Sunday, July 25, 2010


The ceilings were low and it didn't get much light but it was my first room in my first adult apartment. I hadn't put anything on the walls yet, since we had just moved in. I didn't want to tape posters up like it was some kid's room. The closet had wood doors that folded open and shut with two tarnished brass knobs. I had all my clothes hung up in the closet except my panties and socks and bras, those were separated into three smaller plastic bins--pink and blue and white--that sat on the floor of the closet.

Against one wall I had three larger plastic bins that stacked together and I had put all my bills and papers in there. The phone was on the floor next to the bins sitting on that awful carpet--you know the kind they put in with every new tenant? It's cheap enough that they can do that. And it smells new like a new car, but a very cheap new car.

The only furniture in the room was a single bed on a metal frame. I had tacked up my old curtains-- bought with babysitting money-- into a canopy in place of a headboard. They were a pale cream color with a ruffle along the edge like the trim on a floor length dress. I hadn't quite made the bed but today I had at least made an attempt. There were two chintz pillows--also bought with babysitting money--one pink and one blue, that lay on top of my actual pillow. Under those there was a little white satin pillow, stained with mascara and dirt and god knows what else. It was patched in one spot where one of my Dad's girlfriends dog's had gotten at it. It was my baby pillow. I had rested my head on that pillow my first night on this earth.

Once, when I was maybe ten, Holly--the woman who took care of me for a while after Mama left--well, Holly came over to clean my room. Daddy might have paid her but she would have done it anyway. She was the one who had sewn the patch on the pillow. She left my room spic and span with my stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling on fishing wire so it was like "It's a Small World" in there. Only she had hidden my baby pillow. I carried that thing everywhere. It was my security blanket. Holly meant to break me of the habit. I cried for days and Daddy looked for it but couldn't find it. By the time I did find it I was broken of the habit, but even at 19 I slept with it in my bed.

(above photo of myself at 19. Please forgive the perm).

I needed a way to characterize myself in a scene I'm writing, so naturally, I turned to the chapter in my book Narrative Fiction, on character. And sure enough I found this exercise: Describe a character's bedroom using the setting to reveal the character. What does the furniture look like? What's on the walls? In the drawers? Underneath the bed? In the closet? Try to use all five senses. Finish your survey of the room by arriving at a single, especially important object that is connected to a secret your character has hidden from almost everyone. Tell us about the secret.

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