“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”
My father had gotten the idea from Bea to open Molly’s Girls, a hair salon, shortly after Mom passed away, and my sister had experience running a salon. Although I was quite happy at the salon where I was working, I felt I had to honor my father and sister’s wishes that I join them in the family business, and so I changed jobs.
This happened in the same year that I had lost my husband, Mom, and our home, and it was early in my journey of trials and tribulations. I had to adjust first to living alone, and then to living with every one of my seven sisters. And each time we moved, it represented a different challenge for 6-year-old Natalie and me, and each time having to abide by a different set of house rules. I often felt like a foster child myself, one with my own delicate young child to look after. But regardless of our own neediness, everyone else in the family was suffering, too, from losing Mom and watching the deterioration of our father, who had lost his way. With all of this going on, I felt a heavy responsibility that only intensified with time. I felt like an orphan, and knew Natalie and my younger siblings did, too.
As we moved from one family to another, there wasn’t always enough room for us. One time in particular stands out. The day in question began with a misunderstanding between me and the sister we had been living with, so even before getting my daughter off to school, I gathered up all of our belongings and stowed them in a large trash bag that I left in the back seat of the car, knowing we wouldn’t be returning to my sister’s home that night. I dropped Natalie off at school as usual, grateful to the Catholic school that made me feel as though God himself were watching over her.
I got to work well before the salon opened at 9:00 AM; I was usually early because Natalie had to be at school by 8:00 AM. Once I’d let myself into the salon, I’d lock myself inside until everyone else arrived. That day, even though it was still early, I was already exhausted. But the hour alone, praying and reading the Bible was my saving grace. I always had something to read to keep me occupied before my first client arrived, and it kept me busy between clients until 3:00 PM, when it was time to pick up Natalie and bring her back to the salon. I’d get her something to eat, then set up the table in the back room so she could do her homework until I finished work at 7:00 PM.
Unfortunately, that particular day at the salon turned out very differently from the way it usually went. We’d ended the business day as usual, with my sister closing out the register and going home. But I had been so busy and preoccupied working that I’d lost track of time and hadn’t thought about where we were going to spend the night. So instead of searching for some family member to take us in, I decided we’d spend the night in the salon. I reassured Natalie that sleeping in the salon was only temporary, and that the next night would be different. I believed in my heart that every other tomorrow would be better.
The salon had a small back room where we took our breaks or ate our lunch, and it had a small cot with a coverlet against the wall, which provided extra seating without taking up too much space in the cramped quarters. Adjoining it was a stockroom full of supplies, and bottles lined the counter where we mixed dye and permanent-wave solutions. It smelled of the chemicals found in every hair salon, and the small utility sink had empty applicator bottles lined up, ready for the next day’s hair coloring/permanents.Nothing about that back room resembled a place I’d ever imagined letting my child sleep, but that night, it was where we’d lay our heads. And no matter what it may have lacked, it was certainly better than sleeping in the car.
Because the salon was on a city street where nighttime crime was rampant, I was afraid to go out to the car after dark to get Natalie’s pajamas or anything else we needed. Instead, we locked ourselves in and resigned ourselves to sleeping in our clothes; Natalie had been wearing her school uniform since that morning, and I was still in my work clothes. We washed up in the bathroom sink and dried ourselves with clean but dye-stained towels that still smelled like chemicals. Then we lay down on the small cot, covered ourselves with our coats to keep warm, and began settling in for the night.
But before we had even closed our eyes, we heard a loud banging on the front door. Looking out through the full-length glass door, I could see Tommy, one of my younger brothers, and immediately let him in. He told us that he’d seen my car parked in front of the expired parking meter and realized that I was still in the salon. By now it was well after 9 PM, and I asked why he was roaming the streets alone so late. He explained that he’d had differences with someone he’d been staying with, too, so he also needed somewhere to stay. He’d been worried about not finding a place to sleep and was as happy to find us as we were to take him in.
I offered Tommy my place on the cot with Natalie, but he insisted that he would be quite comfortable sleeping on the upholstered hair-drier chair near us. He tilted the drier hood out of the way and curled up under his coat, grateful that he’d found us. After Natalie and Tommy fell asleep, I watched them and silently asked God give me more strength and courage, and told him that He needed to show me the way out of this desperation so I could have a home for my family again. Then, exhausted, I fell asleep.
The next morning, we all woke early and freshened up in the shop’s bathroom. I was glad that I had make-up with me so I could put on a happier face. We all wore the same clothing we’d slept in, and because I couldn’t remember exactly where in the large trash bag our change of clothes might be, we used what little time was left to get some breakfast at the 7-Eleven store across the street. Then we ate as I drove, dropping Tommy off at the bus stop so he could go to work, and taking Natalie to school.
Before long, I was back at the salon and had cleaned up to remove any evidence that we’d spent the night there. Then Bea arrived, along with my first appointment and several other clients. Everything went on as usual, but I still had no place to call home that night. As I applied permanent solution to my first client’s hair, I pictured Natalie writing at her desk in school and my brother chipping away at the marble at his job, and I felt forlorn. That devastating night in the salon was 34 years ago, and the memory reminds me every day to be grateful for my comfortable bed and wonderful home.
Excerpt : Imprinted Wisdom ~ Catherine Nagle
Causes Catherine Nagle Supports
Westwind Foster Family Agency, Christian Children's Fund, Compassion International, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Invisible Children, Save the Children