One of the sweet spots in my childhood was when I found myself alone in the house. This was a rare and coveted event.
I had to monitor the movements in the house, steps in the hallways, doors opening, closing, cars leaving. I would wait a long time in silence, pretending to do homework in my room. Then I would go through the house, looking for anyone who might still be there, changing lightbulbs, baking bread, ironing sheets.
When the coast was clear, I would put one of two records on the record player: Rachmoninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Philippe Entremont pianist, (with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra) or Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall.
If it was Paganini, I dressed in my tights & leotard, and did a Tinaballet all over the living room. (I was one of the top five ballerinas in the world. They had to book me years in advance.)
I used arm chairs, couches, pirouetting from the living room to the dining room and back. Leaping, parcouring, alive, lost in my vigorous imagination, I loved every section of this piece of music, inventing new things to do with my body, parkouring through the rooms, off the walls, even under the tables when the music warranted. At the end, I made sure I was near the record-player so I could lift the needle off the LP before it started playing the next piece.
Then I took my bows, received my standing ovation, and the fevered torrent of roses thrown from the front rows. I bowed low in several directions, acknowledging those close, (waving to someone I knew personally in the front row), and those faraway in the cheaper seats — vibrating with the exhilaration of this moment. All the old bitterness would seep in later, once everyone had cleared out of my dressing room (the den).
That’s when I sang with Judy Garland about the rainbow. I would falter for balance toward the end of the song, making my voice crack in exactly the same way, in exactly the same places as hers did. In this dressing room, I met my haggard face in the mirror, and cast a baleful eye on my fur coats. I was eight.
When I tired of this one girl soap opera, I went to fix myself a chocolate milk. I would submerge my spoonful of Nestley’s chocolate powder into the milk, slowly. This triggered a strange chemical activity that made the milk “eat away” at the mountain of chocolate powder until it finally disappeared and sank to the bottom of the glass. It always filled me with wonder.
But, like Judy Garland, and like the ballerina before her, I had no one to share it with. And I felt actual loneliness. Actual bitterness.
I was eight.
(Ray Bradbury had an idea for how to get your own education in writing. It’s the 1000-day MFA. I learned about this from Shaunta Grimes. Having launched into this project, the idea is to read a poem, an essay and a short story every night before bed for 1000 days. And during this same period, write a short story every week. This is my Friday story of the week.)