A tree beckoned outside the window of the pink bedroom, enticing me with the possibility of climbing out. I never did.
I’d like to say that I never did because I had no reason to escape, but that would be a lie. Every young person wants to run away at some point in her life, and I was no exception. I remember once running to the woods at the end of my dead-end street and sitting there for hours—or at least what felt like hours—hoping that someone would kidnap me so that I could simply disappear. Or at least hoping that someone would even notice I was gone. But that is the extent of my ability to run away, to escape. I was too afraid of life to ever really break the rules.
I’d like to stay that I never climbed out that window because I was “the good kid,” but that would be a lie. I was the “good kid” or the “goody-goody” but not because of any innate goodness or even fear of repercussions. My parents never beat us or anything, except for the occasional spanking (which was acceptable for the time period). The truth of my childhood, the truth that kept me from climbing on that tantalizing limb and going on unknown adventures, was that I was scared.
What exactly scared me? I think I absorbed the fears of my mother, who had somehow made the world “out there” be the enemy. Home was safe. Home was where others could not bother you or hurt you. I don’t know why my mother was like that, as she has never really shared her story with me, but I am sure that her attitude influenced my own. When I was learning to drive, she had me terrified about the first time I would take the car out on the highway. I avoided that task for as long as I could, because I was afraid of the fast-moving cars and losing control of my own vehicle. Even today, when I am on long trips and the traffic picks up, I feel those moments of terror that came from my mother telling me “It’s really scary, and very fast. I don’t think you should do it today. You won’t like it.”
I don’t know if those were her actual words, but they were her sentiments. I absorbed all the cautions that my mother instilled in me. Don’t get me wrong, she was not a horrible Mom. Instead, I believe, she was a woman who had incorporated her own fears in life, for whatever reasons, and passed those fears onto me. I was a child who wanted so much to be loved, admired, or accepted that I went along with the expectations of the people around me, and if that meant becoming fearful than that is what I would become. This desire worked in positive ways as well, in that I tried to do whatever my big brother did. If he read, I read. If he did art, I did art. My mother says that this put pressure on him, because he never was allowed to succeed on his own. Perhaps that’s true, but this is my story, as I perceive it. I am sure I have influenced people in my life in both positive and negative ways, and if my hero-worship had a negative effect on my brother than I apologize for that. My relationships with people, and my desire to please and be accepted by people has been the greatest influence on my own path in life, and so I must explore it.
I’m sure I tried to follow and duplicate my older sister, but the five year age difference meant that I was simply left behind, with no hope of catching up. When I think back on my childhood, I don’t have that many memories of spending time with my sister, despite the fact that we shared that pink bedroom until she left for college. The fact that the bedroom was pink was a minor victory for me, as she wanted it to be yellow. I think the only reason I won is that, by the time our parents let us decorate our own room she was getting ready to leave for college. The room would be mine for longer. I have a vague memory of my sister studying for a French test in her bed and telling me to leave the room so she could study, but that is my only recollection of being locked out of my own place of safety.
My relationship with my sister allowed my fear to grow; the fear of never being good enough. She was the popular one, the talented one, the athletic one, the one who boys liked. I was the little sister. I know, from surprising interactions with her as an adult, that she was jealous of me for other reasons. But, I remember lying in bed on a warm summer night as she and her friends gathered on the front stoop, laughing and playing with joy and abandon. I wanted so much to be a part of that, and when I was older tried to recreate that. I never quite had the same relationship with the kids in my neighborhood however, because by the time I was old enough to have those evening adventures I was being sent to the “Gifted Program” across town. I didn’t go to school with anyone from my neighborhood. My sister, in what I perceived as her brave individualism, chose not to go to the gifted program when it was offered.
Looking back on it now, though, I wonder who was being more individual and brave. As I child I felt scared, but as an adult I see that many of my choices throughout life took me on a path undefined by others, so maybe I was truly brave.