, curious, as barely-there lines appeared in delicate threads across the corner of the paper, meeting at faint junctions. In the center, her graphite rounded out a tiny, dark shape. I looked away from the paper and peered at the subject only to notice, on the very bottom left corner of the window, a miniscule spider nestled in a sparkling web, swaying slowly from the breeze outside. Indigo pinched the pencil carefully and added a few strokes, then set it down and held up her work.
I examined it as well. The colors were like smoke permeating the fibers of the paper, subtle with an air of ethereality that chilled me. “What made you decide to do this?”
She shrugged. “Nobody ever looks at the window. They just look through it.”
I thought briefly. “Do you think people ever feel like windows?” I asked, eyeing her closely. She shrugged her little shoulders again and closed her watercolors.
I watched her work develop as the year wore on. Christmastime was fast approaching and I instructed the class to play with a winter theme. I watched clay snowmen, paper snowflakes, and even tiny winter wonderland dioramas unfold before my eyes. White glitter and cotton balls littered the tables and floor, and the class radio was playing carols by the dozens.
“It’s snowing!” Every student shot out of their chairs and were at the windows in moments. “Wow, look!” Little tiny flakes spiraled down. I tried to hide my excitement but couldn’t help feeling just as starry-eyed as the kids.
I felt a tug on my sleeve, and looked down into Indigo’s bright, grinning face. “Ms. Mitchell? Can we go outside?”
After a moment, I looked back out the window, where snowflakes were trailing gently to the grass, and then I clapped my hands. “Everybody, get your sketchbooks and colored pencils. I want to see how you look at the snow!”
We traipsed outside into the cold. My breath froze instantly, and snowflakes landed, icy cold, on my cheeks. “What do you want us to draw, Ms. Mitchell?” red-haired Judy wanted to know.
I caught a snowflake on my finger. “Every single snowflake you see is different—unique. I want you to draw this first snowfall, but I want to feel what you’re feeling right now. Are you excited? Maybe your snowflakes should be pink. Or maybe you can’t stand the snow, and you want to draw your snowflakes black. Show me what you think of the snow. Help me see it through your eyes.” The children fanned out, sitting on the grass or under a grove of trees on the recess field, clutching their sketchbooks and watching the snow fall, their eyes full of wonder. I could tell they were each looking at the winter welcome in their own fantastic way. This was what I had been waiting for. It was the moment of realization that told me I was teaching right, the expressions on their faces that showed me just how much they understood.
I saw green snowflakes that looked like leaves, delicious brown chocolate snowflakes, and even some little yellow ones that resembled stars falling from a dark blue sky. “Joshua, what are you doing here?”
He was coloring furiously with the violet pencil and harboring a dark beige one in his other hand. Momentarily he set the pencils in his lap and held out his drawing, which I took. “Peanut butter and jelly snowflakes!” he announced proudly.
I laughed, recognizing the purple and brown splotches on the ground as the sandwich he had brought for lunch. “This is wonderful. I love it.” I handed his drawing back and he immediately resumed his fervent scribbling, his tongue protruding from the corner of his mouth comically.
“Indigo,” I said, walking up to her. “What have you got so far?”
She showed me an immense close-up drawing of the crystalline form of one of the famous first snowflakes. The designs were intricate and beautiful, done with a light blue pencil, and I was once again amazed at her talent. “It’s lovely,” I smiled. I was about to hand the sketch back when I thought I noticed something odd about it and took a second look.
Eyes stared out from the page, hidden among the many facets of the snowflake’s geometric form. The closer I looked, the more feature stood out—lips, a nose, even hair. I glanced at Indigo and recognized the same bright eyes blinking at me as I examined their likenesses in her drawing. “Is this you?”
She nodded. “You said every snowflake is different,” she reminded me. “I’m different just like they are. I’m the most different because I don’t have any friends.” She said it so matter-of-factly that I felt tears come to my eyes.
“Indigo,” I said to her, kneeling down on the frozen ground. I pressed the drawing into her hand. “Just because you’re different doesn’t mean you can’t have friends. I’ll bet any one of your classmates would love to be friends with you.”
She shook her blonde head. “They think I’m weird. I eat salad.”
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but I decided not to inquire further. “Sweetie, you should never let anyone tell you what you are.” I rubbed her arm. “You’re whoever you want to be. Don’t let them get in your way.”
A smile formed on her pink lips. “I know that, Ms. Mitchell. But I just don’t have any friends, that’s all.”
There was nothing I could say to convince her otherwise. Later that night, I told Harold what she had said.
“Harold?” I poked one of my meatballs and it rolled across the plate.
He slurped spaghetti in his mouth and chewed. “Mm?”
“Do you remember that girl? The one who drew that beautiful picture I showed you the first day of school?”
He swallowed. “Sure, honey, I remember. Why?”
I swirled my wine in the glass thoughtfully. “We went outside to draw the snow this afternoon, and I told the kids that every snowflake was different. So she drew herself as a snowflake and told me it was because she was the most different out of all her classmates.” I could picture her eyes as I recounted the incident. “She insists she doesn’t have any friends.”
He twirled noodles around his fork. “Well, I don’t know, sweetie. Maybe she doesn’t.”
“Harold, that’s a terrible thing to say!”
He held up a hand defensively as he dabbed his mouth with a napkin. “Now, wait a minute, don’t get mad. All I’m saying is, some kids prefer to be by themselves. Maybe she really doesn’t have any friends.”
I shook my head slowly, staring at the candle between us. “No,” I mused. “She said they think she’s weird. She wants friends, I can tell from the way she talks about it. I guess she doesn’t believe it could happen.” I watched the candle flicker. One puff of air and the flame would die out, and I would be watching shadowy smoke instead of that bright fire. Indigo had such a bright spirit, but it wouldn’t take much to darken it. I didn’t want to let that happen.
“You can’t do anything about it, Eve. Don’t let it bother you so much.”
I knew Harold meant well, but I couldn’t get Indigo off my mind.
I thumbed through the newspaper, frowning at what I was reading in the headlines. So much war. Why was there always a war going on? I thought ahead to the peace rally our family would be attending that weekend and smiled. Indigo’s first protest. She was even more excited than I was about it, insisting on discussing it every night at dinner. We’d even tie-dyed a brand new t-shirt for her to wear with a big yellow smiley face on the front, and she couldn’t wait to try it on. At the moment it was hanging out on the line, drying.
I pulled her onto my lap and smoothed her hair out of her eyes. “What’s up, chickadee?” I asked.
She grinned and began rearranging my hair, giggling. She had the best giggle. “Mommy, how come I’m Indigo?”
“What do you mean?”
She stopped and looked me right in the eye. “I mean how come you named me Indigo?” she repeated seriously.
I pulled her close and squeezed her in a bear hug. “Well,” I began, “the night your daddy and I met, we were at this concert. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, the music was fab. And guess who was playing?”
She’d heard this part of the story before. “Daddy,” she answered happily.
