We moved across town when I was in fifth grade. It was another new school, my second in as many years, but this time my parents were moving to a house that was right next to the church where my dad was a pastor. Built in the mid eighteen hundreds the three story house with sturdy white pillars and a graceful porch was rumored to have been part of the Underground Railroad. A cement circle in back was our cistern. Only part of the basement had a real floor. Beyond the room that scared most of us kids was an old fashioned root cellar that was cool and damp on the hottest of days. There were three flights of stairs in that house. From the basement to the landing and from the landing to the main floor that led to the second floor. The hollow wooden stairs that didn't sound like the flight below took us up to the attic and into my room. My parents remodeled the attic that year. It was the first time that we all had our own rooms, and I was proud of mine. It was an odd room stuck in a corner of the attic, but I had a door on mine and walls to enclose the space. At the head of my white and gold bed was a small shelf that had been put into the wall by the man who would eventually become the grandfather of my niece. When I was nine I was given a Hello Kitty diary for my birthday. Later on I learned that she and I were the same age, at the time I wrote careful words in pale blue ink using a funky pen with a fluffy feathered head that a friend of mine had given to me. She tried walking home from a birthday party I had when I was twelve. I thought she wasn't going to talk to me after that, it was a devastating blow, but like most kids we got over the incident although the memory of her running toward the bridge that covered the railroad tracks remains.
I didn't do well in school that year, or the year after that. We made the trek out to school daily, picking up friends who walked and talked with us as we went along. My friend Deb lived across the street from us, her twin brother Matt was in my homeroom. The last thing I heard about him was that he had been incarcerated after trying to kill someone. His sister was dark and short with black hair and very brown eyes. His hair was a lighter brown with streaks of blond that came out in the summer, his eyes were an interesting feline shade of green, and he was an athlete in the sense that he had incredible reflexes and astonishing strength for his size. Other boys in my class tried to prove their manliness by doing a certain number of pullups. Our gym teacher held a competition and I remember standing on the polished wooden floors watching his muscles bulge as he did more than twice as many pullups as anyone else had. My parents had five kids and no money. It was an accepted fact that a pastor was going to be poor, but it rankled that the Methodist minister who lived next door seemed to enjoy a more comfortable existence than we had. Their home was more modern, a collection of flat yellowish brown bricks that I thought were ugly, but when I went over I was given half a candy bar. For a moment I fantasized that my mom had a jar that held cookies and a cupboard with a big bag of candy instead of the flat of her palm against my cheek and a bar of soap that was scraped across my teeth after the neighbor girl told me that I had said a naughty word.
One day my parents asked what color scheme I wanted in my new room. Peach and gray was an up and coming combination I had heard about on a visit up to see my aunt and uncle. My mom said she would make me a comforter. I was foolish enough to want store bought bedding so that was another fight we had. That had been a joke and I'm sure I didn't properly express my happiness when I received what I wanted: a floral peach and gray comforter that went well with my bed. The two peach colored pillows were the crown jewels of my stunning new room, I hugged them tight the day I opened them and sobbed into them later when my juvenile heart was broken. My parents had to finish the attic in stages so my room came together in agonizing slowness. I moved out of the room I shared with my sister and into my own room feeling as if some old wrongs had been righted with this new lease on life. Our attic ran the length and width of the house so it was expensive to carpet. My parents chose a blue gray expanse and finished the walls off with handsome gray paneling that didn't match the brown of the stairs or the wood that had been there. We had a TV upstairs and spent long hours playing Atari and making other mischief when we should have been sleeping. One day I was downstairs when my parents started talking to me. My dad asked what color I wanted my door to be painted, and I can't remember what I said, but then he told me that it was going to be blue. He pulled out a can that had a shiny cobalt dot on top and I stared at it malevolently, knowing that it would clash with the rest of my room. I started crying as I told him I didn't want a blue door. My mom came between us, trying to ward off the fight that was erupting in her brown and white kitchen. I ran upstairs to the sanctuary of my room. Behind me my dad's boots made slow even sounds as the soles touched the stairs squarely.
