Lily’s great escape, or, why a screen door is not enough to keep my sister indoors

I recently wrote about my sister’s childhood adventure with a swimming pool, in which I mentioned some of her other escapades. Which made me want to write them down; I wanted to have more funny stories here, because just like any other family, we have our happy times, and I’ve been writing a lot about our sadness recently. Also, hey, it’s funny – and I like having these stories written out for myself, too.

So for this installment of Lily’s Adventures, I’d like to talk about a time when we were living in a house for the first time in our lives, instead of the apartment where we spend our early childhoods. I liked the house, which was on a cul-de-sac and right by the elementary school I would attend. We had a backyard with a lawn and a concrete patio. There was a pantry in the kitchen, which I thought was super cool. (Now I realize it was a small storage closet, and not nearly as cool, but hey, it worked for us at the time.) This house also had a screen door outside the front door, with a neat little latch so that strangers couldn’t open it. (I am a big fan of natural airflow through residential buildings, and have always been a bit paranoid.) There was a garage that we didn’t have to share, and it was attached to the house with a laundry room in between. Luxury!

Lily, during this time, was sort of monkey-ish with her climbing (up on the piano! up on Elysia’s bunkbed! up on Mom and Dad’s bed! up on bench next to the dining table!) but she wasn’t much of a walker. Frankly, she didn’t stand up all that often, either. One of her physical therapy assignments was to be placed in this awkward contraption called a standing board: her legs were physically restrained to force her to stand up so she could get used to the feeling. (If the family was watching Star Trek, Lily might be in her device for part of the episode. We tried to make the time as easy as possible for her.)

All of that said, Lily as a kid was an incredibly fast crawler. (Crawling remains her primary mode of locomotion at home to this day, partly because she’s much more stable that way and since she’s totally blind now, well, why not let her have some security in moving around.) She and I spent a lot of time outside in the backyard, but we also sometimes played in the front yard; I liked the grass species better and there were more mature plants to inspect. (Yes, this was when it became even more obvious that I was going to become a biologist.) I say this to tell you that Lily was familiar with both the house and the yards: what she did with that knowledge should not have surprised us.

One day, everyone was busy with something – chores, homework, hobbies – until we realized that it was quiet. Too quiet. Uh-oh. Where’s Lily? Is she playing with her action figures, or her blocks? Is she taking a nap? Is she just in the bathroom? She’s normally talking or singing or making some sort of noise, though. …is she having a seizure? Could she have hurt herself? We all started combing the house, looking for her, getting more and more frantic as we failed to locate her. She wasn’t in the bathroom, not in our room, not in the living room or the kitchen/dining area (we both enjoyed sitting under the dining table). Not in the laundry room or garage.

I’m not sure what triggered us to start looking outside in the front yard, but outside we went. It took us a couple of moments, but we finally spied Lily, happily crawling down the sidewalk. She was three or four houses away, getting close to the end of the block. She was almost at the corner where our street ended in the road adjoining the school. (I wonder what would have happened had she taken off towards the cul-de-sac side. Would she have gone around the loop, or taken the steps up to the neighboring road?) We ran down the street, picked her up, and carried her home. I don’t think any of us had realized that she’d mastered opening doors at that point – it was kind of like that scene in Jurassic Park with the raptors. Only not. You get the idea.

Over the next few weeks, we saw her attempt to repeat this trick. We latched the screen door. She pushed hard enough to dislodge the latch and kept right on going. We learned to listen for the screen door shutting. And then one day Dad installed another latch, a stronger one, that he placed well above her reach. (A similar latch went on the pantry after she knocked down a bottle of balsalmic vinegar, which didn’t hurt her when it broke but did leave a lovely scent for months.) And, oh, how she howled when she realized she was stuck inside! I remember Lily pushing so hard that the rest of the door was open, staying closed only at the top because of the latch, only to slam shut when she either gave up or was removed from the scene. (As the older, non-escaping and thus not-in-trouble sister, I was quietly entertained by the spectacle. When I wasn’t cranky that she was making so much noise with the metal screen, that is.)

Nowadays, Lily is a bit lazier, physically, about getting around. She knows that she can get people to take her places, so she focuses on psychological tricks. She’ll say she’s cold so she can ask for a jacket, because if she’s got a jacket on, she can go outside, and, say, go to her apartment. Or the park, where there’s a swingset. But she hasn’t lost her interest in getting out and about for adventures.

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