When we were left alone in the house, those rare times our grandparents both were away from the home, things got downright post-apocalyptic. Now, years later, after we’ve all left home, if I say to my sister, “Hey, remember that time I accidentally threw a rake at Dusty? Remember how mad he got?,” we both dissolve into a fit of giggles. But living those days was not fun, not funny. Our survival without parental supervision was a very serious matter. You see, in those first years of living with our grandparents, after Mom left us, our brother, the middle child, still in elementary school, suffered a very real and powerful form of rage, a sort of rage that we two sisters seemed very good, naturals in fact, at bringing to a boil. It’s not fair to blame these Lord of the Flies scenes from my childhood entirely on Dusty, though. After all, I “accidentally” threw the rake at him while purposely swinging it at him. (The metal rake flew off the handle, hitting him in the back as he ran, and he splayed forward to the ground in a way that, to this day, as I’m typing this in fact, makes me laugh. The afternoon it happened, however, I had not time to laugh; I had to book it inside the house and lock him out before he got me and did—what? What was I so afraid of, exactly? I was bigger than him, and I knew from experience that I could throw a mean punch.)
Generally, we weren’t allowed to spend too much time in our rooms. My grandma called it “sulking”, regardless of our attitude at any given time. If we had free time on our hands, we were expected to spend it in the kitchen with the rest of the family, playing card games, or doodling, or helping with dinner, or just jabbering nonsensically at each other, which we did a lot of. But, when Grandma and Grandpa weren’t home, Sierra Dawn and I spent most of our time locked in our bedroom, with Dusty occasionally beating at the door and shouting threats. Our snoody Great-Aunt Tricia called the room a “toy store”; clearly, she thought it was decadent beyond belief. As years went by, we collected—toys, yes (mostly dolls and doll accessories), but also strange things, like Christmas tree garlands which we wrapped around the posts of our beds, and silk scarves which we hung from the ceiling. We somehow accumulated a collection of poster board dioramas of cityscapes and pastoral landscapes—Brazil at Carnival, a Japanese villa, the Amazon river rolling through jungle—which we tacked on our ceiling. Fairy lights abounded, as well as several bead curtains, and some feathered masquerade masks on the wall. We even had a wooden cat with wings dangling from one corner and crystals refracting rainbows throughout the room. When we were still small enough, we shared a queen size bed, covered in stuffed animals and lace throw pillows. It was our gypsy paradise, really, and a shame we were hardly ever there except when frantically considering how to reinforce the door against our manic brother. Much like my three favorite movies when I was six are my three favorite movies to this day, minus the creepy doll collection, my decorating style has not changed much. The more color, the more beads and crystals and scarves, the better.
Out to dinner with some girlfriends not too long ago, I told the rake story. And while two of my gal pals stared blankly at me in disbelief, my friend Siobhan answered, “That ain’t nothing!” and told, much to my relief, the story about her sister chasing her through her house with a softball bat while their parents were gone. I remember Siobhan’s bedroom, vaguely, but I’m sure she, to this day, has every detail of those Dragon Ball Z banners that hung on her bedroom wall memorized, and the every habit of her terrarium frogs, long dried up and dead.