The Iron Cage

I often dream that I live in a giant cage made of iron bars. Inside the cage is a circular iron staircase, and I start climbing. Step by step I ascend the stairs and as I climb I can hear the sounds of people moving around and talking. I climb higher and stop at a landing and look around. If I look down I get dizzy and I realize that the iron bars aren’t very stable and that I might fall at any time.

There is a wooden door on the landing, so I knock and soon Nola Peters answers the door. Nola doesn’t like me. She thinks I’m dirty and spoiled, and she hates me when I scream.

“Please let me in, I’m afraid I’ll fall,” I say.

“Okay, come in, but watch out for all these boxes. I’m unpacking.” She waves her hand around the room, which is filled with dusty boxes piled on top of each other.

“What’s it like to live up here inside the cage?” I ask her.

“Oh, it’s not bad. I have lots of friends in here.”

Soon I remember that I have a purpose in climbing the stairs. “I’m searching for a way out of the cage. Do you know the way?”

“No, sorry. I just got here,” she answers and turns back to her boxes. “If you look through the bars you can see Bonnie across the way. Maybe she knows the way out.”  I looked hard and realized that Nola’s room didn’t have any walls, just bars around it. A few yards away, past another room, was Bonnie, my old friend from college.

Suddenly, without walking or climbing, I am in Bonnie’s room.

“Nancy, come in,” she says. “I’m sorry I’m very busy sorting the clothes in my closet.”

Bonnie likes me and talks to me about serious issues that affect our lives, like grades and what we will do after college. I think she may know the way out of the cage.

After a few minutes she says, “Would you like to see the sky?”

“Yes, I would love that.” It seemed like I had not seen the sky for a long time. I guess I forgot to look up.

“If you come over here and stand on the chair, you can see it,” Bonnie continued. She holds the chair and I climb onto it and I am thrilled when I look up through the bars of the cage and see blue sky with puffy clouds moving along slowly.

“It’s so pretty,” I say. “It makes me feel good.”

“Me too,” she says. “That’s why I am going to be moving,” Bonnie told me. “I am getting an apartment a few blocks away.” I am astounded that she will be leaving the cage.

“That is very exciting,” I say, “but I’ll miss you.”

“Why don’t you come and visit some day for lunch?”

“I would love that,” I answer, but I am wondering if I can find a place that is outside the cage.

I suddenly realize it’s time to go, and I run back down the iron steps to the ground floor and wake up. I am not in the cage anymore, but I feel like part of me is still inside.

 

AFTERWORD: The iron bars symbolize the place where my abuser lived. She was a juvenile delinquent and lived at the Gumbert School for Wayward Girls north of Pittsburgh. My parents took my sister and me to see the home one day when they had an open house. The school was home to many girls and had a tall iron fence around it. To get to the house we had to park far away and walk through a very tall iron gate.

Today I am wondering what my dreams would be like if my mother and father had not chosen to hire one of these girls to move into our house and babysit for my sister and me during the summer of 1946. Would I still dream I’m in a cage made of iron bars?

 

 

 

 

 

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