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Location: New York, New York, United States

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Guest Room 4/29/03

The other night, my mother found boxes of old photographs buried deep in the guest-room closet. Pictures of our old house sat in a white, wrinkled envelope in one of the boxes. I remembered my step-father taking these photos of my mother and different rooms in the house back when they were trying to sell it. They had just gotten married. I was 13.

When I flipped through the photos, I was amazed at how young my mother looked. And how independent. And how tired. Back then I didn't really consider how difficult it must have been for her to raise my brother and me alone -- to try and establish a sense of normalcy for us amidst such adult chaos.

In one photo of the dining room, she poses next to a corner china cabinet, painted white to match the walls. She was immensely proud of this purchase. Another photo shows the tiny kitchen that hosted dinners for three for much of my childhood. In the corner of the kitchen photo stands a skinny girl with braces and a baggy green t-shirt. She is barely in camera range. She is turning her back on the photographer.

My bedroom was huge in that house. It was a two-bedroom colonial. By the time my brother and I were too old to share a room, and my father had moved out, my mother converted the downstairs family room into a master bedroom for herself. She had no privacy whatsoever. In my room, I had dormer windows and a door leading out to a patio on top of the garage (although my mother never let me open it, for fear I might fall off the roof). By age nine, I would sneak out there anyway when I got home from school -- when I had the house to myself for a few hours.

In his bedroom, my brother had a long, walk-in closet. One day he decided to draw superheroes and cartoon characters all over his walls. The neighborhood kids came over with crayons. My mother was fine with this. She wallpapered over our art once we had gotten bored with it, but kept the Batman drawings in the closet as souvenirs.

That house always felt like mine as much as it was my mother's. We had rules, I suppose ... but I helped make them. So did my brother.

My mother remarried. New rules.

I put the box away. Suddenly I realized I no longer wanted to see those photos. They reminded me too much of an identity I had lost. Back when my step-father would mention moving away from that house, I would run up to my bedroom and slam the door in protest. In my mind, the topic was not up for discussion. Maybe because I no longer had any say.

My mother would try to rationalize with a defensive preteen. She recounted tales of living in seven different houses as a child. She couldn't get too attached to any one place. She learned to accommodate for others. She never had any say. She still doesn't.

The day we moved out, I wrote my name in pencil in hidden places in my bedroom -- behind the curtains, on the side of a heating vent, in the upper corner of the closet. I needed proof that I was there. Yet I did this in pencil. I could only really whisper my existence by then.

In my new house, our rooms were the same size as the guest room for new step-brothers. My mother and step-father had the largest bedroom, their own bathroom, and their own privacy. Doors closed. My step-brothers stopped visiting as much. The guest room was usually empty.

At 13, as I began to feel like a guest in my own body, I also began to feel like a guest in my own house.

I don't want to be a guest anymore.

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