As the young girl reached out her hand to open the latch on the gate that was in front of her house, a ferocious sound stopped her. She trembled in fear while the beast snapped and lunged at her. The four-year-old’s heart beat faster and her breathing became labored as she turned hopelessly from her front yard. She could not stop the tremor of her lower lip, and the tears overflowed her brimming eyes. In the grip of fear, she quickly left the gate and ran, looking for safety but found none.
She did not know what to do. She had been playing with a neighbor several doors down, and now, her friend had to leave to go with her mother to the store. The little girl decided that she ought to go home and maybe get a cookie. As she approached the gate into her yard, she reached her tiny hand to open the latch, and he turned on her. The little girl will never forget the sounds that came from his mouth. Her hands shook at the memory.
In hopelessness, the girl walked away. She sat down on the curb at the end of the street, her blonde pigtails swaying back and forth with each sob. I don’t know what to do, now, she thought. I want to go home, but I am not welcome there. A part of that little girl began to die. If she had ever felt safe and loved, that feeling was being battered and destroyed. A wail of despair and desolation filled the air.
Suddenly, a man she had never seen approached her. He seemed so tall as she looked up through her tears. The man had a kind face, and he squatted down so he could speak without frightening her. When the man asked her gently what was wrong, the little girl could not stop herself. In a few short sentences, she told him what had happened, and she could feel the fear fill her stomach. She sobbed as she told him she could not go home again; this had been communicated clearly to her. The man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her eyes. The warmth of acceptance and concern began to replace the fear, and when the man held out his hand and told her he would take her home, where she belonged and that she had nothing to fear, she took it with guarded hope.
They walked down the road and as they approached her front gate, the man approached the object of her anguish without fear. The stranger spoke with compassion, and fury replied in a language a four-year-old could not understand.
As the latch was pushed open and the little girl moved from the sidewalk into her yard, she looked over her shoulder, and the stranger smiled at her and waved good-bye. She turned and looked into eyes of the object of her fear. Instead of comfort, she received a sharp reception.
“I told you not to come into this yard because I was mowing the grass. How could you go and humiliate me by telling a total stranger that I told you not to come home? Now, what is he going to think of this family and of me?”
The little girl did not have an answer to the first of many such situations in her life. She looked away and shamefully left the presence of her father.
Susan Grant taught middle school English for more than a decade, and writing is an important part of her professional and personal life. She wrote The Gate in 2016 while attending the Maine Writing Project Summer Institute of Teacher Leadership.
“The Gate is a short piece describing life through my eyes, as a young girl, under the age of five. On this occasion, I processed an event in the literal thought pattern typical of this age, and it built a foundation of rejection and shame that I had to cope with and overcome later in my life. The Gate illustrates the power of words and the need for consideration and compassion when using them.”