“That’s right!” I said. “He came to talk to me after the gig, and he was a pretty cool guy. We spent the rest of the day together, hanging out.”
“But then the man came to bust you,” she finished in a low voice, wide-eyed. “Daddy told me. You had to boogie out of there so you didn’t get in trouble!”
I raised my eyebrows, smirking. “Oh, he told you that, did he? Well, we were looking up at the sky, and the sun was just about to disappear for the night. The stars were out and the sky was a beautiful, beautiful shade of blue.”
She put her hand over her mouth and gasped. “Indigo!”
“That’s right,” I said, tucking her hair behind her ears. “And look in the mirror. Your eyes are the same color as that sky.”
She ran to the bathroom, a look of amazement on her face. “Wow, Mommy, you’re right!” I smiled, laughing quietly to myself.
“What’s so funny?” Freddy asked as he came down the stairs.
I shook my head, still chuckling. “Nothing.”
Indigo’s art teacher had put out a display of some of the kids’ favorite work from the year for us to look at on parents’ night. When Freddy and I entered the classroom arm-in-arm, we were almost overwhelmed by the volume of artwork on the walls and tables. I saw crayon and pencil drawings, acrylic paintings, pastels, clay sculptures and bowls, and even some jewelry made out of beads and pipe cleaners.
“Welcome to the art room!” Her teacher was tall and slender with short black hair and a wide smile. “My name is Eve Mitchell, and I’m the lucky woman who teaches your second graders. Please, take a minute to look around the room and find some of your child’s artwork. We have some real talent in this year’s class and I can’t wait for you to see what they’ve accomplished. Everyone has worked really hard.”
Freddy bent down to whisper in my ear, “Do you see anything of Indigo’s?”
“Not yet,” I said, scanning the array of media. “Wait—look over there. Is that…?” I trailed off as Freddy and I reached the immense paper.
It was a sunset, probably one of the most interesting and atypical sunsets I had ever been introduced to. There was almost more green and blue in it than red and pink, which I found strange. It made me think of the Northern lights, the way the hues formed walls and ripples across the sky in dimensional patterns. There was depth and movement to it, and the whole thing played wild tricks on my eyes. “This is fab,” I breathed, placing my hand to my chest in shock.
Freddy was gaping like a fish. “I knew she liked to paint, but I didn’t know she liked it this much. This is far out.”
“Your daughter sees things in all the right ways.” We turned to find Ms. Mitchell looking at us with her arms folded across her stomach. “She interprets the world beautifully.”
“Thank you,” I said dazedly. “Did she do this by herself?”
Her teacher lifted her hands in a shrug. “I saw the blank paper when she started and when I came by again she had most of this painted.” I could tell she was thrilled, and I didn’t blame her. This had to be an art teacher’s dream. “Indigo is extremely talented. But…”
Freddy shifted uncomfortably next to me. “But?” I pressed.
She looked at me seriously over the edge of her rimless glasses. “I feel that your daughter is having trouble assimilating into the social environment. She isn’t able to connect with her peers like we would hope she would.”
I couldn’t understand any child not wanting to play with Indigo. She was friendly and open and always smiling. “You must be mistaken,” I assured her. “Indigo loves making friends.”
“She’s a great kid,” Freddy added. “Why do you think she’s not connecting?”
The woman in front of me looked away for an instant, and I began to worry. “Is there something you’re not telling us?” I pressed.
She shook her head and beckoned to the both of us. “I want you to see this.”
We trailed her into a spacious walk-in closet stocked full of more art projects and a stock of supplies. She located a pile of papers and began rifling through them, eventually coming to a small one done in sky blue—Indie’s favorite color. She held it up and I blinked, thinking my eyes were deceiving me. “Is that…?”
“Dawn, that’s her face,” Freddy whispered. “In a snowflake.”
Ms. Mitchell handed the drawing to me and I took it, examining the detailed piece. “That was this year’s first snow. The children saw it snowing outside and Indigo suggested we go out in it, so I asked them to draw how the snow made them feel.” She stared us down. “Indigo drew her face in a snowflake. Can you guess why?” Freddy and I glanced at each other, stumped, and I shook my head at the art teacher. She sighed. “I told the class how every snowflake is different. She said she drew herself as a snowflake because she is the most different out of all her classmates.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I replied. “What’s wrong with being different? She’s still my daughter and she’s still a wonderful child.”
The woman put her right hand to her left arm and rubbed it up and down, standing awkwardly and watching us with sad eyes. “That’s what I said to Indigo. She then told me that she was different because she didn’t have any friends.” I could see tears sparkling in her eyes, and mine weren’t far behind.
“She said that?” Freddy asked after a quiet minute. He put both arms around me, still staring at Ms. Mitchell. “She’s never told us anything about this. Never. No other teacher has said anything about it.”
She was still rubbing her arm anxiously. “She’s such a sweet little girl, and she doesn’t seem too bothered by being alone,” the tall woman responded. “I suppose it’s easy to overlook—but what she said to me made me think. It isn’t healthy for such a young kid to be so lacking in social interaction.”
I pushed my hair out of my eyes and Freddy and I exchanged worried glances once again. This was not what I had been expecting to hear from Indigo’s teachers at all, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear any more.
Dawn and I left the art room dazedly. I couldn’t understand how a girl like Indigo could be having so much trouble making friends. Hadn’t we raised her right? We’d always taught her to value friendships and to be kind to everyone and everything. We’d passed our values, our ethics, on to her, in the hopes that she would grow up to be a strong, loving young woman. Where had we gone wrong? Her personality was flawless, her intentions golden, and yet her peers were clearly shunning her.
“What’s next?” I peered at the schedule Dawn held in her hands.
She pointed to a square on the paper. “Music with Mr. Todd.”
Mr. Todd turned out to be a very hip teacher. He wore a polo shirt and skinny jeans and didn’t seem to care how his hair fell, which reminded me of myself in my glory days with the band. He had a firm but friendly handshake. “Pleasure to meet you,” I said, and introduced myself and Dawn as Indigo’s parents.
“Oh, gosh,” he exclaimed. “You’re Indigo’s parents! Ray Todd,” he said excitedly. He looked between us with his hand on his chin, thinking. “Which one of you is it?”
“Pardon?” Dawn asked.
He smiled, relaxing and letting his hand fall. “Sorry—which one of you plays guitar?”
I chuckled, raising a hand nonchalantly. “Of course, I haven’t played a gig since the early seventies,” I said wistfully, “but I play when I can.”
The small, round-faced man was thrilled to hear that I’d taught her a few chords. “She picks up on everything so quickly,” he gushed. “She loves it. I can tell she really has a great ear for music. Gosh, I just can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.”
I lifted a hand. “I’m sorry—I must have misheard you. Did you say ‘next’?”
He nodded enthusiastically. “Her songs are just—wow. I’m amazed.”
“So am I,” Dawn commented. “I’m sorry, Mr. Todd, but I’m afraid I don’t understand. Are you saying that Indigo writes her own music?”
