As I laid in my childhood bedroom on the first morning of this New Year, staring at the pale blue walls, which once had been painted brilliant orange, so long ago in 1972, I remembered I had written something on my closet wall when I was 12.
My husband had already gone down stairs to make coffee and while I had hopes of drifting off, back to sleep, it became apparent with the shutting of cabinet doors and the opening and closing of the kitchen door one floor below me, I wouldn’t be allowed to capture a few extra winks.
I rolled out of bed and plodded across the old tan, worn out, carpeting and entered the den of my 12 year old imagination. My closet was large for a kid. There was room behind the hanging clothes for a little place away from the “real world”.
I don’t remember much of what I used to do back there, but I know I spent lots of time there. Behind the small play area was a dark, scary, rafters only room, that I never went into, but knew it was the perfect place to hide an olive green dress with a little white collar and scratchy netting to make the skirt pouf out. My mother bought me that dress. She apparently wasn’t concerned with my lack of comfort scratching the whole time I had it on. I took matters into my own hands by throwing the dress back there into the abyss of darkness instead of just telling her it made me itch. It would be years later when my mother and my cousin would find that dress. The gig was up, but by then I was out of high school and the dress for a 12 year old no longer fit. Halleluiah!
No one lives in my old bedroom these days, except for us on our annual New Year’s Eve sleepover or a very rare occasional guest. For several years this “extra closet” held many of my mother’s clothes. Most of them were removed by my daughter and I with my Mom sitting on the bed watching us bag them up for the Goodwill store or the few we each decided to take home, giving her top or jacket a little longer time with the family. It was summer and she knew she was dying. These were mostly her winter clothes. There were a couple items I just couldn’t take out of the closet on that day. One dress left hanging was her wedding dress. Not quite as pretty as the day she wore it. My mother has been gone for over 3 years now, I finally brought that dress to my house, but it hangs here and I don’t know what to do with it, yet not wanting to let go of it.
So there are now only empty hangers in my old childhood bedroom, it’s easy for me, the adult, to walk into the closet, not having to duck under clothes, just now ducking around the cobwebs both real and those of my few memories of being a child in this room, this closet. There are some things my Dad has placed here to store, but I don’t care about that, I’m peeking my head around the corner to see the words I wrote 42 years ago. The writing starts a little under eye level, seems I haven’t grown too much since I was 12.
My youngest son is that age right now. I look at him and try to remember what it was like to be 12. I don’t remember a lot. My brain doesn’t seem to hold on to things, like being 12.
My baby brother was 2 years old. I had Mr. Pope for 7th grade history, where Bob W. sat in front of me, my mother’s best friend was Battle Axe Beverly and my Dad worked construction building silos and pole buildings. I had a doll collection, but no longer played with Barbie or her friends.
The number one song for November of 1972 (when I wrote that message) was, “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash. I had to look that one up and believe me the irony of that title is not lost on this fuzzy old brain. A poster of David Cassidy was taped above my bed. I watched the Partridge family lying on the floor in our living room dreaming of the day I would marry David’s Keith Partridge character. What teen idol wouldn’t want to marry a chubby, short kid, curly headed, dark haired 12 year old? Mine and every other young girl’s dream, except for those who were crushing on that little kid Donny Osmond or the even younger Michael Jackson. I was sure that if Keith Partridge wouldn’t have me, Bobby Sherman and his stuttering character of Jeremy Bolt would marry me, the hopes and dreams of a 12 year old.
When I wrote those words, I couldn’t have imagined this 54 year old woman standing here now in front of a message wrote in purple ink. Purple the color of me, the cancer survivor, and my High school color of purple and white.
I wrote two messages, separated by a little area of white. The first is simply “I was born in 1960, I am 12 Now, the date I wrote this is November”. It is the second part that tells me what I was thinking. I wrote my name and said “I lived in this house 1972”. It was a secret message written to the next kid that I dreamed would one day live in my house, yet here my Dad lives still, alone. That’s it, that’s all I wrote. At the time I thought it was enough. No words of wisdom, no description of who I was, other than I was 12 and it was November. So much life was lived in this house, four people loving, laughing, crying, one sitting quietly in a chair, me watching my mother and her friends play cards, seeing my Dad walk in the back door, dirty and tired from his job, seeing one baby brother grow to age 8 when I left home to attempt growing up myself, one slumber party with all the girls from one 6th grade class, plus a couple other girls thrown in, New Year’s eve parties with Boons Farm wine for the adults and sparkling grape juice for the kids and knock down fights between two kids and a mother and a daughter and sitting on the side of a hospital bed set up in the living room watching my mother take her last breaths, as I cried and told her it was okay, although my heart was telling me it wasn’t okay for her to leave me.
So much I could have said on those walls, but the message is clear. I was certain one day I would be free of those walls and on my own. What 12 year old doesn’t think they are smarter than most adults? I wanted the next kid to know I had been there. It was my closet to hide in, to pretend that I was off seeing the world with Keith Partridge, wearing groovy psychedelic clothes, with a headband across my forehead, saying “far out”, whenever Keith Partridge would say something, anything, where all was right and there was no war.
Right now there is no new kid living in my room. I’m still here in this room, if only for one night each New Year’s Eve. Someday, maybe there will be a new kid living here. I’d like that kid, living in my house to know I did in fact marry Keith, but not that Partridge guy. I’m happy. I did travel the country for a bit and then landed not far from my childhood home. I never got famous, I never had a lot of money, life has had its up and downs, I’ve been incredibly happy and in the depths of sorrow and despair, but I’m here. I’ve lost my mother to cancer, I have survived cancer and now my baby brother starts his own battle with leukemia. I’m standing in my Superman shirt and hat, which means more about surviving than it means about being some super human. I am comfortable in my own skin, just don’t make me wear netted poufy skirts!