Adele Cox, MA
July 2008

Sahara’s friends were worried about her. For the last eight months, she’d declined or canceled all of their dates, claiming to be too busy, too tired, or just not interested. She rarely phoned, and only returned their repeated voicemail messages with short emails. She seemed to be withdrawing from the outside world.

It was spring again in the U.S. Capitol, and Sahara’s friends decided it was now time for her to get some fresh air.

They met for dinner to discuss their ideas, knowing they’d have to create the perfect plan if they wanted to pry her out of her apartment.

“It has to be something she won’t say no to, something she’s already interested in doing or seeing,” Julian offered.

Marjorie agreed. “But we have to be careful to not make it sound like we’re pressuring her again about becoming agoraphobic.”

Frieda took a different stance. “I think we should just show up one day and kidnap her; you know, don’t give her a chance to get out of it.”

Julian and Marjorie paused. They’d known each other nearly 25 years, but Frieda’s no-nonsense style could still catch her friends off guard.

“She’d hate that,” Julian mused. “But eventually, she’d see that we did it because we care about her … I hope.”

“I’ve got it,” Marjorie jumped in. “Let’s take her to the Smithsonians on Sunday. She’s always wanted to try out the flight simulators at the Air & Space Museum; let’s just make it happen.”

Sahara’s one-bedroom top-floor apartment at Glebe House was her haven; she cherished her quiet solitude. An accountant and bookkeeper for 21 years, Sahara had converted her dining room into an office, and loved the freedom and control of working from home.

“No interrupting phone calls, no unscheduled client meetings, no chatty delivery people.”

Her favorite pastime was losing herself in a selection from her private library. Every book she’d ever owned was lovingly and meticulously displayed throughout her living space. Her tastes spanned fantasy, memoir, mystery, romance, science fiction – any story through which she could live vicariously from the safety of her apartment. Frieda’s assessment had been less sentimental, however.

“Why don’t you do something exciting yourself instead of just reading about what other people have done?”

Sahara had always admired Frieda’s bold and passionate personality. She still smiled when she thought about the night they met at Georgetown over two decades ago. She and Julian were working late one night in the neuroscience lab, and found Frieda down the hall “liberating” their research mice. Although Frieda was now one of Georgetown’s most eminent Sociology professors, Sahara still loved (and envied) her friend’s fiery and rebellious spirit.

“If I were that bold”, she sometimes imagined, “I could tell Julian how I feel about him”.


Sahara was immediately irritated. Growing up the only child of an emotionally-distant father and an overly-attentive mother, Sahara had become fiercely protective of her time and space. Sunday mornings were precious to her; an incoming phone call was intrusion.

“Hello, Sahara Nelson speaking,” she answered, annoyed, but still concerned it might be a client calling.

“Hey, kiddo, it’s Julian. The girls and I came out to the Bakery Café for brunch. Since it’s only 10 minutes from your place, we wondered if we could stop by before we head back downtown. We were hoping we could bribe you with Peanut Soup and an éclair. What do you say?”

A sudden pang of anxiety cut through her belly. Sahara hated drop-in visits, and they knew it. But she knew they wouldn’t take no for an answer this time, and her anxiety quickly turned back to irritation. She felt her privacy invaded, her solace broken, her personal time intruded upon. She also felt ashamed for denying her best friends a chance to see her.

“I wish I didn’t always have to choose between my keeping friends and keeping my privacy,” she thought.

“Sar, are you there?”

“Um, yea; alright, sure, but only a short visit, OK? I really do have a lot of work to do – tax time is just around the corner, you know.”

“Terrific, we were hoping it’d be OK. Open your front door.”

Julian and Marjorie burst into the apartment, laughing and talking. Marjorie pulled Sahara’s sweater from the hall closet while Julian outlined their plan. Sahara felt annoyed, anxious and confused, silently trying to make sense of it all. They whisked her downstairs where Frieda was leaning against their waiting cab.

Sitting in the cab, Sahara forced herself to regain her composure. Julian’s words coalesced, and Sahara gathered they were headed to the Braddock Road MetroRail station to take the train to the Smithsonian Museums. She mustered a weak smile and turned to join them in conversation. Marjorie, visibly relieved, resumed her chattering.

“So, what does everyone want to do? I think we should have lunch at the Castle first, then we can each go exploring wherever we want. I was thinking I might want to see the …”

By the time the train arrived at the Smithsonian station, Sahara’s angst had softened as she imagined herself mimicking the adventures of the pilots and astronauts immortalized in the museum. She steadied herself as the train lurched into the station and followed her friends across the National Mall toward the Smithsonian Castle.

“I’m going to the African Art Museum”, Frieda declared as they were finishing lunch.

Julian piped up before Frieda could start another socio-political speech. “Hey, there’s a 3-D U2 concert movie playing at the IMAX Theater in the Natural History Museum. You girls want to join me?”

Marjorie squealed with enthusiasm, but Sahara really wanted the time alone.

Julian and Marjorie meandered across the Mall, and Sahara walked with Frieda along Independence Avenue toward the African Art and Air & Space Museums. “See you at the Castle”, she called over her shoulder as she and her friend parted company.