“Sure does. Wonderful tunes, too. She has a stellar voice, and—well, gosh. I just love all of it. She’s given me some serious pride in my job.”
“She sings?” I croaked. He nodded. “Dawn…” I looked down at my wife. “She sings. Our flower child sings.”
Mr. Todd put a hand to his cheek. “You mean you didn’t know?”
Dawn smiled. “She’s very quiet, and she tends to keep to herself.”
“I knew she could play a few chords,” I added, “but she’s never sung for us.” I was beyond excited. My heart was pounding. When I met Dawn I knew she was special, artistic, but I never dreamed we would have a child together, let alone such an infinitely creative child. Somehow my love of music and Dawn’s passion for art had been passed on to our beautiful little girl, and I couldn’t possibly have been happier.
“We’re having a concert in the springtime,” Mr. Todd assured us. “I’ll make sure she gets some spotlight.” I couldn’t believe the width of the smile those words brought to my lips.
“Indigo?” I stood behind the petite blonde girl, watching her play. She turned and looked at me expectantly. I cleared my throat. “Indigo, you have a lot of talent.” She said nothing, so I continued. “I—we all—would like it very much if you would play a solo in our spring concert. Do you think you could do that?”
She glanced down at the strings beneath her fingers and then looked back up at me. “Like what?” she asked quietly.
“Whatever you like,” I assured her. “But…we thought maybe you’d like to sing something. You could play one of those songs you’re writing.”
She shrugged and began plucking the strings again. I knelt down next to her. “Indigo, listen to me,” I murmured. “You are a wonderful musician. I want to hear more of that. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you show your fellow students how good you are.”
Several chords later, she put her hand over the strings, muting the sound, and nodded her head. “Okay,” she agreed. “Which one?”
“Whichever one you want to play,” I responded. “They’re all very good.” When she fell completely silent, I walked back to my desk. Behind me I could hear the rough skeleton of a song that I didn’t recognize coming from underneath Indigo’s gentle fingers.
The auditorium was packed full of parents, most of which were worlds more nervous than their children. All across the cavernous room I could hear shouts of “You forgot your trumpet?” and “Peanut butter? All over your new shirt!” as frantic adults attempted to remedy frantic situations. Concert nights were always the worst—nerves and adrenaline all melting into one monolithic mess. What made it worthwhile was the somehow successful product, the teary pride we parents felt when our children not only took the stage, but took it by storm.
“Which one’s yours?” the woman next to me asked.
I smiled at her. “I’m Tom’s mother,” I replied, shaking her hand.
“Tom Waters? In the fourth grade?” she asked. “My son sits next to him on the bus! I’m Andrea O’Connell,” she introduced herself.
“What a coincidence!” I smiled. “Jennifer Waters. Which one is your son?”
“Ian is the one all the way on the left there, in the purple shirt. He plays the clarinet.”
“Oh, that’s not an easy instrument.”
“Yes, but he handles it so well. Practices day and night. I’m tempted to soundproof his room.” We chuckled. “What does Tom play?”
“The flute,” I sighed. “I’m so worried he’ll decide it’s too ‘girly’ and quit. He’s really a good musician.”
“Oh, I believe it,” she said, wide-eyed, “but I suppose if he decided not to play the flute anymore, he could always take up something else.”
I nodded. “He gets a little starry-eyed when he sees a saxophone. I wonder if that wouldn’t be his next choice.”
“It’s possible,” Andrea agreed. “Now, which one is Tom?”
I pointed to the right. “In the front row there, the blonde boy.”
“Yes, I see him. Isn’t he handsome! He looks just like you,” she smiled.
“Oh, thank you,” I said just as the lights dimmed and the clutter of voice upon voice died to a whisper. “They’re about to start!”
The spotlights hit the instruments in all the right places, creating a shine almost as bright as the shine on the band members’ faces as they played that first song. It was a slow march with a trilling melodious harmony from the wind instruments. They transitioned into an Irish folk tune, and then finished with a slow ballad that brought tears to my eyes. Andrea and I stood and clapped until our palms were red. The music teacher, Mr. Todd, stepped off to stage left and gestured his hands to the children, giving them full attention of the audience as they took their bows.
“He’s a great director, from what Ian has told me,” Andrea gushed. “He’s new this year, but they just love him so much. He sounds so supportive of the kids, and I hear he has a good sense of humor, too.”
“That’s always nice,” I agreed. “It keeps the kids interested and excited about music. And they sound fantastic. I can’t imagine how he does it.”
We were filled with pride and itching to congratulate our children, but we had yet to hear the second-grade music students perform. This concert promised to be quite a change from what we had just heard from the band kids. I was eager to see Tom, but also curious to see how Mr. Todd handled such a young crowd. I surmised that they would be much more awkward on instruments than the older children, but perhaps this director had such a way with children that he had sculpted something incredible out of these seven- and eight-year-olds.
“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,” the stout director said, standing in front of the microphone at the corner of the stage. “We appreciate your support. The music program here at West Elementary has such a passionate community of parents and grandparents. It’s wonderful to see you all here tonight.” He gestured to the opposite end of the stage, where I could just make out the curtains rustling and two or three pairs of feet in oversized dress shoes and ballet flats. “Without further ado, I’d like to welcome the second-grade music students to the stage!”
They traipsed out on stage, most looking nervous, some looking excited, a few looking mildly green. We applauded as they took their places, and I had to chuckle at the motley bunch of instruments. Everything from tambourines to guitars to conga drums sparkled under the spotlight, looking a bit unsteady in the hands of these young musicians, but nonetheless I could sense promise in their faces, and a sense of accomplishment on Mr. Todd’s round features.
“They’ve worked very hard to bring you a successful show, so please be respectful. No flash photography, as it distracts our performers. Thank you and we hope you enjoy the show!”
It was an interesting concert, with the children playing in small groups. There were four boys on conga drums that played an interesting Latin rhythm arrangement and two girls in pink dresses who sang a lovely duet with tambourine accompaniment.
The very last song was the one that struck me. An absolutely tiny girl with long, honey hair in a headband and a pastel tie-dyed dress had a guitar, almost as tall as she was, on a sky blue strap around her neck. “This next song is an original, written by its performer,” Mr. Todd announced. She took her place in front of the microphone and began to strum the strings cheerfully. The ringing major chords were clean, carrying far across the auditorium as the audience fell totally silent. Not a single cough muddied the sound of the changes as her fingers slid up and down the frets gently. She held the guitar as if she’d been born playing it, and she made it look as easy as taking a breath. I had never heard or seen anything quite like it.
A few bars in, she started singing, and you could almost hear jaws dropping. Her voice was strong and sweet, and the way she closed her eyes at the held-out notes, you could feel her passion for what she was playing. As I slowly overcame the shock and listened to the words, I realized it was a love song—but it was no love song I’d ever heard before.
“You show me sunsets like I’ve never seen, a fantasy fighting machines; ‘Cause all that’s left for us is green, like Mother Nature at the seams—she’s coming…apart.”
