I locked the door. Not because I was up to anything untoward, because I genuinely wasn’t, but because I wanted privacy. I wanted it to be my own space, my trifling room with he red carpet older than I was, the guest room until I turned 12 and started spending time in it – and then my mother got the clever idea to swap around the furniture “so I would have more space.” If there had been more space every time she rearranged, I could have hosted NFL football in that room. That was probably part of my motivation, the endless furniture rearranging. So was the fact that every now and then she would “clean” and then, say, a whole binder of Dungeons & Dragons campaign notes and characters would go missing for good. As long as I was in the room and awake, it was mine, and that meant that I could lock anybody out I wanted to. And so I did.
There were bunk beds, pointlessly, the top one mostly used to hold dirty clothes or things I’d pulled off the floor. There was a stolen highway barrel in the corner, devoid of purpose, and a speed limit sign that had come out of my grandfather’s barn. Speed Limit 35, it said, my self-chosen number and also my ACT goal. I usually had it propped over the air conditioning vent, to keep the cold air blowing out to the sides instead of straight onto me, and it made a space where I could put an unopened can of Dr Pepper and be assured of keeping it mostly cold. There was a desk and chair that were part of the bookcase set, but they weren’t any good to sit at, and I had a card table on which I would do most of my actual work.
And the walls, pinned with all manner of stuff. Newspaper clippings of particularly pointed letters to the editor, of incisive cartoons, of random magazine quotes. The letters 7 C 6 off one of those changeable signs out front of a fast food place, which happened to be hex for 1990. Stuff from school, entire campaign signs from particularly amusing student government efforts. One person running for President based on the slogan “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Arguable, but it made me laugh, and up it went.
And there was the chair. A light-colored-wood directors chair with teal-ish fabric, from Pier 1, which to my primitive brain registered as the height of cool. Something in which I could sit with my feet up, on the phone with one of my tiny handful of friends or playing CDs on the boom box at a time when those – or cassette singles – had completely replaced the archaic practice of taping off the radio, in a market that had one classic rock station and no outlet for alternative music aside from a Sunday night show on Z102.
I didn’t have a computer – wouldn’t have, until I got that first PowerMac 6100 in the summer of 1994, by which point half the stuff was missing from the room as carpet and curtains got replaced. I didn’t have a television either, until the summer after high school and before college, although I would occasionally grab the tiny 5” black and white TV that was meant for travel and use it to watch…what? Moonlighting? Max Headroom? It’s not like there was ever much on TV that I wanted to watch in those days. And staggering to think that I’ve spent the last two and a half years walking around with a bigger screen in my hip pocket. No computer meant no BBS dialup, no participation in the antediluvian “online” like my friend Scott. Which meant that for the most part, my world was bounded by four walls, a phone, and imagination.
I never snuck out. Not once. The nearest frenemy was a good two or three miles walk under the best of conditions, the nearest friend almost a ten minute drive at best, and my actual gang reposed mostly on the other side of Birmingham from me. You don’t have to worry about your kids sneaking out if there’s nothing for them to sneak to, and by never having school closer than ten miles away, I was free of the temptation of local friends. And most of my friends were far enough away that the phone was the only way I saw them after hours or on weekends…at times when all of them were closer to each other and could more easily do stuff. It would be well into 11th grade before I was routinely able to head their direction.
And then, senior year, when all my friends had graduated already, and the only people I wanted on the phone were all long-distance calls, and I could drive across town but those folks weren’t there any more, and the realization that I needed to get away to college and stop marking time anymore. That this wasn’t my room anymore, this was the place I slept when I was here and not there…wherever there was.
The problem, of course, was that I made the wrong call, and there turned out to be nowhere for a long, long time.