I am 7 years old and my parents have put me in a prison of my own. They set me down on my small bed in my small room in the center of our small house, they have taken away every toy and book and poster in my room, and they tell me I can’t leave.
“When people in the world do bad things, they are put in prison," my mother explains. "What you do has consequences. You always have the choice to do the right thing, or the wrong thing, and when a person shows that they aren’t responsible enough to make the right decision, they have the choice taken away from them.”
“What kind of choice is that?” Is all I can think to ask, but my mother narrows her eyes at me, shakes her head, and walks away.
I spend the first hour in stubborn silence. I decide that I will remain steadfast and take my punishment with dignity. I am resolute. By the second hour, I am in pieces. I crack the door so that I can more effectively punish my parents with my crying and screaming. The door does not lock, but I don’t dare leave my room for fear of further punishment. The small crack in the door is as far as I push things. By hour three, I no longer care about vindication. I am crying instead for my brother and sister; for their company and attention, but my mother has instructed them to ignore me.
“He has a lesson to learn,” I heard her tell them.
By the fourth hour I am exhausted from all the crying. Self-pity is hard work, and I fall asleep. I wake up a few hours later when the doorbell rings. It’s our next door neighbor, Sandi, and her granddaughter Keisha, who is 6 years old.
Keisha was an odd little girl. In the summer she would often come over to play, when her grandparents were out in the garden. Often she would come at lunch or dinner, so my parents would tell her that we couldn’t play until we had eaten our meal. Naturally, then, Keisha would pace directly outside our living room bay window; back and forth telling herself stories about the pretend world that she never quite left, until us kids would finish our meals and be released from the table.
I hear my mother start talking to Sandi, and I hear Keisha’s funny, lilting voice. For a critical moment, I forget the situation that I am in, and walk out the door of my room. I go to the door and stand next to my mother, my eyes sleepy and swollen, and I talk to Keisha. She is happy to see me, and she looks at my mother and asks if I can play. My mother takes pity on me, maybe from the pressure put on her by the combined assault of a 6-year-old's puppy dog eyes and the smile of a sweet, maternal neighbor.
On a warm afternoon in late July, I play with Keisha, happy that she saved me. In early August, my mother picks me up from school crying because Keisha is dead. She doesn’t phrase it to me like that; instead she tells me that God has chosen Keisha to join Him in heaven.
I go to bed that night and nights after wondering: if God chose Keisha, did she get to choose too? Would I get to choose?