The tie-dye, the pink ribbon tied around her forehead, her impossibly long hair—this girl was something of a hippie. She sang so lovingly about something we were all forgetting; she was singing a ballad to streams and trees and, ultimately, the beauty and simplicity of nature in a frantic, technology-driven world.
This girl held the notes like they would break if she dropped them too soon. I had heard very few artists who could create an entire atmosphere with one song, but this tiny little second-grade girl did it flawlessly. The song ended on a gorgeous fade with a faint chord, and then she took her bow and stepped back into the crowd of students.
“Let’s give an enthusiastic hand for our only soloist, Miss Indigo Tyler!” The audience exploded with cheers and applause. I clapped madly.
“She can’t possibly be in second grade,” Andrea O’Connell gaped as we rose to our feet, still clapping. “I’m astonished!”
“I know,” I replied. “Her parents must be so proud.”
We struggled through the sea of spectators to reach the exits, and I located Tom and his flute. “That was wonderful, sweetheart!” I cried, hugging him and kissing his head. “It was beautiful.”
“Very nice, Thomas,” my husband added. “Your mother cried.”
“So did you,” I pointed out, and he grunted in denial, but said nothing else. I bent down and whispered to Tom, “He did cry. I saw him.” Tom giggled.
As we headed for the door among the other young musicians and their parents, I noticed the little girl standing with her parents at the edge of the crowd, talking to Mr. Todd. Her mother was wearing a pale pink peasant blouse and a pair of faded jeans with embroidery all around the legs, and her father had on bell-bottoms and a fringed vest over his t-shirt. They were absolutely a hippie family, I concluded. The girl’s father was holding a worn leather guitar case, and I expected her to be talking to her friends, but she was standing close to her mother, holding her hands and watching Mr. Todd reverently.
They disappeared out of my view, but her song was stuck in my head all evening.
“Momma,” Indigo called from across the hall.
I set my novel on the bedside table and crossed the carpeted hallway. She was curled up on her window seat with a blanket, staring out at the rainy backyard. “What’s up, love?” I asked her.
She turned around and frowned at me, her eyebrows meeting in a look of frustration. “Momma, I don’t want to go to school anymore.”
My heart sank to hear those words. “Indigo, honey, don’t say that!” I pleaded, taking the few steps to her window and crouching next to her.
She sighed. “But…Momma, no one likes me.”
“Yes they do,” I assured her, stroking her hair.
“No they don’t, Momma. They all think I’m weird.”
I closed my eyes briefly, and when I opened them again she was still watching me closely. I could never lie to her; she had an uncanny ability to read faces and find the tiniest fluctuations in a voice that could mean the difference between falsities and the truth. “Indigo, listen to me,” I said, taking her hand. “People are going to be rude sometimes, but not everyone is like that. There will be people in your life who make fun of you, but for every mean person out there, you’ll find three people who like you.”
She shook her head. “No one likes me. The whole third grade thinks I’m weird.”
“They couldn’t possibly, Indigo,” I smiled. “There’s a friend for you in school. You just haven’t met her yet.”
She nodded, once again staring out the window, but I could tell she didn’t believe me.
I was eating my lunch when John Isaac’s head appeared around the door to my classroom. “Megan?”
“What’s up, John?”
He sighed. “One of my kids needs to stay in and make up some work. Think you could take over my recess duty?”
I dabbed my mouth with a napkin and nodded, then swallowed. “Sure.”
“Thanks!” he exclaimed. “I’ll take your shift on Friday to make up for it.”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. I could use the fresh air.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. Thank you!” he called as he jogged back to his classroom.
I finished eating and locked the classroom just as the bell rang. I helped shepherd the students outside into the sunshine, and they branched out in groups, screaming and laughing. I took a deep breath of the spring air and felt my mind clear from the fuzzy chaos of the morning. It was a beautiful day outside, and I actually found myself enjoying recess duty on these rare idyllic days. I strolled amongst the students, making sure there wasn’t any conflict and enjoying the sunshine.
“Can I play?”
I heard that question as if it was being shouted in my ear. That was the question that led to tears, to exclusion, to total disaster, to time-outs and hard feelings. I immediately located the source and briskly situated myself in a position where I could stop any strife if necessary.
She was a tiny girl—I immediately cringed. Girls were the worst, the ones who would exclude for no reason, the ones keen on making lives miserable. The meanest of them veritably bathed in the tears of their victims. This was the part of teaching that did not sit well with me. Lessons aren’t taught with simple scolding. With young kids, you had to invoke apologies, lecture, preach morals, and restate rules ten times over, or they would never learn what was right and what was wrong.
The girls being asked were exchanging looks, which was almost never a good sign. Rarely did they decide to let a fresh face into their group, and rarely did they bother letting the girl down gently. I saw the apprehension in their eyes, the reluctance, the fear. If I stopped to consider why children took so long to learn the value of treating everyone equally, if I questioned how they could be so cruel to anyone different, I always came to the conclusion that it was the fault of society. We had learned that the definition of perfection was, in all essence, unattainable, and that we could never be as flawless as the media depiction. These girls learned what “perfect” meant and how to surround themselves with people who came narrowly close.
This small girl was clearly not one of those perfect children. I inched closer, anticipating something akin to a bomb explosion. The tallest of them glanced back at the others, and then smirked at the small girl who’d posed the question. “Uh, no,” she replied with a tilt of her head. The petite girl looked down at her shoes, obviously crushed. “Sorry,” the offending classmate added, but it was easy to see that she wasn’t.
I was prepared to intervene when a bold voice reached my ears. “You can play with me.” All eyes turned to acknowledge her, the most hopeful pair belonging to the hurt little girl. The newcomer smiled and rocked forward and back on her toes. “Wanna go hopscotch?” she asked.
The little girl lifted her chin a little, and tension hung in the air. The other girls were losing interest, and momentarily moved back to their game of marbles. I watched this quiet, lonely child out of the corner of my eye. Her prospective friend waited patiently, open smile still spread across her cheeks. “It’s okay if you don’t know how,” she nudged. “I don’t mind teaching ya.”
The offer dangled in the air for a long moment. I glanced back at them to see the small girl shyly take steps towards her new acquaintance, whose grin widened. “My name’s Kristal,” she told the timid girl. “What’s yours?”
She let her lips curl into the beginnings of a smile and looked up at Kristal with wide blue eyes. “Mine’s Indigo,” she murmured, and a few pieces fell into place for me. I had heard about this girl—she was extraordinarily talented in art and music, having apparently written songs and done paintings beyond the other students’ best work. Last year’s staff meetings had been nothing but exclamations of pride from Ray Todd and Eve Mitchell. Rumor had it that her parents were sixties hippies who were raising her in the same vein as themselves. Unfortunately, poor Indigo Tyler had a bit of a reputation as being different and, ultimately, friendless.
“Woah. That’s a pretty name!”
Indigo blushed and examined her white sandals. “Thanks,” she said softly.
“Let’s go hopscotch now.”
