My Map Story: Two Houses

A little girl rides up and down on her tricycle in front of a brick ranch house. She does this every day until a woman finally comes to the door and asks if she wants to come in to play. She never goes to the door herself. She always waits to be asked.

That little girl was me and this is a metaphor for my life.

I was always intensely shy and waited for everything that came to me. My sister, on the other hand, reached out and grabbed what she wanted. When we were pre-teens my mother told us that we could have our rooms decorated any way we wanted. My sister was quite specific: miniature yellow rose wallpaper, green carpet, frilly white curtains, white painted bed and dresser. I said I didn’t mind leaving my room the way it was. It was already wallpapered by the previous owners and although I hated its pink gingham design, I hated to ask for a complete makeover. It would be too much trouble. It wasn’t even that that bothers me now. It was that I didn’t even know how I really wanted it. It might have partly been because I’d been forced to leave my special bedroom behind when we moved down the street to an almost identical house from the one I lived in from the ages of 5 till 12.

In our previous house I had asked for and gotten a room with three red walls and one white. The wall color was called “Apache Red.” (It had either been that or “Canary Yellow.”) I used ticky-tacky to put up maps all over the walls that I’d gotten out of our National Geographics and was particularly proud of the perfect accent: the globe that sat on my desk. In the new house, I didn’t even have a desk, just a huge ugly gray dresser and two twin beds. I don’t remember now how I ended up with the pink bedroom. In the first house it had been the master bedroom but a larger master bedroom had been added to the new house and I suppose because I was the oldest I got the next largest.

I liked the size of the room, but I never did anything to make it my own. I was twelve and the move wasn’t easy on me. Even though it was just down the street, it took me away from the immediate circle of friends I’d had at the first house. The two houses were exactly alike except for the raised roof in the back of the second one that enabled the addition of a new master bedroom and bath. And it had a basement. But I never warmed up to the new house. I lived there for seven years–the same amount of time I’d lived in the old house–but I always thought of the old one as my true home, as if the second one was an imposter.

I still dream frequently about the first house and rarely about the second. I loved the shake shingles of the first, painted gray with white trim, the rock garden that Mom had built in the back yard, the brick patio with its huge awning outside the family room window, the pitch black attic where my sister and I tried to scare the bejeebers out of each other and our friends. We were the first family to live in that house. Our back yard was a sea of mud that first year. I remember falling into it and thinking it was hilarious.

Our dog became famous at that house. He followed us everywhere, to school, where we could hear him howl when the principal shut him up in the boy’s bathroom until my mom could come get him, or to the grocery store where he learned to let himself in using the automatic door. Everyone in the village knew Jojo. He was de riguer at birthday parties because he would “sing” along with “Happy Birthday.” The neighborhood kids were always trying to get him to howl to that and the Mickey Mouse Club theme–those were the only songs that did the trick.

When we moved to the new house, I had to leave all those memories behind. I felt homeless. I never settled in. It didn’t help that I moved to middle school shortly after we moved and I began to have to navigate the waters of prepubescence. That wasn’t the hardest part, though. We had originally moved to the new house so that my maternal grandfather, who’d been a widower for many years, could move in with us. I adored my grandfather and couldn’t wait. I still remember the day he called and told us that he was getting married and moving to another town instead. I was crushed.

I was crushed a lot in that house. I had all of my first loves, requited and not, while living in that house. My mother and I began to fight bitterly during those years. And not five years after we moved there, my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack.

With all of that, why would I care about pink gingham wallpaper?