I’m fourteen and a half and essentially homeless, sleeping most nights in a gritty kip on San Pablo Avenue. Me and my stepsister are too young to get work, but when winter is over we turn fifteen and can get permits and jobs and do something for money, but for now we’re powerless and so we wait.
I have a boyfriend, Brett, and soon my stepsister is dating his friend Bret. We drive around with them in Brett’s Chevelle or his friend Squeak’s Mustang, doing donuts at 90, seatbeltless, in front of DeAnza High on May Road, drinking wine coolers in the graveyard, stealing floral arrangements and once even a baby Christmas tree off of graves. We figure the dead will forgive us, given our circumstances.
Like most suburban teenagers, rich or poor, we cruise the town until well past dark, filling the hours and dreading the return to what can’t even be called home. As we roll through the curving streets of one subdivision after another and past the sterile downmarket apartment blocks, I gaze at every set of yellow windows, lit from within by a light that seems to exude warmth and safety and the ability to rest. I imagine what lies behind every pane of glass; the hallways, carpets, locking bedroom doors, and imagine it as my own – the birth of my lifelong What If Game.
Twenty-three years pass, I do all right, and now I’ve a hell of a set of my own yellow windows – lit up like a Christmas tree and filled inside with beautiful things, mementos of travels and people and experiences, blasting central heat, and plenty of locking doors. But my fourteen-year-old’s game has never ended – as I drive through town or walk the dogs, I still gaze at every gauzy, golden window and imagine what’s inside, imagine if it were mine. And I wonder if behind each pane is a happy home, as I wish it would be, or just another hell behind glass, as I expect most of them are.