when words fail me, which is often, I paint. When words work for me and are available on time, I am surprised.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Daren Court

I know it's long, I wrote it almost 5 years ago on my birthday. I wanted to get it archived here after I realized it had never been posted. Or has it? Forgive me.
Note: this is 8200 daren Ct. The large black numbers would later be added by my father and uncle to the front gable peak facade and Doc the dwarf statue carrying a lamp and doctor's bag still stands atop the entrance concrete steps on the hill, center left.He was purchased a few years after this photo.



Doc stands watching over the cul de sac. His once red dwarf cap is severely faded, along with the rest of him. The lamp he holds in his right hand is broken in half, yet he continues to hold his outstretched arm in such a way to let me know, he is looking out for me. He is still here, so are the exaggerated house numbers, 8200.

On a summer day, my uncle who always arrived when there was work to be done, real work, the kind you didn't learn to do in school, was there. He painted the numbers a glossy black, while my father stood atop a tall ladder, hanging them straight. I played in the grass under a huge maple tree, front and center on the hill. The tree that is no longer there, only a rough grassy round indentation marks it's place. From my vantage point I could see everything in my world. I could see in both directions every house on the street perpendicular to our court. Being on the corner, I could also see each house on the cul de sac. The place where I watched the big kids ride bikes without training wheels and walked my baby, Karen, a piece of plasticized beauty with curly dark hair and cerulean blue eyes, in a real pram. The neighbor ladies would wait for me to push her past their driveways, and bend over to see my baby. "Wasn't I lucky, wasn't I a proud mamma. How nicely I wrapped her in that soft yellow blanket."

It is three days before my fortieth birthday. A few of my friends, upon reaching this landmark, plan trips to the islands, or have surprise parties thrown for them, where they drink shots of tequila to prove they still can. I have driven four and half hours in the oppressive summer heat to visit my childhood home. Thirty five years have passed since I have been to this place.

It's fairly early in the day, just like I remember humidity 100%, temperature hot. I am traveling with my eighteen year old son. I have brought him for courage, sanity, and purpose. He obliges me by coming along, but the significance to him is lost probably in his own experience of thirty two homes in eighteen years; a symbol for which he could never find in one place.

We have just been to visit my Grandmother (his great) who, two days ago celebrated her eighty fifth year speaking of significant. The mahjongg maiden and her friends sat four around a card table. "Crack" "Bam" "Three dot". "This is serious business, you children be quiet, we have to concentrate now." The old lady whose apartment this is, is unhappy about our visit. Her face tells all as she greets us at the door with a come in then growl. It's not really us, or maybe it is. She is hunched over her tiles with a magnifying glass in hand. We notice after a while that she has changed position around the table, switched seats with the grandma closer to the spotlight pointed at the table, she's nearly blind. The other women, my grandmother included, are bristling with impatience. If we listened really close we noticed the clicking wasn't just from the ivory tiles on the table, but from tongues, and my diva grandmas coral pink fingernails, tap, click, tap, click. To break the tension my grandmother tells me to get a little present out of the blue bag sitting on a chair. Mondel bread. Cinnamon, chocolate chips and almond paste, Jewish biscotti. Our family fights over this stuff. We eat it, kiss her on the cheek and wish her luck on her game before we head to the early childhood museum. The stakes are high; four dollars a day, three times a week, sixty years, someone else can do the math.

Mature trees stand along the driveway where there used to be none. The big trees I remember, the Pyrocantha that sent clusters of orange berries up to the roof, the Mimosa, with pink cotton candy blooms that matched my hair ribbons, are missing.

Large trees loom over the roofline from the backyard that also used to be bare. I can't bring myself to walk to the back yard, not yet. I walk three steps and steady myself by Doc's faded side. The heat or the memories that attack the inside of my head like a boiling whirlpool, make me dizzy.

'You're still here!"

"Where else would I be?"

"I remember when you were bright, beautiful and new, you could use some colorful paint"

"Yes my darling, I guess the same could be said of you."

"Good to see you Doc, I'm going in."

"Time changes us all in some ways. I'll be here when you come out."

"Okay Doc." I pat him on his pointy hat, reaching down instead of up like I used to. Already I am gulping back tears, but I can't really pin point what disturbs and saddens me more, the fact that doc is still here under the giant numbers, or the fact the he isn't gone, like the other landmarks, the trees, my neighbors, my childhood and it's friends. Different should be different, no lingering remnants of who we used to be should still stand.

