The Yellow Curtain

I had hung a yellow cotton curtain at the top of the basement stairs. There was no door and I didn’t like seeing the yawning dark hole, the steep steps, the concrete floor far below. So I covered the space with cheerful flowered calico.

On the day my daughter’s seven-year-old friend leaned back against the flimsy curtain and fell down the long flight, her mother had just come to pick her up after their play date.

I admired this family. The parents were quiet, thoughtful, loving. As a single mom who often felt left out of the school’s social circles, I wanted their daughter to go home humming and happy.


The sickening sounds of her small, soft body bumping down the stairs sent my heart rocketing and my stomach twisting. We raced down the stairs. Her mom scooped her up and held her close. Called her doctor.

For days, she was watched for signs of concussion – while I replayed the sight of the curtain giving way under her slight weight and the sound of her fall. Finally, it turned out she was OK. But I stayed shook up. I had thought of myself as careful, attentive, a person who met her obligations. How could another child come to harm on my watch? I’d broken that sacred trust. Never mind the creative art projects and special snacks I prepared for the girls. Her parents would always see me as irresponsible. A dark feeling seeped into me.

In the years since, I have sometimes failed to meet other duties. Sometimes I was unaware of it. Sometimes I didn’t intend it.

But often, having myself been harmed, I have railed at the unfairness. Even lashed back, feeling justified in taking action to collect and correct the imbalance. Over time keeping score becomes a belly full of bitter.

Yet I have also experienced moments of grace. There, the little girl who leaned back, felt herself unsupported, and tumbled down my basement stairs, and I, the young woman who hung a deceptive piece of fabric to mask a dangerous hole because she wanted her home to look inviting to the people whose good opinion she craved – we inhabit the same space.

There, we are whole. Her parents forgive me. I forgive myself. I strive to love what’s unfailingly imperfect. Don’t we owe ourselves and each other that?

Published In:

Oregon Humanities Magazine, Spring 2018