Sunday, August 14, 2005

Cotton in the tool shed

In a house like any other house, in a line of houses on a street in a row of streets that form a neighborhood, a house on a cul-de-sac of well-groomed lawns and air infused with the heavy scent of magnolia blossoms, a house with a driveway to the side and a trashcan beside the gate leading into the back yard, in that house, as a four-year old I stood behind the curtains at the big bay window and watched her walk down the sidewalk on her way to school. And cried. Because she was leaving me for a world I didn’t know, couldn’t see and didn’t have but I wanted it and her to be mine and was crushed by those morning reminders that they were not.

While I can remember that house in tremendous detail, I cannot remember her room. I cannot remember her bed, her walls, or her anywhere at all in the house beyond the kitchen. But she’s everywhere outside. She’s in the driveway and in the front and back yards. She’s in the tool shed taking off her slip and her white socks that she disliked so and took into her own hands to remove and shove beneath the lawnmower before she walked to school each morning.

I’m watching her from the bathroom window upstairs because she leaves from the front door and walks around to the back of the house, with me following her through the house, up the stairs and into the bathroom, standing on the toilet so I can watch her go into the shed, wondering what she is doing in there and when she comes out I don't notice for several days that something is missing. Finally it clicks clear in my eyes: her socks were gone.

The day I realized that, I snuck out of the house, away from my mother who was sewing and unaware that I was leaving my wooden puzzles on the living room floor for something much more puzzling. Turning the metal latch on the door, I stepped into the heavy scent of paint, oil and dried grass. Scanning the shelves, and moving my eyes across the hanging tools and hoses, poking behind the toolboxes and paint cans on the floor, I finally landed on the odd shock of white cotton beneath the dirty blades of the lawnmower. I put my hands on the fabric of the slip that was also there, but I didn’t move it, for fear of what she might do if I did, fearful already that she’d know I was there, that she’d somehow sense my presence.

When she returns from school, when she walks in the back door with the socks on her feet and I assume the slip back on her body, I’m there and I’m watching her because I know something about her now. I know that she has been in that shed and re-dressed herself just as mom insisted she do in the slips and socks argument between them every morning. I know this about her now, that she only lets Mom think she’s won the argument. Mom is sewing again, blissfully unaware. I lean against the kitchen counter and watch my sister make a sandwich and throw the knife in the sink but leave the bread out and crumbs all over the counter.

“What are you looking at?” she barks. I'm afraid she can read my thoughts, get inside me and read me, as if I couldn’t hide my thoughts anymore than I could hide the crumbs on the counter.

“Nothing,” I snap. Then add in defense, “Leave me alone.”

She raises an eyebrow at me, amused but also annoyed, and tells me to get out of the kitchen, which of course I do because I’d do anything for her at the time. But I do not walk away without my knowledge of her, carrying that with me to sit on the couch and think of nothing else but my first curiosity about her planted and growing in my mind, in the image and memory of the house, of the day I first discovered a secret of hers.

That she did this, that she made her own decisions and had secrets about dressing as she pleased, that she was different, already leading her own life, although she was a mystery to me, these things only made me adore her more.

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