I watched them skip off together towards the hopscotch grid. My initial apprehension was giving way to hope for Indigo—if at least one girl could welcome her friendship, perhaps her days of social isolation were coming to a close. Maturity would soon catch up with her classmates and perhaps they would start to accept her for who she was, even appreciate her talents and her famous bright personality.
I watched her and Kristal bouncing across the blacktop and laughing. At least she was no longer alone.
“I’m going down to Glenn’s to jam for a little while.”
I pulled the whistling teapot off the red-hot burner and filled my mug with scalding water. “Again? That’s the second time this week,” I chuckled. “I think she’s inspiring you, Freddy.” I replaced the pot on the stove and turned to find myself face-to-face with my husband. He took my hands and kissed my wedding ring with a gentle laugh of his own.
“Maybe she has. I’m just glad to be playing again.”
It wasn’t the steam from the tea kettle kindling a warm feeling in me—I hadn’t seen that sparkle in Freddy’s eyes since we were kids. These days he would come back from Glenn’s in a rosy mood, with more energy than he’d had in years, chasing an ecstatic Indigo around the living room and pulling me into tuneless waltzes in the kitchen. I rested my head on his chest and breathed deeply. “I love how happy you are, Freddy,” I sighed.
He rubbed my back and kissed the top of my head. “Me too.”
“It’s all because of Indie.” Her name turned up the corners of my mouth.
The front door swung open and then shut again, moments later. “Momma, Momma, Momma!” I took a step away from Freddy just in time to swing Indigo up into my arms. She shook her hair out of her eyes and giggled.
I kissed her nose. “Hi, love,” I greeted her. “How was school?”
Freddy and I exchanged a look. “Tell us about it, sweetie,” he encouraged her.
I set her down on the floor and she put her little denim book bag up on the table and jumped up on a chair. “I made a friend.” Her sandaled feet swung back and forth and she looked at us expectantly.
“That’s wonderful, Indigo!” I enthused, seating myself in the chair across from her.
“Her name is Kristal,” she said proudly. “With a K. We played hopscotch at recess and I won once and she won once too.”
I reached over and squeezed her tight. “Your mother was right, wasn’t she?” Freddy said. “She knew you’d meet someone you liked.”
Indigo nodded excitedly. “Yes Momma. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“It’s all right, chickadee.” Freddy rested his hand on my shoulder, and I looked up at him, then back at our daughter. “Would you like me to make a play date for you and Kristal some time?”
She gasped. “Yeah! Would you, please would you?”
“Of course I will,” I assured her. “Now go on and play.”
Indigo made her way into the playroom down the hall, and Freddy and I embraced. “She’s finally made a friend,” I said in a low voice. “Freddy, I’m so relieved.”
“Me too, Dawn,” he admitted.
We stood in silence for another moment, and finally I squeezed his hand and pulled away. “Why don’t you invite Glenn for dinner tonight? I’m sure he misses his goddaughter.”
“All right,” Freddy assented. “I’ll be home by five.”
“No rush. I love you.”
“I love you too,” he replied. “So much.”
Charlie clapped me on the back as I flipped the clips on my leather guitar case shut with a brassy snap. “Nice jam, fellas,” he grinned. “Glenn, your bass just sounds better every session.”
“Aw, gee whiz, Charlie. Those drums pull the whole set together. I’m serious.” He waved a dismissive hand at me with a chuckle.
Freddy’s car keys jangled as his casual gait took him up to where I sat. “Coming for dinner, Glenn?”
I got to my feet and hefted the case in my hands. “Oh, I dunno, Freddy. It’s Tuesday night…”
He elbowed me gently. “Come on, man. Indigo’s been dying to see you.”
I couldn’t help but smile as my goddaughter’s gorgeous face swam up in my mind. She never failed to brighten my day. I had no kids of my own, and no relationship to speak of, but had always wanted a daughter, and Freddy was the only one I’d told. He knew how much I loved spending time with Indie. “All right, all right,” I relented. “You got me. I can’t pass up an invitation to see my goddaughter.”
Charlie winked at me. “You softie,” he teased.
“Shut up, Charlie,” I said, whacking him good on the arm. “We’ll see ya next week.”
“Sounds good,” he replied.
Freddy and I showed ourselves out to the beat of one of Charlie’s flawless rudiments. His wife Alicia waved from the kitchen. “Say hi to the family for us, Freddy!”
“Will do!” he called back.
I rested my bass across the backseat of my car, climbed in, and started the radio. I waved to Freddy and he backed down the driveway with me close behind. I was warming up to the thought of seeing Dawn again—it had been a few months since I’d been to the Tyler household for dinner and I was looking forward to catching up with them. Upon pulling into their driveway I noticed that Dawn had been hard at work on the front garden. It looked Edenic, as usual, the stunning result of her landscaper’s talent. In between clients, she liked to keep herself busy on their own yard.
I cut the engine and stepped out of the car to a loud squeal. “Uncle Glenn!” Indigo sprinted up to me and I caught her and spun her around.
“Hey, kiddo!” I laughed. “How ya doin’?”
She hugged me and I set her down. “I’m good, Uncle Glenn.”
“Glad to hear it,” I said, ruffling her hair. “How’s school?”
“Good,” she said. “I made a friend today!”
I looked up at Freddy and he nodded, his eyes full of pride. Aside from Dawn, I’d been his only confidant as Indigo struggled socially in school. For her to have finally connected with another child had to be something of a godsend for them. “Super duper, kiddo! What’s your friend’s name?”
“Kristal with a K. She’s just my age and we played hopscotch at recess.” Indigo even seemed proud of herself. She’d always been smarter than the average kid, and I could tell that her reclusion wasn’t only a worry for her parents; it bothered her, too. It wasn’t just what Freddy had told me about her requests to be homeschooled, her troubling conversations with her mother about how different she felt, that led me to such a dramatic conclusion. There was something in those deep blue eyes of hers that looked scarred. She’d felt more pain than any 8-year-old should, and it showed. The sparkle in her eyes was steely and determined. That sunshine smile was the result of hours of practice, and it broke my heart to realize it.
I crouched down and rubbed her shoulders. “Friendship isn’t always easy, Indie,” I warned her seriously. “But you make sure you be the best friend you can for Kristal, okay? Can you promise me that?”
“Yes, Uncle Glenn,” she nodded severely.
I smiled and kissed her cheek. “Good girl.”
“Indigo, why don’t you go find that painting you did the other day, so you can show your uncle?” her father suggested. “We’ll be right inside.”
“Okay, Daddy.” She ran up the front steps, a blur of denim overalls and blonde hair. We both watched her disappear through the screen door, and then Freddy put his hands to his face. He looked tired, but totally taken with his little girl. You couldn’t blame him one bit. Indigo had that shining, earnest personality every parent wished for their child, multiplied tenfold. She was talented, honest, and beautiful, yet she’d only just now begun to make friends, and that crushed her father.
“You okay?” I asked him.
