My room was undoubtedly the smallest in the dormitory. The walls and an assortment of pipes huddled together in a corner were painted an exuberant pink that did something to one's nerves. But there hadn't been many rooms left to choose from, and something about this one endeared it to me.
After supper, as I was beginning to unpack my trunk, a group of my neighbors swarmed into my room. ?We're touring the dorm to see all the clever decorating schemes,? one girl informed me, ?but since you're so slow, I suppose we'll have to visit you later.?
I liked this group of happy girls, I decided, as they introduced themselves elaborately. One girl, who proclaimed herself to be my next-door neighbor, said, ?Did the dean make you take this room?? ?Well, no. You see, I didn't have one reserved, and there weren't many left-?
?But there must be something else,? another girl said hopefully. ?This is the very worst room in the whole building. Maybe if you see the dean tonight you can still change.?
The other girls sympathetically pointed out the room's all-too-obvious defects, but they laughed when I said I didn't plan to stay in the room much anyway.
When the others were gone, Kelly, a quiet girl with a fascinating crooked smile, stayed in the doorway. ?I know your secret,? she said, and her eyes were wide with excitement. She reminded me of a small child about to share a pleasant surprise. She snapped off the light and crossed the room. ?It's this wonderful window. That's what makes this room the best in all the dormitory.?
She stretched out her small, sturdy arms as if to embrace what she saw. ?Look at that. Just look.?
I walked to the window, knowing what I would see. A giant silver maple tree towered up to my windowsill. It was planted several yards from the building so that looking down, one could see the whole perfect tree. And in the moonlight, as now, it was a glorious sight, with each gentle breeze changing every leaf into a shimmering, dancing illusion. Beyond the tree and across the campus one could see the approach of the first evening star. When I stood by the window and looked at the moonglow and the silver of the tree, a hushed feeling grew inside me and it seemed I could think special thoughts.
Isn't it strange how, although there are many people we can talk with comfortably, there are only a few with whom we can share silence? I was amazed and pleased at Kelly's perception, but I did not need to speak and tell her so. We stood for a long while bathed in the beauty and calm and silence of the window. And we were friends ever after.
There was a certain vigor in Kelly's personality that gave a special charm to her otherwise plain looks. I can see her yet, sitting on the dormitory stairs after the room lights had been turned off, repeating and repeating a poem until she had it memorized-not as an assignment, but simply because she loved it.
Once Kelly told me of her life. She had been born in South America, where her father was a construction superintendent. Her parents had divorced when she was only a few months old. Her mother returned to America then, so Kelly had never seen her real father.
?Not even a picture of him?? I asked incredulously.
?No. But he used to write to me some.?
Her mother had remarried, and Kelly's new father had loved and adopted her. After a few years the family became converted, and in their new happiness no one would guess the unusual situation in the home.
?I just want to see what my father is like,? Kelly said. ?Sometimes I get this strange feeling-almost a loneliness for him-even though I know him only through a few old letters. And I wonder, do you think he would love me??
Kelly had a keen empathy with the elements. The window in her room was almost always flung open so ?we won't lose the majesty of the sunshine, the passion of the wind, or the sweetness of the rain,? she often said, smiling.
Walking through a snowfall with Kelly was an experience. She never trudged with her head bowed, clutching her coat to her as most do, but with her face lifted to meet the snowflakes. ?Splendid, oh, how splendid!? she would say, dancing about with the wind. And the cold never seemed biting or ugly when she was there.
The day before Christmas vacation began we went on a happy shopping trip and returned to the dorm with icicles in our veins. I was halfway across the lobby when I heard a low, almost questioning voice speak Kelly's name.
Kelly was busy crossing our names off the monitor's checkout book. She turned, just as I did, to see who had spoken. The lobby was empty except for a tall man who stood by the fireplace. The deep tan of his face looked even darker in contrast to the steel gray of his hair. ?Kelly,? he said again, and no more.
Nothing moved in the swirling silence that surrounded us until Kelly spoke with no shade of uncertainty in her voice. ?You are my father,? she said.
And it was true.
I walked slowly up the stairs to my room. I stood at the window and thought for a long time. It seemed to me that the scene I had just witnessed was a great deal like some conversions. The sinner who has never known God hears one day a voice calling their name. And all the lonely one must do is turn about and say, ?You are my Father.?
Joan-Marie Cook is a counselor in private practice in Texarkana, Texas. She specializes in groups-including adolescent and teen sexual abuse survivors, women's issues, and a general therapy group for men and women.