I remember when we found Doc in a roadside concrete statuary during one of our weekend family excursions. My father liked to get away from his long hours at the hospital. He started his second residency the day before I was born. He would drive the green and brown station wagon to nearby getaways. State parks, the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, the beach. He wore thick black glasses on his prominent nose, and his hair was black, cut in a classic crew. He wears contact lenses now, his nose is still huge, and he's bald as a coot. He had a huge laugh. He had the kind of laugh that when he started there was a sound that made you laugh too, even when you didn't want to. He wasn't nearly as funny as he said he was. Then it turned into one of those silent, face dissolving into an open mouth, head tilted back kind of laughs. Little "auck" gasps would escape the back of his throat. One hand would have to hold his chest I guessed to keep it from exploding. "Daddy, how come she gets to sit up front and I don't?"

"Because I like her better than I like you"- Big laugh for him, even though I knew he was joking, I wouldn't laugh.

"That's not funny." I would claim.

"Yes it is, it's funny." He usually replied.

My sister Bari was less than two years older than me, but I considered her one of the big kids. Big sister, ally and arch nemesis. Mean, mean, mean. By the time I was less than five years old; I know because it happened here in this house, I also felt sorry for her. Not because she had a lazy eye, and had to wear a patch over the lens of her blue cat eye glasses. Not because my Mother cut her hair into a pixie cut which was all the rage. Of course not the hair cut, I got one too. We were lucky like that. We had the matching outfits meant for twins, same pattern, different color scheme. Looking back now it is quite possible that our Mother could not tell us apart, even though we looked completely different, even though my sister was almost a head taller than me. No, I felt sorry for her because to her our mother was mean. Meaner than she was to me or our little brother, and he was her favorite. Time didn't change their meanness, which must be one of the things that Doc didn't realize when he said time changes us. . . Oh yeah, I was talking about finding Doc. We had stopped to get some air in our lungs, a respite from my mother's cigarette smoke, hairspray, and incessant complaining about us. Those stops were the highlight of mini trips for my Mom (which in the future, luckily for us, she would excuse herself from completely). She could stop trying to pretend to like her station in life as a wife and mother and she could spend money.

    Doc didn't come home with us; he would never fit in the station wagon with the five of us. He must have been delivered. I realized he would be joining us the same way I learned of most events in our family, through my mother's never ending telephone conversations with her friends.

"He's adorable . . . long white beard . . . dwarfs cap… has a black doctor's bag (one just like my father's). Oh yes . . . a lantern in his hand. . . set him by the steps on the walkway. I know, he's absolutely perfect . . . can't wait for you to see him. . ."


I walk a few more feet to the front stoop. Standing before the front door of the late fifties brick ranch home, my ears began to ring. "P.F flyers, P.F. flyers . . ." A continuous loop being chanted by the group of big girls standing outside. They are led by my sister. I loved my new red sneakers yesterday, now I hate them. I stand looking down at my shoes, tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat. I hate them as much as I hate the girls on the other side of the front door, out on the stoop, mocking me. Why does she lead them in this chorus, why is she so mean? I didn't get it then. I still can't figure out what was so mockable about my P.F.flyers, but the front door is different. Different now from the pane over pane glass I stood behind then, it's heavier and covered with ornate golden colored metalwork. I ring the doorbell. A middle aged dark skinned woman in traditional African dress and headscarf appears where I once stood, while the mean girls mocked me. Where I stood every morning looking out to see if anyone had answered my prayers and left a baby in a basket for me.

I spoke fast, a tap dance on my head. "Hi, my name is. . . I am sorry to interrupt you. . lived in this house for the first five years of my life. . . I know it's an assisted living home now, a business, my sister told me. . . many years since I've seen. . ., my fortieth , yes driven four hours, could I possibly see inside?"

She hesitated, then, "Okay".

I was inside

An aging black man sat on sofa, in the living room where our black and white heavy brocade sofa used to sit. The material matched the long drapes which hung from the front window. Gone is our sofa, the drapes and the crimson red carpet. White walls, curtains and thin Oak floors have taken their place. Tan couch, brown aging man, staring at the blank white wall across from him. His gaze misses the large television screen by several yards. A few feet to his left is the dining room. Two geriatric women sit in wheelchairs. I am directed to explain myself to them by the African lady who seems to be in charge.