He took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. “Yeah,” he murmured. “I’m all right.” I could just barely see the shapes of clouds reflected in his eyes. “Let’s go in,” he said finally, leading me into the kitchen.
Dawn greeted us with a warm smile and a pair of hugs. “Glenn.” She kissed my cheek cheerfully and pushed me into a chair. “How are you?”
“I’m doing just fine.”
She busied herself making coffee and tea. “What’ll it be?”
“Decaf for me, thanks. No sugar.”
The kettle hummed on the stove and she began slicing peppers for supper, her strong fingers wrapped around the handle of a large kitchen knife. “Sounds like Indigo’s doing well in school.”
Dawn tucked her honey hair behind her ear and exchanged a look with Freddy. “She’s just relieved to be making friends. We all are, really.” Freddy crossed the space between them and kissed her gently. I’d seen his face the first time he looked at her—doe-eyed, speechless, and completely gone with this flower child. You could have started a fire with the sparks they had at that concert. Of course, back in the sixties, all the love you ever saw was two people sharing a joint, but when Freddy met Dawn he was clean as a whistle, and you could see from the needle-sharp look in her eyes that she was the same way. Charlie and I may have taken a hit or two back in high school, but Freddy never touched the stuff, and I’d always admired him for it. When I saw him staring at Dawn that day, I knew there was something different about her, and I could tell they were the same. I’d all but dragged him over to her, and incidentally, they’d fallen head over heels for each other.
I was startled out of my thoughts by a tiny hand tugging my shirtsleeve. “Uncle Glenn, look what I painted.” Indigo slid a large white watercolor paper into my lap. I held it up and could hardly believe what I saw. I’d seen numerous paintings of hers, but each time I was stunned by what I saw. The piece I held carefully in my fingers was clearly of Freddy, cradling his acoustic guitar, his fingers on the frets and his right hand strumming the strings. As I examined the pastel colors, I was shocked that the strings seemed to vibrate and the muscles in his arm appeared to move as his fingers danced across the fret board.
“This,” I looked down at her anxious face, “is incredible, Indie. Did you use a photograph to paint this?”
She shook her head. “It’s hard to make the picture move if it’s just a photograph.”
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
Indigo flashed me a strange, introspective smile—as if she knew I could see the movement in the picture. “He’s not sitting still,” she explained, quirking her head to one side. “He’s playing.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. She took the painting gently out of my hands and padded down the hall in her bare feet, humming to herself.
Dawn slid a dark blue mug in front of me, filled to the lip with hot coffee. She saw the expression on my face and sighed. “She doesn’t realize how talented she is.”
“No kidding,” I whispered.
Freddy echoed me quietly. “…No kidding.” The three of us stared down at our respective beverages, the painting and Indigo’s quiet soprano voice still etched in our minds.
With Glenn well on his way home and the last dinner dish dried, I left Freddy in the living room watching a sitcom and peeked in Indigo’s room to find her asleep on her bed with the light on, her small fingers wrapped protectively around a pencil. I lifted her sketchpad off the floor where it had fallen and saw the rough diagram of what I could only guess was to be another watercolor. The tangled lines and shapes meant nothing in graphite, but must have made worlds of sense to Indigo, because she had written small letters across the drawing, indicating colors. I couldn’t begin to decipher the sketch, and replaced the pad on her nightstand with a wild curiosity nibbling at my mind, wondering what could possibly come out of such a simple framework.
I pulled the sheets over her, brushed her hair back, and kissed her warm forehead. I was about to switch off the light when I heard her shift in her bed and mumble something inaudible. “What’s that, chickadee?” I turned, expecting to see her watching me sleepily, but her eyes were shut tight and her brow was furrowed in a dreamy worry.
I shook my head and crossed the room again, pulling the covers back in place where they’d been pushed off. She turned over on her side and breathed deeply. “I’m…hmmm,” she sighed, trailing off. Her pink lips were parted slightly and her breathing fell even. I shut off the light, and as I was about to shut the door I heard the word different trickle through the darkness.
When Freddy came up to bed and found me in tears, I couldn’t say why.
Recess duty again. It was an overcast day, but still warm. The children never minded the weather—rain, shine, clouds—they never seemed to notice the conditions in the tumult of their activities.
“Kristal! Wait up!” I blinked and turned towards the voice. The last time I’d heard that musical tone, it had been several decibels more timid. Now it rang across the schoolyard loudly, and I heard a responding shout.
“Hurry up, Indigo!” I spotted her then, skipping towards the swing set—and at her heels, the shy little golden-haired prodigy. She followed, laughing, and I saw something in the way she carried herself that was different from the last time I’d seen her. “Come on!”
“I’m coming!” She darted quickly up to her friend and lifted herself into the swing beside her. They screamed excitedly, daring each other to go higher. She was totally different, completely changed—confident. I was glad for this little girl, thrilled that she’d found someone to help her stand taller, and yet something still nagged at my thoughts.
I could see her, in my mind’s eye, standing on the edge of a cliff with her back to the precipice, her friend facing her, holding her hand. She’s happy here, but one false step could send her over the sheer drop—this Kristal girl was the only thing holding her steady. It terrified me to think that she should be this close to falling.
I spread the newspaper out on the table and stood as Indigo pranced into the kitchen—with a taller, dark-haired girl in tow. “Hi, sweetie,” I said. “Would you like to introduce me to your friend?”
She scuffed one of her white sandals on the floor, all of a sudden very quiet. “This is Kristal. Kristal, this is my daddy.”
Kristal straightened herself up even taller and extended her tan hand. “Nice to meet you!” she said brightly, her midnight ringlets bouncing at her chin.
I chuckled and shook her hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, too, Kristal.” She smoothed her dress, folded her hands behind her back, and looked at Indigo expectantly.
“Daddy, can we go play now?”
I nodded. “Sure you can, Indie. Your mother should be home soon with some dinner groceries.”
“Okay, Daddy.” She and her new friend skipped down the hall to the playroom. I sat down to the paper but found it difficult to concentrate. Kristal seemed very different from Indigo. She was bold, loud, and seemed to consider herself to be in charge. I shook my head. If she and Indie got along, that was good enough for me.
I skimmed the headlines—war, war, corruption, war, suicide, war—and finally slapped the paper shut in disgust. The peace rally was only days away, and the news continued to frustrate me, while the thought of Indigo marching alongside Dawn and I calmed me. She’d finally feel what it was to be part of something bigger, to be active in the peace movement, to march with a sign and put a dent in the government’s pride.
I heard Dawn pull into the driveway and stepped outside to help her with the groceries. “Hi, love,” she said with a kiss. “Did Indigo and her friend get home all right?”
I took a bag from her outstretched hand and nodded. “They’re in the playroom, as far as I know.”
“Is she nice?”
I considered the question. “She’s different from Indie. Very different—but she seems like a very sweet girl.”
I held the door open for her and we set the bags down on the kitchen table. “Hi Momma!” came our daughter’s voice from the hallway.
