It’s a little white house on a little hill in Van Buren, AR. It’s small enough that the magnolia tree in front of it almost blocks the view from the street. I ordered pizza once, and it took the pizza boy an hour and a half to find my house. Had I known that I could have asked for him to return with a fresh pizza, I would have. No one told me I could do that.
It was my home, and though it was not designed for privacy or comfort, it was the only place I could go to find them. I was twelve. What say did I have in where I lived? Actually, I had plenty of say, because I could have decided to move away to a much bigger house in a different state that provided all the privacy an adolescent boy could want. However, this is the hindsight I have now. Back then I didn’t know these things were important. Like many my age, I was content to live in the moment and not see anything further than that. But if asked to go back and change any of it, I wouldn’t.
Because the magnolia tree was so massive, overgrown in my opinion, it was really what made up most of the privacy I had there. I was lucky to have the largest room in the house, but this room for some reason was not designed with doors. The explanation given to me was that the studs would not support an actual door in the doorways. It made about as much sense to me then as it does now, only I didn’t know the right questions to ask then. I could have asked, “Well have you tried putting one in?” I never aspired to be an architect, but it still baffles me that the structure of the door frame was so fragile that any attempt to put a solid door in that space would compromise the structural integrity of the house. The only kind of door that I was possible was a plastic, flimsy, sliding door about as thick as construction paper. It also made perfect sense to my parents to place the well-behaved, non confrontational teenager in the room with no doors while the volatile, strong-willed four year-old had a room of his own with a solid wooden door that locked. Only now am I seeing just how crazy this situation was. Anyone could come into my room any time they wanted to. Any. Time. Sure they could “knock”, but I was not often extended that courtesy by my brother, especially when he was angry with me and wanted to push all my books and CDs off my shelves. He did this often enough that I had to develop a system for returning my books to their proper order. They were in alphabetical order, and I think he knew that. So he used it against me.
Ironically, I found a secret place for secluded reading in my brother’s room. It was in his closet. It took up the entire wall his room shared with the kitchen, and in the back corner behind his door, I could sit and read by a crack of light. My mom was the first to find me, so she would distract my brother to keep him from looking for me. She understood my need for solitude because I got it from her. Thing was, the kid was too young to realize that corner of the house even existed. There was nothing that he needed in that place, so he never thought to look there. Plus his closet was a black hole for his junk and my mom’s junk. It was a miracle I even found the space. Certainly there’d be no way I could fit in that spot now, having grown a foot taller as well as a few inches around. Back then, I was just skinny enough to fit and avoid the rusty nails protruding from the inner walls.
What excited me about this spot was at first my parents didn’t even know about it. I would hear them call my name and pass in and out of the rooms looking for me. It was a thrilling feeling being hidden. I never gave away my position willingly for fear of compromising it. Instead I’d wait until I knew they were far enough away not to hear me emerge to answer their calls, pretending as if I had been in plain sight the entire time.
Over time I learned how to deal with the lack of privacy I was given. My flimsy doors were eventually upgraded to less flimsy doors with small hooks for locks that I could manipulate in such a way that my brother had a harder time intruding. Before there was no warning prior to the whoosh of the plastic as he entered in a frenzy. With sturdier doors I could at least intervene before he was able to penetrate the barrier. Again, if I had known I was allowed to, I would have striven for positive change. I would have fought to preserve my rights as a citizen. But I was a kid. I didn’t know I had rights.