In the late summer of 2010, I was working from home as an artist in Greensboro, NC. My daughter had just started back to school and my nearly 3 year old son was home with me full time.
It was a hot and muggy late morning and I left my son in his room playing with his toy cars while I went to the carport to prepare my paints and tools for a project.
Within 15 minutes of my preparations, my son had opened the screen door, leaning on it, with an annoyed look on his face.
I asked my son if he was ok or maybe ready for some lunch when he said, exasperated "No, mom. I'm not hungry, but those kids are back."
Unsure to whom he was referring as we had few young children in our neighborhood and the ones we did have around were in school.
I distractedly asked him what kids, still arranging my tools of my trade when he said "You know, the three kids from the fire. The ones in my closet. They want to play with my cars but I want to play alone."
My children walked and talked very early, so I was accustomed to the luxury of having full, clear conversations with my 2 and a half year old.
Apparently, I did not react to his complaint quickly enough, so he stepped outside and spoke to me as if I was the child.
My toddler walked over to me, took my hand to lead me inside to his bedroom and said to me in a patient voice "Come, on mom. Come with me and I'll show you."
I was smirking at his heavy sigh, limited patience, and his insistence that I look.
We went to his room, filled with sunshine and with his toy cars littered about in mid-play. He released my hand, threw open the accordion closet doors, throwing his hands before him gesturing toward these alleged children.
"See?!" He proceeded to look at me, as if to ask "now do you believe me?".
Looking at the closet and seeing no one in there, I played along.
"Oh, yeah I remember them." I went on to announce to the toys, clothes, and other items in the closet: "House rules are that anyone who is kind may stay and play nice. If you can't be nice you have to go."
My son smirked and shook his head. "Mom,the kids that died in the fire don't want to share." A little spooked, I rallied my thoughts only to feel as if I was staring off into space... Like I'd been daydreaming for 45 minutes in a boring high school class.
Suddenly, a story my mother told me about years ago appeared in my mind's eye. My mother's best friend perished in a fire along with 3 of her 4 young children. It was in New York City in the late 50's or early 60's.
I could see, in my head, these 3 huddled young children barefooted and cowering on the floor of my son's bedroom closet; 2 girls and one boy wearing night gowns and pajamas. They looked dated, as if 1950s or early 60's. I could FEEL their fear, panic, confusion, and even their resentment of not being rescued.
A sadness and understanding washed over me, like I absorbed what these 3 children were expressing: we were so afraid from the heat of the fire and the smoke. We hid together in our closet and huddled close to protect ourselves. We cannot find our way to our mother and we just want to go home... This "daydream" of thoughts and images was suddenly interrupted by my son who said "Mom, they need to go home now. Make them go home, ok?"...
So, I said with tears in my eyes from either sympathizing or actually "knowing" their story, I said out loud: "I am so sorry for how scared you were. I am so sorry that no one came for you or looked for you in the closet before the fire and smoke did. It's ok to be afraid but it's time to go to your mom now. If you want to stay and play nicely for a bit that's fine but then you have to go."
My son looked satisfied with that speech and as I reached for my son's hand to walk him out of his room toward to kitchen to help me make some lunch he said "No thanks. I want to play too and eat later."
I nodded and walked out a bit still shocked from what just occurred. I returned ten minutes later as lunch was ready. I asked him if the kids were playing fairly now.
He looked up and "Huh? Oh them?" He waved his hand and went back to playing cars, "They left right after you did."
The room that my son had used to be my daughter's. She never liked the room, especially the closet and developed night terrors when we moved into the house in 2002.
Something about that closet felt like it let awful things in and out of it, to the point where my son refused to sleep there up until we finally moved from it in 2015.
Moods shifted for the worse, foot steps, smoky figures, and more came and went. Getting away from that house and that neighborhood proved beneficial as we've come to find out that there were suicides, sudden deaths, shootings, and other unfortunate tragedies that occurred to families that lived in the houses that stood directly next to and across from it... My marriage to my children's father was solid until it deteriorated in significant and frightening ways from 2003 on. The family who owned it before us also had a contentious divorce and experienced behavioral issues with their son and daughter.
To this day, I prefer not to go to the city of Greensboro if I can avoid it due to our experiences from 2002 - 2015.