I drew my living room curtains open on almost 3,000 mornings without seeing it. Husband had a knack for identifying makes and models of vehicles, describing clothing down to the types of fabric and naming obscure colors, but he had missed it, too. Not even our girls had noted it, and at the time, they caught everything: the heaves in the sidewalk, the dogs at each house on the block, and the gardener at Ms. G’s who spritzed the soil with fertilizer and the air with swears.
But one summer day, Husband saw it.
“What—?” he said, squinting out the front window at something across the street.
And for the first time, I saw it, too.
He hustled out the door, and I followed. The lot kitty-corner from us was no longer empty. A narrow path led to a tiny blue house withdrawn to the back of the lot, as if too timid to join the other homes up near the sidewalk. A behemoth oak and bushes concealed the small structure. I had noticed the tree and the lawn in the past, but the house? Never.
A man stood on the lot’s grassy expanse. He whistled to his unleashed golden retriever, and the dog bounded toward him. We made our way over.
Husband introduced himself and me. “How long have you lived here?”
“Twenty-seven years,” the man said, motioning for the dog to sit.
We chatted with our new-to-us neighbor like it was the most natural thing in the world, as if his house hadn’t materialized — like Brigadoon from the mist — into our consciousness that morning.
“That was weird,” I said to Husband when we returned home.
“I know. We’ve lived here all this time, and I never saw that house.”
How many other things had we never seen in our neighborhood? Where did I place my attention, my perception, my focus? If for years I had strolled by the little blue house but had never seen it — or the man who lived there — what about the others moving through life around me?
I had often looked at the man and woman who screamed at each other in the street at the end of the block, but I had never seen them.
A woman — thin like a blade of prairie grass — walked by our house each morning, a backpack-clad child tethering her to the earth. I was aware of her, but I had never seen her.
What if I sharpened my gaze to the life around me instead of simply looking at it? What if my attention followed slim paths back to secret houses and city sidewalks into hidden lives?
What if we all really saw?