“Hey there, chickadee!” Dawn lifted Indigo into her arms and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. Kristal stood watching curiously by the kitchen archway. “And this must be Kristal. It’s lovely to meet you, dear.”
Kristal shook my wife’s hand as she had mine. “Nice to meet you,” she smiled.
Dawn released her fingers and tilted her head. “Are you and Indigo in any of the same classes, Kristal?”
She had opened her mouth to answer when Indigo raised her eyebrows at her mother. “Momma,” she said quietly. “We were playing.”
“Oh, excuse me,” Dawn chuckled, glancing at me amusedly. “By all means, go back to the playroom.” The girls left the kitchen at a run, and we began to put the groceries away. “She seems nice,” Dawn said in a muffled voice with her head in the cupboard.
I waited for her to close the cupboard doors and then put my arms around her. “But,” I added quietly, “she’s different.”
Dawn frowned at me. “Stop it, Freddy,” she hissed. “We are going to welcome Kristal. It’s not her that’s different, it’s the whole situation. Indigo’s never had a friend before and it’s strange, but we’re all going to have to get used to it.” She weaseled away from me and palmed a jar of peanut butter. I sighed and filled a pot of water for dinner.
I knew I was being hypocritical. Different, my mind spat at me. Had that not been the word to start this whole mess? Here I was accusing our daughter’s first friend of being different, when that was the same skewed social perspective that had prevented her from making any friends up until now. I told myself that it didn’t matter how unlike Indigo she was, I would put all that aside to make Kristal feel comfortable. For Indigo’s sake—and for Dawn’s.
I watched my wife as she relocated the food from bag to shelf, bag to shelf, her eyes weary, and her movement fatigued. She was coping so well, almost too well. Not a word about the situation to me since that second-grade parents’ night, yet I’d find her crying into her pillow at night, or hear her sobbing through the bathroom door when I came home. Her façade of being put together was a fragile act, ready to collapse at the drop of a pin.
I couldn’t let that happen. I turned on the stove and watched the coils heat from black to burning orange and a chill scrambled up my spine. Out of the corner of my eye I watched as Dawn reached for a tissue and held a hand to her forehead, dabbing her wet cheeks, thinking I couldn’t see.
“—She still cries, all the time. I can’t understand it, Glenn.”
“Well, I mean, come on Freddy. The kid’s been over to play once and you expect everything to be better? Try to think a little more realistically.” I pinched the bridge of my nose and shifted the phone to my other shoulder. “Look—you’re setting your expectations too high! Especially for a girl like Indigo. She’s smart, and she’s been through a lot of crap. There’s no way she’s going to lend all her trust to this new friend right off the bat. Trust is probably something she’s all too familiar with, and not in a good way.”
He sighed, a sound akin to an ocean wave over the crackle of my telephone. When he spoke, he sounded exhausted and broken, as if he’d aged in the short pause in conversation. “I just wish things were different, that’s all.” I sensed defeat in his tone.
“You’re going to be just fine, all three of you. Don’t be so hard on yourself, or on Dawn, and especially not on Indie.” I lowered myself slowly into a chair and tried to relax, working the tension out of my neck with my fingers.
I heard nothing but silence from Freddy’s end for several long moments. Momentarily, I heard muffled voices, and he hastily uttered some excuse and a goodbye. “Call me tomorrow, all right?” The phone died in my ear. I let it fall into my lap and just sat, watching the clock on the mantle tick away the seconds.
The TV buzzed delicate background chatter. I reclined on the couch thumbing through a magazine, while Dawn had her portfolios and pencils spread across the coffee table. She chewed her left thumbnail habitually as she diagrammed landscape designs for her latest client. I was deep in an article when she leaned back into the couch and stretched her arms for the ceiling. “I suppose I should check on Indigo,” she yawned. “She’s been in her room for almost an hour now.”
I folded the magazine closed and got to my feet. “I’ll go,” I offered. “You’re working.”
As I neared the top of the stairs, I heard Indigo’s voice, her trilling laugh, and the tinny sound of a response on the other end of the telephone line. “No,” Indie giggled. “That’s not how you spell it! That’s too many e’s.” I nudged the door open and spied her curled up on her pillow playing with a stuffed animal and holding the phone to her ear. She noticed me watching her and smiled at me. “I hafta go, Kristal, my daddy wants to talk to me.” She twirled her long hair around her finger as she waited for a reply. “Yeah, tomorrow. Okay. Bye.” She wrapped her small hands around the receiver and ended the call with the deliberate press of a button.
The mattress creaked as I sat on the edge of the bed beside her. “Hey, kiddo,” I murmured, brushing her tangled hair out of her eyes. She folded her legs and danced her plush rabbit across the bedspread, its little white paws clutched in her fists. “How long were you talking to Kristal?”
Indigo shrugged, her intelligent gaze fixed on the toy as its feet skipped over the quilt. “I dunno, just a little while I guess.” One of the rabbit’s paws slipped from her grasp and it tumbled lopsidedly onto the bed. Its black button eyes stared at me unwaveringly, and when I looked up I found that Indigo’s blue ones were as well. “Daddy,” she frowned, “what’s the peace rally for?” She studied my expression intently.
“Well,” I began, pulling her small frame onto my lap, “you know that your mother and I have always taught you to be kind and treat everyone with respect, don’t you?” She gave a gentle nod, shaking her hair forward slightly from where it had been tucked behind her petite ears. I searched for the right words as her contemplative, softly calculating gaze held me. “The world doesn’t always follow those rules. Sometimes when two groups of people can’t agree on something, they fight each other to decide whose way is better.”
Indigo furrowed her brow. “But Daddy,” she frowned, “how will that fix it? The people that lose the fight won’t be happy.” She wriggled out of my embrace and stood defiantly before me, her slender arms folded across her chest. “Won’t some people get hurt? Why can’t they make everyone happy? Why do they hafta fight?” she pressed, clearly frustrated. She tapped her bare toes on the shag carpet rapidly, her arms crossed tightly and her jaw set, steeled by the force of her opinion. “Why?” she repeated, prompting me out of my silence.
After a brief pause, I reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. “That’s why we rally for peace, chickadee.” The tension left her eyes at this reminder. “We make signs and t-shirts and we stand up to the people who make those decisions about war. In order to be heard, we have to speak up.”
“Why doesn’t it stop?” I parted my lips but found that no explanation came to mind. “Daddy, why is there still war?” She stared, her blue eyes wide and intelligent and anxious, waiting for my answer, and the longer she looked, the more difficult it became for me to respond. I knew that “just because” would never be reason enough for her, and there was no way I could lie to my daughter.
“I don’t know,” I said honestly, wishing I did.
She hopped up on the bed beside me and bounced into a comfortable position. Her hands wrapped themselves around my own calloused ones, and she blinked up at me earnestly. “Then we can rally until it does.”
Peace is the Answer
BOOKS not BOMBS
Give peace a chance.
