I was listening to my neighbors fighting when I first began to believe I could fly. Beyond the picture window in my parents' bedroom was a tree that looked purple at night. On lonely evenings, I'd tuck myself up onto the window seat, hugging my knees like they were my friends, and observe the evening. With the evening came the song of frogs, the yelling of neighbors and the purple tree.
Between the leaves, I could hear the fighting. Only a thin, white wall and the volume of our stereo separated their town home from ours. But once my mother wrapped herself in her headphones, riding high on the nostalgia and Patsy Cline, the wall alone couldn't hold back our neighbors' anger and resentment.
Without headphones of my own, I was left to hear it all. Accusations, threats, stiff silence between rounds. My own parents never fought, they barely spoke; and so the Fighting Floyds (as Mother called them under her breath, even though their last name wasn't Floyd) were my only insight into the realm of the acknowledged unhappy marriage.
Secretly I admired their passion. They would start early, sometimes right after dinner. During the summer, it would last until almost midnight, as they hurled and spat insults at one another through the sticky heat. Neither ever got the better of the other. Both valiantly tried for the last word.
But one night it was different. I craned my neck to catch a feeble glimpse of the raw inside of the Floyd's home, a triangular gap between the high backyard fence and the sliding back doors. I could see a green rug on a wood floor. I could see Mrs. Floyd's cherry red toenails and the gray tire of her wheelchair. What would it be like, I wondered, to be unable to walk? Better yet, to be able to fly?
Mr. Floyd called his wife a pathetic cripple.
Through the bruise-purple leaves I saw a sliver of silver moon. If I could fly, I decided, I would zoom straight to the moon and curl up there. From the moon I could probably see every inch of the Floyd's house. I could peek into any room. Maybe I could teach Mrs. Floyd how to fly, too; then everyone else, unable to do anything but walk, would be crippled when compared with us. The thought made me smile.
She was yelling. Her full voice, a luxurious alto, swelled up with indignant fervor and floated towards me, shaking the leaves on the tree and making me tremble, too. I'd never heard Mrs. Floyd so angry. She was calling him terrible names, using words I'd never heard, but I was sure they were bad. She ordered him out.
The sliding door flashed open. From within, he turned her wheel chair and pushed her out onto the patio, ignoring the fifteen times Mrs. Floyd snarled, 'Don't you dare!' The door shut. The lock snapped closed.
A stunned Mrs. Floyd was rigid in her chair, every muscle in her arms and face coiled and ready to strike, like a snake in corner. She could not see me, but I was soaking in this new humiliation, this new fighting strategy from above. Watching like God.
'There is no God!' she yelled, as if she heard my thoughts. I shrank back. But, from somewhere in the now darkened house, I heard Mr. Floyd respond by slamming something hard.
My blood was racing at my temples. I felt as if in a plane on a runway, in those final jerky moments at top speed before the big metal bird swoops into the air. Mrs. Floyd's fury rustled the leaves of my tree, and began to lift me, too. I felt my arms rising and pushing at the scratchy screen, pushing hard, against my control. She was sobbing loudly, and I wanted to see better. I wanted to see what the tree and the moon could see.
The screen fell out with a crash, and Mrs. Floyd's head jerked up in my direction. I sat very still, blending in with the shadowy tree. Deciding it was nothing, she cried again. And again, something was pulling me up onto my knees, reaching for the dark tree limb.
From deep in her chest, Mrs. Floyd summoned those hateful words, and hurled them at her house, at her husband. 'THERE IS NO GOD!' And she meant each word. She spoke truth. And then I knew it, too. If a woman, cut down and helpless in a wheelchair, could be thrown from her home by her own husband, locked out in the middle of the night, then no God existed. I had been lied to.
Maybe that wasn't the only lie.
Maybe I could fly up to the moon and take Mrs. Floyd with me.
I stood unwavering on the window seat, arms raised to the moon, thinking about how much it would mean to Mrs. Floyd to be able to fly, to be able to fly just out of her husband's reach and win the never-ending fight.
The purple leaves were flat and slick, but the twigs and branches scraped every part of my body. One arm hooked around the large branch nearest the window, and in an instant I knew many things. I could not fly. I was falling fast. There was one chance to grab the limb and save my life. It would take an act of God.