Jan 11, 2020

For the first three years we lived on Raymond, Doug and I shared a small bedroom. Before bed, my mom would set my hair in pin curls with bobby pins; then my dad would tell us a bedtime story about the hair-raising adventures of two kids. And though neither of my parents was particularly demonstrative, we always got a goodnight kiss. Unfortunately, my dad’s tall tales often involved giants, which gave Doug nightmares—and sometimes a bobby pin would get clipped to my ear when I rolled over in my sleep, so my ear would be painfully sore the next morning.

I have one curious memory I associate with this yellow-flowered bedroom. One evening at bedtime it occurred to me to wonder why I always slept on my back. Then I remembered: in my preschool years, when I’d sleep on my stomach, I had a recurring nightmare about a boogeyman who would creep up on me in my bed at night and seize me from behind—and tickle me, which was frightening both because it was so sudden and unexpected and because I sensed his malevolence. I’d started sleeping on my back in an attitude of vigilance—and the nightmares had stopped. But I wasn’t afraid anymore, I told myself, and from then on I slept any which way.

Eventually my parents decided it was time for Doug and me to have our own rooms. He was consigned to the narrow back porch, which had a bank of windows on three sides and no radiator. It was freezing cold in winter—a situation that always troubled me. Then my parents stripped off the old wallpaper in what was to be my room, and Mom set about turning it into the dream bedroom she’d never had as a child. She bought a polished-cotton bedspread with pink and purple pansies and a vanity with a skirt that matched the bedspread—with arms that opened out so you could reach the drawers underneath. It had a mirror top, as well as a triptycal standing mirror that you could adjust to see yourself from various angles. On the one window she hung gauzy pink ruffled curtains, and she bought a light gray rug to go with the newly painted cool gray walls.

I’ve never liked pink and purple together, however, and I’ve always remembered this room as depressingly cold in aspect, now that it was no longer warmed by yellow roses. I was too young to wear make-up, so instead I used the tryptical mirror to draw self-portraits when I was sick. I also recall how cold the mirror top felt when I rested my arms or elbows on it. But maybe some of this sense of chill had to do with being alone in the room now—or even with guilt about my brother’s frigid bedroom.

In any case, this was the beginning of my drawing portraits, first of myself, then of friends and family too. The self-portrait above I sketched when I was ten.