"Hi. This was my house when I was a little girl. Ms. Marie has allowed me to come inside; I just wanted to see it again." I told the two women who look at me as if I were a three headed alien from Mars.

They look at each other, then shift their steady stares past me.
"What? one old lady said to the other. I didn't hear a word she said".
"Me neither" said the other one shaking her head.
I shrug and walk back towards Ms. Marie.

The foyer I stand on in awe is covered in white linoleum. It follows around an impossibly short empty walkway, around a corner, to our bedrooms.

I am walking over real slate, gray-blue tiles, past the heavy wooden credenza draped in ivy. It is taller than me. I pause at the corner. There's a small empty nook, where a concrete cherub statue used to stand on a sea-shell bowl refusing to pump water from a stone decanter. I would stir the tiny dry multi-colored pebbles at his feet with my hands. The bowl was level with my chest. I realize it must have stood somewhere below where my knees are now. The kitchen stands door-less, before us. We skip the kitchen and round the corner toward the bedrooms. Standing at the end of the hallway, the doors to each of the three bedrooms are all within arms reach, one in front, and one on each side. Actually the real doors have been removed from the hinges and have been replaced by see through louver doors, the kind you hang on closets. They are hanging at odd angles giving the entire space the feeling of Van Gogh's "Room at Arles". My little brother's room, the first I peek in, is smaller than some closets I've seen. There is a single bed, a dresser, night stand, and a table lamp. Pale, cheap hotel chic. The walls again are white. The house is completely void of color and carpet, yet when I cross the threshold, I see orange- brown carpet, mustard cream colored walls, his crib, his changing table. Then I see his single bed, the one we found his half eaten dog biscuits under. The bed he would cry himself to sleep in, "It's not fair! I don't wanna go to bed! I want a dwink o wawor!" We would laugh for a while, my sister and I trying to sleep in the next room, then we'd get tired of his screaming, and we'd yell at him to go to sleep too. In the morning I would crawl into bed next to my brother, somehow being my mother's favorite made everything around him feel safe and comforting. Brian's room: (definition) a safe zone suspended between the bedrooms of mother and daughters.

One step to the right and I was in my parents bedroom. A portal through time and space back to the days where my parents acknowledged they were married to each other. A place where they shared the same bed, where they had children, a house, a station wagon and an aging French Poodle named Pierre. Once again, vivid colors were replaced by white walls and pale fabrics. I am making small talk with my tour guide, I have drifted so far away in my memories, it is difficult to speak. She yanks me back to the present with one statement. "It used to be green carpet here."

Now it's Oak, like the other rooms.

"Yes, but, how do you know?"

She points to the floor underneath the hinge pin of the closet door. A tiny piece of emerald green carpet is holding tight. It begins to spread out and the room grows back to its original grandeur. A sea of regal green rushes out and sweeps away from the wall length closet. The closet is full of fine clothes and shoes. Shoes that sparkle when you hold them in the sun beams pouring through the window over the bed. The bed was the biggest I had ever seen, with a fat green coverlet, and paisley sheets. There was a long cardboard tube that held pillows in perfect form across the padded headboard during the daytime. On the other side of the green ocean, way across the room: two golden velvet bucket chairs, a round wooden table, and a television set. I would curl up in those swivel chairs, watching my favorites: Green Acres, A Family Affair and The Partridge Family. In the evening after dinner (Dinner: another intangible memory for my family) I would watch Laugh In. Scantily clad, blond airheads with painted on psychedelic tattoos, huge breasts, go-go boots, laughing and dancing; I couldn't wait to grow up and be just like them.

Across from the sitting area, my mother's make up table. Tiny parlor chair, enormous light bulb framed mirror. Hair pieces, wigs and falls, sat on styrofoam heads. Light blue eye shadow, Dippity Do, Aqua-Net, "Okay ready, hold your breath. Hsssssst."

I opened the door to my first bed room. The once princess pink walls were covered in peeling, off white textured wall paper. The frame of the window, above our white lace covered trundle bed, hung across the panes loosing a battle with gravity. A little girl with a pixie haircut stood on the bed, swollen red welts on her thigh, sobbing. She'd stare out the window through puffy red eyes, at the grassy hill behind the fence. The fence that's now rusted and bent. She imagines she's leaving, for good this time. She's never coming back.

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