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The image that popped into my head was a red carpeted walkway. I had been thinking about hope and how I don’t trust it. Then there it was—not a generic red carpet, but rather a very specific place from my childhood. A place I hadn’t thought of, much less seen, in a long, long time.

Just to clarify, though, not trusting hope is not the same thing as believing it does not exist. I am not certain that nothing good will ever come my way. But my fear of disappointment is so strong that allowing myself the possibility of a brighter future feels extremely risky. Sort of like, as a child, I knew that if a stranger offered me a chocolate, it didn’t matter how appealing it was or even that it was right there within my reach. I was supposed to refuse it, and I was convinced that spending time dreaming about how the candy might have tasted would have made me only want it more. So I try awfully hard never to indulge in hope from the future or in chocolate from strangers. (Other than on Halloween, when I let my kids indulge and then I indirectly reap the benefits—the chocolate ones).

Admittedly, depressed people are not the most rational thinkers when it comes to hope. Still, that image of the red slanted path from years ago was so specific and seemingly arbitrary that I couldn’t let it go. Why—at that moment when I was contemplating my anti-hope tendencies—did this particular memory surface from the billions of others that could have occurred to me? It had to be something about the way that place made me feel, because I am pretty sure red carpeted ramps don’t symbolize hopelessness for most people.

So what was it about this ascending walkway in an ordinary, smallish mall where my family used to grocery shop? I remember as you walked into the mall, you could see the entrance to the path straight-ahead forming an upside-down but squared-off u leading to the second floor of the building. It looked a little like a wheelchair ramp that is now sometimes a building code requirement. This path-ramp-thing, however, was fancier, much wider, and more stretched out than the handicap accessible ones that you usually see, and it was covered in carpeting made of that nubby, industrial material colored burgundy but mottled with flecks of darker colors. Fencing in the entire walkway were black wrought-iron railings with twisting balusters. This whole unusual structure sat in the middle of a windowless, dark atrium between the grocery store and another big chain store across the hall.

Ok, so hopefully (no irony intended), you are picturing something similar to the image that is in my mind. You are probably thinking, “huh, it sounds kind of odd, but not particularly eye-catching.”  And I would agree. But you and I are adults now and our perspectives are slightly different from those of young children.

There was something individual if not special about that path. My sisters and I would play there while our mother stood in line to pay for groceries. We chased each other up and down the walk, unconcerned about the bustling adults below us rushing their shopping carts in and out of stores. We used to run from the main floor of the mall up the first leg of the ramp, turn left to cross the width of the building, and then creep up the last sloping passage, which led to a single door in an otherwise solid brick wall.

The door was always locked and I never saw anyone entering or exiting it. At the time, I concluded that whatever was on the other side of that door was off limits to me. That logic makes sense when I think back to it. But what I find a little sad is that I have no memory of trying to picture what might be just inside or beyond that door. I never tried in any way to imagine that mysterious space.

I think I enjoyed running with my sisters there, on our red carpet path. Although when I racked my brain, thoroughly scanning for all memories relating to that place, I started to question a few things. I had a flash of wondering about the color. Was it actually red? And then I reconsidered whether or not there had been adults (maybe store employees) who had scolded us for running or for using the ramp as a playground. I am guessing that if I went back to the mall today, I would discover several details that are different from my memory.

Memories are not solid. And I suppose, they are never right. The only thing I know is that this strange place made me feel something similar to hopeless. The walkway was definitely peculiar, but my sense was this was not an asset. Instead, I felt this path stuck out in a way that was not acceptable. It just didn’t belong in this dinky, grocery store mall. But worse than that, I had determined that the path’s uniqueness was a total waste. I was a little girl then, and I thought that building a grand promenade that only led to a dead-end was just a cruel trick.

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