My door had a glass pane, I slammed it hard fearing and hoping that shattered glass would rain around my room. My wheezy breath was coming fast without filling my lungs. Behind me my dad opened my door, grabbed my elbow and whirled me into a standing position. From there I remember being tossed around like a toy, my body becoming a collection of pointy elbows and banged up knees while my father's anger raged. Halfway down the stairs was a collection of three dormer windows, princesses that looked out over an emerald lawn and onto a beautiful brick church that had actual bats in the belfry. My parents had put a cedar chest on the landing and I remembered thinking that I would never be able to open the windows in time to jump out as the top of the box cut into the side of my back. I half fell, half walked a step or two on an ankle that didn't seem to be connected to the rest of me. My dad grabbed me by the scant hair on my head, driving any thoughts of returning to seventh grade out of my mind as I absorbed kicks and blows. The boots came after me again. He was strong, swift, and sure, possessing an athleticism that allowed him to dominate others on the tennis courts, the golf course, and the ball diamond. He fell off a ladder while trying to hang a sign by himself and stayed at home with ice on his swollen and discolored leg. It looked broken to me, but I wasn't about to join the argument he had with my mom when she told him he needed to go in and have it checked out. Ice was my dad's solution to any injury, my mom favored hydrogen peroxide as a cure all. If those two home remedies didn't fix whatever was ailing you, there probably wasn't anything that would in their minds. Every day after school I had to go up and open up my shiny blue door and sleep in the bed that I had wanted so badly. Sometimes I wonder what happened to that bed and bedding that I took such good care of when it was mine. The bed was cheap, but it was mine and I cherished it.
In a couple days I'm going to be moving out. I have a flight of wooden stairs that goes up to the bedrooms. I can pick which one I'd rather have, but the back room only has one door and the front room has a regular door, one that goes into the bathroom and a set of patio doors that leads out onto a shaky gray balcony that has seen better days. I have a new bed now; ivory with floral ceramic knobs and I found a satiny pink striped pillow that has ribbons of calming cream, grassy green, and a color that I call raspberry sorbet. My bed used to be in the guest room at my father-in-law's lake home. Someday soon I'm going to be able to look out my balcony and sit on the patio watching the water. I bought the pillow and my comforter at the thrift store. I piled my new bed high with layers during the winter when I was cold. Before my friend Julie died she said she wanted balloons instead of flowers. I found a picture of two children carrying a bunch of balloons. It goes with my bed and my chair and I just know she's up in heaven smiling down at that. I have my own room again. It's my room and I can paint it whatever color I would like. The doors are flimsy and cheap, maybe someday I'll be able to hang the kind of doors I would like to have upstairs and down. I could take the full sized bed, but for now I'm going to make up my little bed and sleep there. I could move it upstairs, but it needs flooring. The fourth toe on my left foot is crooked. It leans away from the rest of my toes and the joint that I heard crack. It hurts to this day, but fortunately it's still straight. Only the inside is flawed. Nobody at school asked what happened to me when I went in after the blue door fight with my dad. Surprisingly I had very few bruises from the incident on the stairs. I had the stripe that went across and down my right shoulder blade, a mark that ran up my left elbow that I could move if I had to, my shoes covered the blotches on my feet, and most children have a couple of scrapes that could be chalked up to anything.
Yesterday my therapist introduced me to a woman that my children can see. I made an appointment for my oldest and got authorization for both girls to see her. Their lives haven't taken the same path mine did, but things haven't been the best at home and I know that this is something I can try and do for them whether they appreciate my efforts or not. I want to let go and forgive these people, a chief complaint of my husband's is that I wouldn't help him with home improvement projects. I love the idea of paint covering crayon marks on the wall, but whenever I pick up a paintbrush or see pools of paint flowing out of their cans I'm reminded of my dad dipping his brush into a quart of cobalt and how he made me stand there and watch him paint my bedroom door blue. Naturally I survived having a blue bedroom door. I have partially filled paint cans at the condo, fresh cans here, but so far I haven't been able to tackle any painting projects on my own. As a parent I've failed in so many areas. Not realizing what the problems were or how out of hand things had gotten before I conceived would probably top the list. I can't hang onto these memories anymore. I've earned the right to paint things whatever color I want and I shouldn't ever have to worry about getting a one way trip down the stairs ever again, but I can't get that thought out of my mind whenever I go up and down the black and white stairs at the condo. I'm not sure if this is ironic, but I'm thinking about painting the majority of my condo blue. I have a pale blue purse and the water bottle sitting next to me has a turquoise blue cap. I have this vision of people coming over to a place that feels safe. I have a cornflower wool rug with off white zig zags that I'm going to put by my bed and see how that works, I'm going to break free from the oppression of these memories, I'll learn new habits, I'll keep going to therapy, I'll paint something just to prove to myself that I can. I'll overcome and prosper and who knows, I may even get to a point where I want to paint my bedroom door blue.