Make LOVE not WAR
Peace is Power
I was swimming, treading water in an ocean of signs and slogans that bubbled up from all sides in a roiling wash of voices and hands—more hands than I’d ever seen. They came strong or slender, soft or sandpapery—in every color from cream to chocolate to cinnamon—I saw youthful hands, wrinkled hands, freckled and frail and fat hands. Hands with signs, hands in bandages, hands calloused beyond recognition…hands holding other hands. The hands bobbed in a chaotic, unsynchronized sea, appearing at first to be directionless, but truthfully all pressing forward towards the same cause.
My own thin fingers grasped a sign, which I held high above my head with the others. My ears rang with the rumbling noise of the crowd, much of it simply background chatter, but rising above it all the strained beginnings of a chant.
“No more war…No more war…No more war…”
Voices sprang up around me, joining in as the faint words crescendoed into a deafening mantra. I raised my voice as well, shouting the three simple syllables with fire. I caught the gaze of a college girl behind me in the crowd, and we shared an empowered grin as we chanted in unison. My eyes grazed the faces surrounding me, taking it all in—the participants in this enormous annual peace rally never failed to surprise me. Among the usual middle-aged hippies and university anarchists, I spied a young couple, both of them holding the hand of a tiny little girl.
She couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old—petite, delicate features, long blonde hair. Her father—I assumed he was her father—wore a fringed jacket, and her mother also sported long locks. They made the perfect hippie family.
“NO MORE WAR…NO MORE WAR…”
As the volume of the chant climbed, I watched the little hippie child and her parents. They paused in their march, and her father knelt down on the pavement. The small girl turned around to clamber onto his shoulders, and I caught a glimpse of her face. She had fantastic blue eyes, intelligent eyes, and when she noticed me watching her, she didn’t smile but in fact simply stared at me. I was instantly struck with the strange notion that she was older than she looked. Her expression was placid, contemplative, and somehow incredibly wise. I scarcely had time to notice the yellow smile face on her tie-dyed t-shirt and the trailing pink ribbon knotted around her head before her father hoisted her up on his shoulders and they disappeared into the throng of railliers.
It was a split-second encounter, a fleeting impression of just a little girl, but those eyes and that stare were burned into my mind.
“…We are not giving in…and we are not backing down…” The march had emptied out into the park, where the organizers had set up a stage and speakers and were giving speeches, feeding the electricity of the crowd. Freddy lifted Indigo off of his shoulders and leaned towards me. “I’m gonna go toss out her empty juice box,” he bellowed over the din. “Be right back.” I nodded and turned my attention back to the current speaker.
“We assemble to bring life to our words…to bring power to our words…to bring action to our words…And we are not hypocrites…we do not fight for peace…But nor are we cowards…because we stand up for peace!”
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause as Freddy returned to my side. “Where’s Indigo?” he shouted.
I stiffened. “I thought she went with you.”
“I thought she stayed with you.”
We blinked at each other for a frozen moment before frantically raking the crowd. “Indigo!” I cried. “Indigo!” I scrambled through the spectators with Freddy hot at my heels, but she seemed to have disappeared. My heart pumped furiously with adrenaline. This was the largest peace demonstration of the year, and we’d lost our daughter in a crowd of thousands—the thought hit me and I stood still in sudden panic. Freddy squeezed my shoulder and I spun around. “Where could she possibly—?”
He shushed me, massaging my shoulders in circles with his thumbs. “It’ll be okay,” he assured me. “She must have followed me to the trash can and gotten caught up. Let’s go look there.” I nodded with worried eyes, and Freddy smiled. “Breathe. It’ll be all right.”
As we navigated the sea of people to where Freddy had trashed Indie’s juice box, I told myself we’d find her. She couldn’t have gone far—and of all the places to get lost, a peace rally was not so bad. At least she would be safe. I hoped she would be safe.
The trash can loomed into view and I scanned anxiously for a blonde head, but she wasn’t there. Freddy held my hand tightly. I turned on the spot, shouting our daughter’s name, praying she would hear me and come running. “Indigoooo!” People stared at me, but I wasn’t deterred. “Indigo?”
“Dawn.” My husband’s tone made me look up at him curiously, but his eyes weren’t on me. “Dawn…look.”
I followed his eyes to the stage, and at first I was unsure why the ginger-bearded speaker had him so fascinated. “Freddy, what—?” He shushed me again and pointed. I took a second look—and my hands flew to my mouth.
The young, red-headed man was crouched down on the stage. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked, and offered out the microphone to his companion. She took a step towards it shyly and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
“I’m Indigo. Like the sky.”
Freddy clutched my arm. The man chuckled. “Well, Indigo-like-the-sky…it’s nice to meet you. My name’s Leo.” He smiled warmly at her.
“Hi Leo,” she said quietly.
“Do you like the rally so far, Indigo?” She nodded quickly. “Glad to hear it,” Leo grinned. To his evident surprise, she stretched out her hand expectantly. He glanced at the audience briefly before handing her the microphone. She grasped it with both hands and stood timidly facing the crowd.
“Hi,” she began. Her voice was a little stronger than it had been. Chatter died as she stood waiting. “My daddy told me that when people don’t agree, they make war.” She paused, and I could tell she was trying to work out what she wanted to say. “Well, when me and my friend Kristal don’t agree, we play rock paper scissors shoot. So I think if people did that instead of fight, then nobody would get hurt.”
Any residual talk was beginning to die down, and heads were turning towards the stage. Indigo’s voice seemed to be getting louder as she went on. “But my daddy said people aren’t always nice, so that’s how come we rally.” I looked at Freddy, but his eyes were fixed on Indie. I recognized the look in her eyes—hard determination. It was that look that was far too old for her, that expression that said she’d seen too much for a little kid. That look never failed to make me proud, but it also broke my heart.
She didn’t smile as she continued.
“At my school nobody likes me.” The crowd was totally silent. “They call me names. One time in art class a boy tore up my painting. One time at recess they pushed me in the mud because they said I’m a freak.” Her voice was steady. None of this was new to her. “I don’t eat lunch because I’m a vegetarian and they laugh at me.”
It was all new to me. Freddy put his arms around me, and I fought tears.
Indigo looked across the park. “Grown ups think they’re the only ones who fight wars. But I think kids do, too.” Her audience was reverent. I saw several tear-streaked faces and wiped salt from my own cheeks. “I like it here because no one calls me names. And they know what peace means. Maybe we should tell the whole world what peace means so they won’t fight anymore.” She smiled suddenly. “I think it means friends. I have one friend. She’s just brand new. She likes me and I like her so we play at recess and when people tease me she tells them not to. So if everyone was friends, there wouldn’t be war anymore.” She extended the microphone back towards Leo, and he retrieved it slowly. For a moment, he simply looked at her, and she looked back. He put the microphone to his lips.
“Indigo, where are your parents?” he asked her in a thick voice. Freddy and I sprang to life, and people stepped out of our way to let us through to the stage. She jumped down into her father’s arms, and I thanked the stunned Leo for finding her. “No, thank you,” he replied. “She…thank you.”