The ceiling slopes sharply on both sides so that really I can only walk upright down the center of the room. I stoop to open the cupboard doors that line the short walls. I have painted the doors bright sunshine yellow. It was my idea. They were white before, my mother’s color.
The floor is covered in beige wall-to-wall carpet. It was added to the house while we were away for five years. My father made a lot of changes to the house while we were away and now it looks a little more like other people’s houses, a little more grand. Like the carpeting. We never had wall-to-wall before, just the dark wide boards with the old square nails. There is a softness to the carpet, a sense of comfort that seems foreign.
I like it here in this attic room at the top of the house. One of the new things is the set of narrow French doors my father put in at the bottom of the steep carpeted stairs, so I can close them and I feel like I have my own apartment up here.
In the morning, dressing for school, I use the French doors as my full-length mirror. They don’t work very well, with all those panes of glass framed in white wood. Sometimes I go into my mother’s room where she has an old square mirror framed in wood, propped against a wall. I can only see my bottom half with that mirror.
I wear the pink cotton shirt that used to be a dress two years ago, but I cut off the bottom. Or I wear the beige knit top, a body suit that snaps at the crotch, a little too affected an item for a hippy, but I like how I look. Or I wear the bright orange, colorfully striped hotpants body suit as a shirt with jeans. This one has no snap at the crotch. I have to unzip and pull the whole thing down to go to the bathroom. But it looks great.
I wore the hotpant suit with white cork-soled sandals, my first high heels, three years ago when we still lived in England. I’d worn them to catch the train with friends for a day in London. I was 14, and I heard a little boy refer to me, talking to his mother, as “that lady.” No one had ever referred to me as a lady or a grown-up of any kind before.
In the attic room I am alone except for the male DJ’s on the radio. I have a Panasonic stereo – a turntable/radio and two separate speakers. The stereo sits on the floor and when I enter the room I walk over and flick the radio on with my toe and the neon-green dial lights up.
This stereo is the kind of thing that other kids in my high school class have -- the girls who have a different pair of corduroys to wear every day, the boys who jump into their own cars to get home. I have this stereo with its two separate speakers because my father bought it for an apartment he lived in for a year near Washington DC, the year after he quit the London job and tried to be a consultant. When he left that apartment the stereo was one of the things that came back with him, and it was extra, so I got it. I actually got my own stereo.
It’s the kind of thing I could show to a friend if they came to visit, like the two rectangular cushions – a dull peagreen and black tweed – left over from the couch we had when I was little, the one I lay down on when I had an earache, lay down holding a little cushion against my ear that my mother had warmed in the oven.
Now I have those cushions on the floor, a place where I could sit with other people and listen to music and pass a joint maybe. But I don’t know anyone to invite. At school I do not speak. I watch and listen as it all happens around me and I feel I have no place there. Which is not right, is not how it should be and this empty room reminds me of my failure all the time.
I should have more records too, a big casual collection that shows how much I know about music. But one record costs more than I make on a Saturday babysitting. Last summer I bought three used records for 50 cents. I didn’t know the singers, but at least they added bulk.
I listen to the deep voices of the men on the radio, talking about the music. And I listen to the words of the songs, the melodies, the wistfulness, the guitar picking, the stories of being on the road with always a beautiful, fierce, wild, mysterious woman. Like Suzanne who takes you down to her place by the river…
I ask my mother for a guitar and she finds one second hand and for lessons she drives me once a week to the Y in White Plains where I sit in the back of the crowded room and wonder how how how did other people live different lives – how do you get out of the attic room, the VW station wagon with your mother who doesn’t notice that the rain has stopped and the windshield wipers are still going, shrieking against the dry glass?
Blowing in the Wind is the best of the easy songs – only 3 simple chords. I buy the Simon and Garfunkel songbook and try, but music like what I hear on the radio is a universe away, another thing that only other people can do -- though I can walk by the side of the road, sometimes even hitchhike, and carry the guitar in its black case and just like I am supposed to.
“See me!” says the guitar wrapped in its black case. “Fall in love with me. Pick me up. Take me somewhere. Make it so I can talk to you and laugh and have sex, make it all happen. Please. You out there, boy with a pony tail, pick me up.”