I decided to visit her again, to see if she could remember if we ever switched back that last time, if she remembered that last time. I walked to where I always met her…
Talking about it, I wondered if we ever switched back that last time, whenever that last time was? Was I living the wrong life? Was she living the life I should have lived?
Then I told my daughter about my time as a teenager, growing up in the house on Heine Avenue. I told her of the fierce arguments I had with my mother. I told her about the girl in the mirror. I explained how we switched places: the girl and I placing our foreheads together, then our fingertips, then pushing through to the other side.
One day, long after that first exchange, I was back visiting my childhood home. Something made me remember her (perhaps my own teenage daughter’s presence) and I started thinking about the switches.
We forgot about each other. We forgot about our trips into each other’s lives. We became adults, married and had children.
Eventually, gradually, we no longer needed to switch. The fights with our mothers slowed down, our brothers quit annoying us so much. We got jobs, went to college, moved out of the house on Heine Avenue, and moved away from our hometown.
Through the following years we did the switch scores of times, each time staying longer and longer in each other’s world. Sometimes we switched places even if we hadn’t just had a fight with our mothers.
That first time, we didn’t stay long in each other’s houses. We looked around, we talked to each other’s mother and young brother then returned to our own homes, refreshed; calmer than before the exchange.
Her house felt brighter, more dimensional, happy, carefree, loving, kind.
The first time we exchanged places it was like stepping into another world, at least for me. I don’t know what it was like for her, we never talked about it. I saw her mother, who looked like my mother, in a different way than I’d ever seen my own mother. Maybe it was because her mother was a stranger to me and strangers don’t yell at other people’s daughters.
Maybe her mother was not as demanding as mine was. What if we could change places, just for a while; just to get away from the anger (our own and the anger that was directed at us)? Would anyone know? Would anyone care?
I’d look past her, though her doorway, into her house and think how much more calm and quiet it seemed there. She said the same about mine.
She had stories too. Her mother was demanding and sometimes irrational (so was mine!), she had few friends (me too), her father didn’t understand why she loved to read so much (same with me).
I don’t remember what made me go to her that first time, but I remember standing in front of her, talking to her about whatever (seemed) injustice I’d just been dealt.
But once I turned thirteen it got much worse. My parents laughed about it in later years, although the laughter always seemed to be tinged with caution. They never knew when I would fly into a rage, or what would set me off.
The trouble years started when I was about thirteen. I was always a volatile child, at least as far as I remember or what I was told.
It wasn’t until the trouble years started that I began to take more notice of her.
I didn’t pay much attention to her at first. She was just there.
The first time I saw her she was 5-and-a-bit, exactly the same age as I was. We’d just moved out of the apartment on Mountain Street and into our new house on Heine Avenue.