Curiosity slipped from my teeth before I realized it didn’t matter. I listened to my sister explain, hearing her words in the way only little sisters can.
Her husband’s friend and his fiancé were excited to welcome me into their new house. They were good peeps.
(Translation: She met them once. They seemed alright. She didn’t tell them the full story.)
I’d have a full instant family again. Mamasaur. An 8-year-old. A dog and a cat.
(Translation: Everyone is a stranger to you now, but you’ll be safe.)
We were lucky to find a place in such a nice neighborhood.
(Translation: You don’t have any other options.)
No, I had never met them. No, I didn’t know anything about them, but the words under her words were right as usual.
I didn’t have any other options.
Just like I didn’t have the family I kissed goodbye, or the freedom I signed away.
I was in the midst of a raging storm and safe was the best I could have. She was giving me the best, the way good big sisters always do.
My name is Radhika, but no one calls me that anymore. My name is Radha, but I hardly use the affectation. My name is Rara Queen because I married a man who changed his name to Grayson Queen. They call him Dave now, his birth name in death. David Martinez. Sometimes, I was Radha Martinez.
Call me Ra.
My cats were given away when my husband died while I was in prison, and my freedom will be stifled under terms of parole for up to three years.
Say that three times fast.
The sky looks a little bluer over your head now, doesn’t it.
That raincloud looks a little smaller now, doesn’t it.
It is time to go now, they said, and I went. Out the gates. To the house that was someone’s home.
It was raining in bursts and flurries, the type of storm that Dave always said reminded him of the way my thoughts spiral and spin. Dark sky, bright light, shower and fall, shower and fall. The sky cries, but the sun peeks through anyway.
The house was open when we pulled in, the way kind homes always are. A light left on, a sweater left out, food scattered around the kitchen. A dog barked, but he was smiling. His sound was deafening, but it was a new sound. Something I hadn’t heard in over a year. His name is Akira and I was charmed instantly.
There was a temple in the corner, and I averted my eyes. The silent sound of it was deafening, and I was not ready yet.
I sat at the table, and met K, the man of the house, the friend of my brother-in-law. His cadence was easy. Calm like an island in the middle of the storm, unafraid that the storm might wear down his edges, unaware that his stillness was sanctuary to someone drowning. Calm, and easy.
438 days of incarceration only seems like a long time. The 10,842 days I lived before those presented themselves over the conversation. My legs crossed, my eye contact remained steady. I held onto the forks without showing how the weight of non-plastic utensils shocked my senses. I spoke without looking over my shoulder, for Dave’s silent participation. I ate without reacting to spices I hadn’t tasted in a year, or maybe years and years.
I met the fiancé later– let’s call her Wolvie– and she reminded me of Dave. She was piercingly aware and, though we kept the conversation casual, she noticed my glitches and mostly-moments. She didn’t speak on them, but I spent a decade with a hyper-aware stoic. I may never see what someone so perceptive sees, but I can always see that they’ve noticed something. She reminded me of the temple in the corner, calmly watching the torrents as they flooded in, and monitoring my splashing. She wouldn’t interfere with my navigation of my storm, but neither would she let me drown on her watch.
Not even a month later, I brought my hurricane home with me.
The woman who was caring for my cats couldn’t anymore. I had less than a couple of days to pick up Flash and Perdita and find a home for them. In a flurry, we reached out to the world– looking for some place that would at least keep them alive, or a new place to live that could house us all.
We picked them up and they remembered me, even after all the time away.
I sat in the car with them, outside the house, making phone calls to find solutions. There was a knock on the window, and it was the family, telling me to bring the cats inside.
“The door is open”, Wolvie said, silently chiding me for my stubbornness. The way good sisters always do.
Flash and Perdita moved in. K and Wolvie, and their daughter, had adopted us all.
“When I find good people,” K said, “I do what I can to keep them in my life.”
Since then, there’s been adventures. The Little Woof and I decorated for Halloween. I wore my dinosaur suit to dinner, so she wore her wolf hat, and we considered the possibility of making and marketing burrito glue. K and I spent a few hours considering the path of tomorrow’s America. Wolvie and I have had a few late-night kitchen conversations about the sort of stuff that most people never actually talk about.
When Wolvie went to Nepal on her goodwill mission, the parole Inspection happened. The household was woken at 5am, and we were pulled outside. In full view of the neighborhood, I was handcuffed and the Little Woof was asked to stand beside me. K was patted down, Mamasaur was escorted outside in her pajamas.
When I was allowed back in, Akira pressed his head to my legs and wouldn’t move. Even Cupid the Cat came out out her room. The Little Woof said, “That was the scariest moment of my whole life.” and I had never felt worse about anything. I tried to keep the conversation light. We talked about other scary things, and silly mishaps, until it was time for school and work, but I was heartbroken over her terror.
And I expected to be without a home, once again.
They had never heard of me, in May. They didn’t intend to rent a space in their home to a person– let alone a felon, a felon’s mother, and their two grieving cats. They didn’t sign up for house raids, dinosaur suits, litter box fails, and endless mason jars full of Mamasaur food, and yet,
the door opens to us still.
The door opens to a house. A house that has become my home, filled with a family that is now my HouseFamily.
There’s always gratitude here, because we share it. There’s always options here, because we make them. There’s always laughter here, because we let it in. When hands reach out, we reach back. When someone knocks, we answer.
The door opens itself to second chances just as easily as it shuts on the storm, and the longer I live here, the more I forget I was ever caught in the hurricane outside.
The storm rages. The dog barks. The temple waits.
Like the first day, even now.
But I am no longer drowning,
thanks to them.
My HouseSister has a blog, too! You can check out her howl to read about her trip to Nepal and the good works done. She is trying to fund her way back because there are still many people there who need options and open doors. Whatever you can do to spread that word or give, is appreciated. You’ll also read a little about why her decision to open her doors to me– an unknown felon– was especially kind and brave, but those are her scars to share so I’ll let her tell you.
Happy 2016, Best Beloveds. May this new year bring you kind connections and open doors. What will you let in your door this year?