Please Step Away from the Wallpaper…

I had just re-entered my house after being away half the summer at camp. Coming home from camp felt a little like that scene with Tom Hanks after he gets rescued off that island while he waits in some sort of a conference room for his wife; he can’t eat the food because it is so foreign and offensive and as he contemplates the roast beef he stares wildly at the television as if that is also a foreign object never seen before. The only differences between this scene and my homecoming is that he is clean both in body and dress and picky in his culinary choices – I would eat an entire pantry of food in one gulp and I would wear the same jeans and t-shirt as long as I could to preserve the scent of the North Woods.  I do understand, however, Tom’s (we’re on a first name basis) shock and awe and feeling of misplacement. 

That is what I could have said – but I didn’t.

You may be reading this and think, ‘Wait, Tom Hanks was close to death, lost his wife and suffering from PTSD’ – that is true. Instead of losing my whole life and having to start over I was returning from the happiest place on Earth; this only enhances the next segment of this story – drama, drama, drama! My dad gave me three days to cry and slobber all over myself when I got home and then after 72 hours I either had to scrape myself out of gloom and doom or I was grounded. Such drama.

After this particular summer before my freshman year of high school, I came back to my house to find my room had been completely redone. My carpet was some kind of salmon hue, there were two white wicker chairs (as if I was going to be drinking mint juleps while doing my homework), my bedspread had flowers on it and my oak desk was now cream with a touch of  marblesque. Though the most monumental change, the change that cracked my brain in half, the change that caused me to lose my utter adolescent mind was the wallpaper. My rainbow wallpaper was gone and in its place was just a wall repainted in some sort of grey, blue.

I remember screaming and crying and shouting and throwing myself on my bed while bubbling, scorching tears ran out of my eyes onto my stupid bedspread. My dad walked into the doorway of my room, “What the hell is going on Jessie?!” I gathered up the strength I had left to raise my head and look at him – standing behind him was my step mother, crying as well.

I knew why she was crying – I understood right away that I hurt her feelings. She was the only human being who would ever think that I would have liked white wicker furniture and I knew she was the one who changed everything. The thing is –  that wallpaper was one of the last memories I had of my mother. I have so few – they come and they go, but this one sticks.

Come with me for a moment – it is a beautiful one. 

It was the weekend before I was going to start Kindergarten. My mom said I could pick out my own outfits and that I was a big girl and that it was time for a big girl room. She asked me if I trusted her (I remember her asking me this, I really do!) and of course I said yes. From downstairs I could hear her singing with the soundtrack of The Fantasticks. I could hear her belt out her favorite song Try To Remember  (which she knew by heart because at one time she played the lead, Luisa) so I went upstairs to listen and see what she was up to. One never knew what my mom was up to – it could have been just about anything, honestly. 

I saw her standing on a small ladder and stretching her long thin body up to the ceiling with a wallpaper roller. Her strawberry blonde, wavy hair was tied back with a red durag and I could still smell her White Shoulders perfume through the tarnish and glue. Walking into my bedroom was like walking into the inside of a rainbow. Stripes and colors swallowed and surrounded me and I remember thinking my heart might explode and make a mess of the paper – I was so happy! I loved that paper, I loved her wavy hair in a durag and I loved the sound of her voice – smokey and sweet. 

Back to the drama.

I lived and floated in between guilt and anger for a long time after that. Did I need to carry on as if I was a cast member of My So Called Life?  I never knew how to explain what I really felt and my step mom just didn’t talk to me for a while. We finally trudged our way past wallpaper gate and moved on to high school gate, into college gate and eventually divorce gate. 

Now that I am a mother, take care of mothers and teach mothers I think about The Stepparent and his or her role a lot. If we think being a biological parent is difficult,  imagine what it would be like to parent a child who thinks their step parent had something to do with global warming or algebra or even the reason why her father is wearing weird sweaters all of a sudden – all of it is complicated.

My mother asked me if I trusted her. She needed to know that first before she changed what I already knew to be normal and comforting. No matter who we are, birth mom, the “Cool Stepmom,” Cruella De Vil, etc. children need to trust you before you change their wallpaper; they just do,  so ask them first!!

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