Amid the ruins of life there are those special tidbits that make one stop and smile; some remembrance tucked deeply among the cobwebs we fear to visit. Caught up in the day to day mundane, the special moments lie tucked away. Like thieves we have buried them deeply, afraid that if we remember too clearly someone will sneak in and take them away.
Such is the memory of a childhood spent huddled in a basement, alone with my books and music. I had my own small apartment of privacy cut out of a house with too many emotions running rampant. Nestled in the deep cool recesses where the IronRite was stored, next to the corner that still held my Barbies to my Bride doll, was a special place that had an old worn out couch, some cherry wood end tables, discarded lamps, a pool table off to one side, shelves over-stacked to the top with books, and my phonograph. It was my quiet oasis where my imagination was allowed to rush about freely, running amuck into whatever adventure I chose that day. I would crank up my records, headphones attached so that only my eardrums were punished, listening to all forms of melodies; singing along with them, from ballads to opera, pop to country. Tears would stream down my cheeks as I sang in languages I did not understand but felt all the emotions of each note. I languished over stories told in ballads as if their fates were my own. I danced with partners from the books I devoured, pretending to be willowy with thick wavy hair that hugged my shoulders, wearing sophisticated evening dresses that sparkled as we moved in unison. We would gaze into each other’s eyes as I dropped witty stories about my travels through Spain or enthralled him with my adventures in Italy. I refused any mirrors in my perfect world; the reality of standing barely four feet tall would not invade this Xanadu I had created. On rare occasions my friends were allowed to invade my peace but never to share in its secrets. If my friends knew they would have poked fun; but in my basement, this part of me was private.
In my underground room I read every word I could put my hands on. It didn’t matter where the stories came from. Magazines, literature my parents had collected over the years, Reader’s Digest short novels, Charles Lamb to Nancy Drew all the way to Valley of the Dolls. I begged or borrowed books from relatives, friends, and libraries. Nothing was too long or short, no subject too outlandish. I didn’t just read the stories; I lived them. I read excerpts, spoke the lines, shared the emotions of the characters, knowing their lives better than those of my own relatives. I would tear apart each sentence looking for meanings hidden by the authors. I took classes in school that revolved around the hidden meaning buried in poetry, children’s fables, and songs. I would read biographies of the writers or histories on the time periods of the books. The written word spanned everything from religious to ridiculous, from romantic to lewd. Controversy was my life’s blood, mystery Pablum to my soul. In my youth, I already demanded reasons for my existence and for the atrocities allowed in the world. Starvation, bigotry, unfairness, sexual inequalities, contradictions of faith and the failings of love were all issues for me to dissect and resolve. All this, and I hadn’t yet reached the age of fifteen.
It was at this bleak time of my life that I found the astonishing world of art and writing. Although I had always tinkered with art, my love for writing took hold. With each outlet, I could build my worlds the way I wanted them to be. I could draw from my heart, paint colors the way I felt, working from washes to strokes of sharp color, sketch or charcoal faces of my real and imaginary friends, inscribe from the deepest recesses of my soul and create places and periods of time I could only read about. I played albums in the background, as I arranged a door my dad had made into a table as my own studio. Paints, palettes and pens adorned the surface along with charcoals, pastels, and crinkled starts of stories or pictures discarded. Lumps of clay to palettes dried with acrylic littered the surface next to jars of water muddied from used brushes. I was my own worst critic, taking each piece and analyzing it as I once had all the atrocities of the world. The freedom to create, the ability to spend hours uninhibited, the time to become the person I was slowly growing into; it was my private oasis in a confusing turmoil called life.
I lived through the tragedies of losing my best friend and my long time boyfriend, both to drunk drivers in the same year. Detroit and I survived the racial riots rife with hatred and misunderstanding. I watched in horror the murder of the Kennedys and of Martin Luther King. I gazed at the television in awe as man walked on the moon. I watched girls burn their bras and boys their draft cards. I read Roe versus Wade and watched Madalyn O'Hair remove prayer from schools, totally unaware at the time how the repercussions of these two moments in history would affect my world. I avoided being sucked into the vortex of drugs rampant in the sixties, which took many a friend. I released the breath I’d held for two years until my brother walked in the back door one night returning from Vietnam. One atrocity that ripped my heart from my chest was when schools started banning books, even burning them. Churches dictated which movies we were allowed to watch while they contradicted the teaching of the Christ they’d pledged to follow. These champions of piety protested abortion and birth control but turned their backs on the sinful hussies who dared to conceive out of wedlock. All this while we pledged our allegiances and read stories about the origin of the constitution, wondering where we had gone so terribly wrong.
Through all of that chaos, I created: some good, some not, and yet all pieces of the puzzle of who I am today. I still define myself by my creativity, in my work and in my play. I do not judge my successes on what I have sold but rather on what I have treasured. On dark nights, in the corner of my private dreams, I dance again on cement flooring with heating pipes above my head, to an imaginary partner who sings Summertime in bass to my soprano as we waltz past my drawings and book shelves lining the concrete walls. We end the night on We’ve Only Just Begun as dawn awakens me and my dreams are again locked away in my heart-safe of fondest memories.