Sahara turned toward her destination, but suddenly became entranced by an explosion of beauty across her path. The Folger Rose Garden was blooming in its full glory, and Sahara drank in the heady scents and brilliant colors. In the midst of her sensual intoxication, she eased onto a secluded bench and closed her eyes.

She gently stirred as a torn strip of yellow CAUTION tape drifted across her ankle. She turned and gazed up at the massive gothic façade of the Arts and Industries Building. Normally, she would’ve been happy to study the building’s intricate architecture and history, but today instead she allowed herself to simply be awed by its grandeur.

The archway entrance was covered by scaffolding and yards of yellow CAUTION tape. A large sign stood in front of the building: “Closed for Renovation. Do Not Enter.”

“I wonder what’s in there.”

Sahara’s cautious inner voice was uncharacteristically silent; only her curiosity spoke. Frieda’s imaginary voice chimed in, urging her forward.

“Why don’t you do something exciting? It’s Sunday, there aren’t any workers around. Go on. It’ll be like urban spelunking.”

A mischievous grin broke across Sahara’s face as she ducked through the barriers into the darkened interior. She maneuvered around the demolition equipment and concrete rubble, and slowly approached the first exhibit room.

“Go on in”, Frieda’s voice encouraged.

A large banner reading “Home Movies” lay strewn across its doorway. Inside, a row of black hologram displays traversed the center of the room. Each measured five feet across and six feet high, and was mounted on a two-foot tall pedestal with a large black “X” painted on the floor about 15 feet in front of it. Sahara surmised that X marked the spot for the holographic images to become visible, and then cringed at the obvious pun.

Sahara carefully stepped on the mark in front of the first display. It emitted a loud whir and the light from its vivid, life-sized picture flooded the room. She gasped and turned to run; the picture froze. Panting, she repositioned her feet on the mark, and the silent movie resumed.

The image of a toddler came into view. She sat on a backyard lawn, delightfully playing with a pile of plastic building blocks. Sahara’s body relaxed as she watched the little girl absorbed in the pleasure of her game.

A well-coiffed young woman quickly entered the scene, agitated and distressed. She picked up the child and vigorously brushed the loose grass from her hair and clothes. Then she pulled out several wipes and scrubbed the child’s hands and face. Sahara watched the woman’s frenetic henpecking, and wished she could simply let the child alone.

“It’s just like Mom used to do to me”, she lamented. The woman (the child’s mother, Sahara assumed) took the stunned girl out of the scene, and the display faded. Sahara trudged to the second mark, disturbed but still curious at what she’d see next.

The second scene opened with a svelte but shy pre-teen. She stood at the back of a gymnasium, watching leotard- clad girls of her size and shape gracefully practicing acrobatics. A coach waved and invited her to join in. But as she nervously stepped onto the mats, her distressed mother again raced in and ushered her from the room. Empathic tears now poured down Sahara’s face as the movie faded to black, her own mother’s frequent admonitions echoing in her mind.

“Sports are dangerous. You’ll just get hurt. You’re better off studying to get into a good college.”

“You don’t need a boyfriend. They’ll just break your heart. You’re better off by yourself.”

Sahara watched scene after scene as the girl became more reserved, cautious, and emotionally detached. To avoid getting hurt, she took few risks, controlled her emotions, and kept relationships at bay. Gradually she retreated into a solitary but well-managed world.

“This is my life,” Sahara whispered. “That’s me.”

She looked back longingly at the first display, aching for the joy and love that once felt so alive in her.

“I wish I knew how to change it.”

“Do something exciting,” Frieda’s disembodied voice repeated.

Sahara rushed to the last display. The image of an elderly woman appeared, sitting alone in a small apartment, surrounded by hundreds of books, staring out her window at the traffic and crowds passing by. Slowly, the woman’s head dropped to her chest. The image froze but did not fade.

“No!” Sahara cried out. Grief, fear, frustration, and resolve erupted from deep in her belly.

“This isn’t going to be me”, she shouted, her voice reverberating throughout the room.

She picked up a slab of concrete and hurled it at the display, denting the screen. She ran across room and grabbed a sledgehammer. Adrenaline coursed through her body as swung the heavy tool at the image.

“I want my life back! I want my life back!”

She shouted the mantra as she hammered the display, but still the image remained.

Nearly frantic, Sahara ran back to the X and charged forward, lunging her full body into the display.

“This is not all I am!”

The supports gave way, and the display tumbled off its pedestal and shattered. Sahara crawled breathlessly out of shards, her pulse racing, her head swimming. She tried to stand but suddenly felt faint…

She woke with a start, still lying on the bench in the Rose Garden. Julian was shaking her shoulder, trying to wake her from an obviously distressing dream. She still felt the adrenaline surging through her body and quickly sat up to face her friend.

“That must’ve been some dream. You sounded like you were fighting for your life.”

“I was”, she gasped, looking across at the scaffolding and yellow CAUTION tape covering the entryway of the Arts and Industries Building. “I most certainly was.”

“The girls went to the Air and Space Museum to find you. I’ll call Marjorie and let her know you’re OK.”

Without thinking, Sahara took Julian’s hand as he reached for his phone.

“You know, you promised me Peanut Soup from the Café this morning. Can I buy you dinner there tonight instead?”