The room I grew up in was a walk-in closet with enough room for a twin bed, a dresser, a small wooden desk and chair, and a skinny metal armoire that no longer had a hanger bar because it rusted off. The floor was uneven and at night B-52 cockroaches dive-bombed you in your sleep. The walls were adorned with sunny yellow wallpaper dotted with tiny red tulips. My bed was pushed up against the wall, and near my pillow was a seam where I would pick at a sliver of yellow on nights when my dreams were hard to find.
“skrit-skittle-skrit” goes the gecko on the wall as it chases a juicy cockroach.
A small closet was built out from the room like an afterthought. By the time I left, there was a gap in the wall big enough to stick a pencil through between the closet and bedroom walls. It had an old bed sheet for a curtain with happy, big-eyed pandas sitting in rows, clapping for the butterflies that turned dotted summersaults in the air before them. I would make up conversations the pandas would have with each other and the butterflies. Hello. How are you today? I am fine, but tired from flying so may I sit on your head and rest awhile? Of course, just stay away from the ears or I might accidentally swat you.
“Crick-Crack” goes the wood of the house as it settles in the night.
It had been my aunt’s room before it was mine, and her fuzzy black “disco man” poster clung to the back of the door. When the door was closed I would look at his giant white platform boots jiving against the black-and-neon fuzz and wonder how anyone moved in something like those. To lock my door, there was a hook and eye. I got mad once and locked myself in my room. When I didn’t come out for dinner, my uncle slipped a Sears credit card in the crack of the door and pushed the hook up. Some security. What if a robber snuck in during the night? I would dream about robbers and thieves sneaking into little places to steal great things or kidnap important people.
“Woof-woof” goes the neighborhood dog as it barks at a stranger.
I did my homework at my little desk. It had a long skinny drawer in front for my pencils and paper, and three drawers to the left for my school work, art supplies, and the big bottom drawer held the odds and ends of school projects and spiral notebooks filled with unfinished New York Times best sellers. The lower drawer on my desk could come out, revealing a hidden space underneath. I would hide my journals and other bits of secret stash. I think I cleared the space out before I left home. I don’t remember. There might have been an old pack of cigarettes or steamy love note left undelivered still hiding there.
“Pitter-patter” goes the light raindrops of spring on the leaves.
There were two small windows that decorated the upper corner of my room above the bed. The lead-pane windows opened sideways, the wood frame painted the same sunny yellow as the wallpaper. Always open, both revealed a large garden enclosed by a fifteen-foot fence. I would stare out into that corner of greenery and watch the broad ti-leaves glisten in the sun after a rain, or watch the soft white plumeria blossoms fall from the trees and play with the trade winds that blew off the sea. During thunder storms I would imagine the sky talking to me. During quiet nights I would imagine the ocean singing.
“Boom-rumble-rumble” go the ocean waves as they crash onto a rocky shore.
“Hoooonk” goes the impatient driver stuck at the intersection.
I am pulled from my memories back to dull white stucco walls, desolate save for a wall calendar announcing the month of May with a white sandy beach and obligatory coconut tree. The studio apartment that is now my home is not so different from my tiny room in my little house in a small town. The claustrophobic space boasts a rather compact living room/bedroom/dining room. A convertible sofa that doubles as my bed is pushed against one wall, a two-seater breakfast table with one dusty chair sits by the windows, a 32-inch television on an entertainment unit lounges on a short bit of wall next to the miniature kitchen. It is still a closet, just bigger and with closer neighbors.
“Slam-duk-duk-duk-duk” goes the neighbor down the hall as he leaves his apartment to go to a bar.
I sit at my desk, an L-shaped glass-and-metal piece of functional art with a rolling three-drawer cabinet beside it. On it sits my laptop and speakers, a bulky laser printer makes its home on the shorter leg. There are no hidden compartments in this desk, the cabinets don’t even lock. I have nothing to hide anymore, anyway. The secrets of my childhood died off when I moved from the old plantation town of my youth to the big city far away. Those unfinished bestsellers disappeared, I don’t remember how I lost them or even what they were about. The bottom cabinet drawer is now filled with hanging file folders stuffed with technical reports, research articles, and other stuff I write for other people.
“Woooo-rrrr-woooo” goes the ambulance with its banshee cry.
The two windows flank an old steam heater and open up to the city surrounding me. Black soot from the busy road below settles daily on the sills and the floor. I look out into a garden of brick and steel with the centerpiece the coral hues of a hospital wall. The windows let in the sounds of the city: people milling about, cars moving up and down the street, ambulance sirens heralding the arrival of another patient. I can even hear the sound of the freeway four blocks away. In the dead of night the freeway is still alive, and I imagine it as the sound of waves caressing the rocky sand on the beach, the occasional rare Honk Fish calling out to its friends.
“Vroom-whoosh” go the speeding cars as they drive by at highway speed.
I turn my stare from the concrete garden to my calendar and smile sadly. The dreams of my childhood have run away, and I don’t know how to find them again. I reach down and open my bottom drawer to pull out a file. My hand hovers over a folder with a corner of paper peeking out. I see a word. Wish. It is not the folder I was about to grab, but I pick it up anyway. It is asking me to wish. Asking me what I wish for. Perhaps the city will create new stories for me.
“Flutter-swish” goes the elusive dream, waiting for me to find it…