Miriam lived with her two sisters after their mother died. Her sisters loved her and refused to put her in a brick building with echoey halls filled with people who had differing degrees of “otherness,” and where nurses passed out pills in paper cups to keep the “otherness” subdued. She was their flesh and blood sister, a soul created in God’s image.
I don’t remember the sisters’ names, just their kind smiles they wore like permanent art. One sister told me they would never marry because the care for Miriam took priority. My heart was astounded by that. I can imagine God’s love smiled on them.
I hear the slap slap of flip-flop clad feet as they pound a path on the walkway. A human screech rises in a crescendo as if to soar. The unforgiving wrist-bruising pole shook with each thud.
Miriam wasn’t able to communicate with words, but I could read her like a gauge on a thermometer.
Neighbors avoid the yard, walk fast, and whisper as they peek towards the sights and sounds coming from the alien lady in the plaid house dress with big pockets.
One day my younger sister Becky decided it would be fun to prank Miriam. After she reached the end of her walkway, Becky motioned for her to follow us. Becky’s mischievous brown eyes matched her freckles. I was hesitant, but Becky didn’t give up. Miriam stood like a rock, so Becky put her hand under her forearm and began to lead her down the sidewalk towards our house two doors away. Miriam began making low throaty grunts.
“Don’t make her go.” I could feel the panic in Miriam begin to rise and my chest felt tight. Becky continued until we got to our door and then she tried to lead her up our doorstep and into the house. Her noise turned up a higher octave, and I said louder, “Don’t make her go in.” Her grunts became a screech. Becky finally let her go and I waved her down the sidewalk back to her house. Her screech ceased when she returned to her familiar surroundings and the tension left my chest in a deflated sigh.
I don’t think Miriam had ever ventured beyond the security of her yard. Her sisters had planted a tall hedge to protect her from prying eyes, but left an opening to allow her to reach the alley pole she would bang on rhythmically. She picked up leaves in the yard every day and arranged them in piles from largest to smallest in one hand and always held a tissue in her other hand to put her arm hairs in as she plucked them one by one, and stuffed the tissue into her pocket.
She was human and I understood her because I had my own “otherness.” The Boo Radley of To Kill a Mockingbird, I understood, and I was touched when Scout finally saw Boo as human and a friend.