They lived in a large, gracious house that included a mahogany-trimmed butler’s pantry and a second dining room for the servants, now ghosts, just off the staircase to the abandoned servant’s quarters. At the top of the stairs, between a large common room and a corridor of narrow bedrooms, there was a smaller room that must have served as an office for the person who managed the house.
She took that room and made it her own.
She added a spindly desk, a lamp and a chair and found a padlock for the door. She loved knowing that, if necessary, she could open the window, slip out onto the roof, crawl to the top of a brick wall that framed the driveway and escape through the woods to level ground.
She loved knowing that she could lock the door and fill the room with characters. Tragedy. Wind-swept moors. She called it the writing room.
Out back, at the end of a spacious lawn, there was an in-ground swimming pool edged on three sides by pine trees. Behind the diving board stood the statue of a half-clothed, Grecian woman scooping a dove up into her hands with a placid, compassionate expression on her face. They had two living rooms, a great hallway with a grand piano, a small solarium and bedrooms with their own fireplaces and marble-appointed baths.
Their twenty-eight rooms was considered a summer cottage where they lived, a gated community of Gatsby-like mansions erected by tobacco and Wall Street barons at the beginning of the American Century. The serene glamour of money, the grandeur of the landmark mansions, ranging in style from Gothic Revival to Georgian to Tudor to Queen Anne to Spanish Mission, the surprise ruins of teahouses, pavilions and arbors scattered throughout the enclave of lakes, unspoiled woods and quiet winding roads, offered an ideal setting for children’s games.
She was a member, sometimes the leader, of a gang passing noisily from childhood to adolescence. They roved about in packs playing war, painted and armed with spears like characters from Lord of the Flies. At night, they played French underground, diving into hedges and ditches from the headlights of approaching Nazi motorcars.
Inevitably their night maneuvers shifted from dodging Jerries to breaking up pajama parties or spying on Mr. Hollis, the piano teacher who was rumored to be homosexual, whatever that meant, particularly on the nights when they knew Mr. Griffin, their fifth-grade teacher, would be coming to dinner, to see what they could see. They were emerging from their turtle shells, cocoons and rabbit holes to declare and define themselves to the larger world.
She was twelve and ready to wriggle out of her shell, but this one, she kept getting stuck. She was overweight. Occasionally she put out her head to see what she could see but invariably she drew it back in. She functioned at a high level – good grades, class president, quite the actress, many friends, many interests and gifts – but she continued to gain weight and she never lost her compulsion to retreat from the world. Into the writing room.
The teasing never stopped.
“Oooh gross. What is it?”
He was almost fourteen and already resolved that his chief endeavor in life should be the getting of immense wealth. The older brother.
“Gross, what a pig.”
He did it only when they were alone.
“What is that – that thing? Oh God, put it out of its misery. It’s too fat to live.”
He made oinking sounds, snufflings and hog calls every time she walked into the room. He made faces of horror, disgust and sham vomiting at the sight of her. He did this incessantly, without exception. When nobody else could hear. In the afternoons when she came home from school and found they were the only ones in the house, she escaped to her writing room and crawled out onto the roof with a box full of Oreo cookies or Girl Scout Thin Mints. It seemed better than tears.
“How could anything so ugly be related to me? Oh gross. Is it human?”
Relief arrived when he left for Philips Academy Andover, although he still came home for the holidays. At Easter, he sat by the pool for hours with a reflecting visor propped under his chin in an effort to draw color from an April sun. His prep school buddies were tanning in the Caribbean and he had to keep up appearances. She wondered if he went back to school and lied to his friends about being in Bermuda.
She wrote a story about it, a story that made him a rather sad figure of fun.
She wrote it and then she threw it away.
It wouldn’t do to leave things lying about. He had found her diary once, read it and teased her no end. Yes, she locked the writing room, but some things were too painful to be left where even she could find them. Stories about actual people. And the actual things they did.
Today I’m celebrating the recent launch of Youth Tube, a site brought to you by Plum Tree Books in which anyone may share children’s art, videos, stories, reviews, songs, feature books and a whole lot more. Its vision is to encourage early literacy and children’s creativity. Tell every young person you know about this wonderful project. Teachers and home-schooling parents will particularly enjoy this outlet for their children.
- The Dutiful Ones - January 30, 2015
- Good Will and Best Wishes to All - December 20, 2014
- Gratitude on Veterans Day - November 11, 2014
- Seven Reasons to Bare Your Soul - September 28, 2014
- 5 Questions (and Answers) for a Memoir Writer - August 24, 2014
- Don’t Be Afraid to Buy This Book - July 8, 2014
- Vermont Hippie Zombies - July 8, 2014
- Why I Write - July 8, 2014
- Let it Be and Let Go - February 12, 2013
- International Woman of Mystery - January 19, 2013