or why i’m afraid of wallpaper
I got the part. Starting August 1st I will be rehearsing for Polaroid Stories at Hyde Park Theatre, playing one Skinhead Girl.
We are going to have a “dialogue” about what my hair will look like. So, for now, I’ll just keep wearing it long, hoping that I’ll get sick of its length in this heat by summer’s end.
The biggest change for me from growing from a child to an adult was the loss of an overpowering guardian figure. When I was a kid, I was always trying to please my parents or my teacher, and make sure that I was always doing the right thing. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that I had to make my own decisions, and that there weren’t always necessarily “right” or “wrong” choices to choose from.
Sometimes I miss that. I miss just knowing when I was doing the right thing and when I was doing the wrong thing. I liked knowing either I was “going to get in trouble” or “being a good girl.”
My sister and I were very good at blackmailing each other. Where we picked up this skill I don’t know, but we were excellent at it… okay, she was much better than I was, but still– we knew how to make each other afraid of getting in trouble. No one does that anymore. Can you imagine going to your pantry and saying, “I think I’m going to drink the last Diet Coke,” and one of your friends goes, “Isn’t that Eric’s?” and you say, “Yeah. So?” And they start rocking back and forth, “Ooooh! I’m gonna telllll!”
We don’t have people to remind us of when we’re going to get in trouble anymore.
What my sister did, though, was very crafty. She’d know she was going to do something bad, and then the second I’d start with my “Oooh,” she’d interrupt to say:
“If you tell on me for this, I’ll tell Mom and Dad about The Wall.”
My sister got away with three years of Very Bad Things because of The Wall.
For a couple of years in my youth, my family lived in a connecting two-room suite of the hotel my father was the manager of. We didn’t own the place, we were merely living there rent free until we got transferred to another city. Consequently, nothing in the hotel was ours (plates, glasses, furniture, towels). Somewhere along the way I had picked up a nasty habit of playing with the wallpaper on the walls while I talked. My mother would constantly tell me to stop picking at the wall. “You’re going to rip a hole one of these days.”
What I would do was play with the little bubbles under the wallpaper, and sort of smooth out the wall. I didn’t see how I could possibly ever make a hole in the wall.
So, one day I was sitting on this big chair we had in the living room and my sister and I were watching Family Ties, and I was absently playing with the wallpaper right above my head. I wasn’t even looking at it. I had a bit of the wallpaper in my hand, and I thought I had burst a bubble, so I gave it a little tug.
Just a little tug.
It wouldn’t even pull a hair out of your head.
But this huge strip of wallpaper started pulling away from the wall, and before I could turn around and feel my stomach in my throat, I had pulled a two-foot strip of wallpaper away from the wall. Now, it was only about a half-inch thick, and it looked like gift wrapping ribbon.
My sister was on her feet in two seconds.
“Oh my God! You are in so much trouble!”
“Shutup, no I’m not.” I didn’t know what to do. I just kept holding this strip of wallpaper, and imagining us getting kicked out of the hotel for vandalism. I knew that my dad had to throw out celebrities and people who had parties in their rooms for breaking lamps and throwing chairs in the pool– what would they do to kids who ripped up their walls?
WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO MY MOTHER?
I tried to fit the wallpaper back into the ripped section of wall. It was too long– it was starting to curl. I ran to my bedroom and grabbed my pencil box of supplies. I gingerly dipped Elmer’s Glue along the strip, and tried to push it back into place.
The glue wouldn’t hold. I couldn’t see the wall through my tears. My parents were due home any minute.
In a flash of brilliance I grabbed my Crayola set and started holding up crayons to the wall to compare colors.
My savior in a paper wrapper: Goldenrod.
I tenderly ripped the section of the wallpaper away at the top of the rip. I stood on a chair and started coloring in the wall underneath, trying to keep the texture of the wallpaper.
My sister sat there openmouthed. “That’s never gonna work.”
I filled in the hole and took a few steps back. Was it noticeable? Could you tell? Well, if you were really looking you could notice that one strip of the wallpaper was a bit darker than the rest, but it sort of looked like it was on purpose, since the wallpaper was kind of stripey in general.
“It’s too bad that’s right over Mom’s chair.”
My stomach dropped again. I hadn’t thought of that. My father sits across from my mother every evening. For six hours every night, my father will be facing my Goldenrod Project. There’s no way he wouldn’t eventually notice. He’s the one that ordered that wallpaper in every room in the hotel in the first place. I knew I was screwed.
But I continued with my plan.
I carefully hid the wallpaper underneath my Cabbage Patch Kid clothes, and put away all of my art supplies. I went back into the living room to watch television. I made my sister swear that she wouldn’t tell on me.
But I saw the spark of happiness in her eyes. Of course she wouldn’t tell. Now she was one-up on me.
My one-up on her for the past year had been the word “Bastard.” She had just learned it (I guess from the television, as my family doesn’t walk around calling each other ‘Bastard’) and didn’t really know what the word meant, nor did she know it was a cuss word. She just knew that you said it when you were pissed at someone.
Cut to a year before, when my five-year old sister was playing Battleship with my dad. As she put her last peg in he said, “Well it looks like I won.”
“Oooh!” She said, shaking her little five-year old fists. “You…. bastard!”
I think I heard my mother giggle.
My father explained to my sister that that wasn’t a nice word, and made her feel really bad about saying it. The next day we were in the basement playing spies, and when I was attacked by a bad guy, my sister kicked the air and shouted, “Let go of her, you bastards!”
I’m not really sure what her fascination was with the word, but she instantly covered her mouth. “Don’t tell on me,” she pleaded. And I didn’t. But whenever she said she was going to tell on me I would retort, “If you tell on me about climbing on the counters, I’ll tell mom and dad you said ‘The Word.’”
And it worked fine for a year. She never told on me, and I never told on her.
But now I had torn a huge section of the wallpaper in our rented hotel room of a hotel that was managed by my dad and I covered it up with crayons. I had gone past saying, “Bastard.” And she knew it.
My parents did come home. It was the longest night of my life. I couldn’t eat. I just kept sweating.
They never saw.
And I had to be on my best behavior around my sister for the next three years. Three years! We had moved twice since the place with the wallpaper. It got the the point where The Word and The Wall didn’t even represent the actions that we did, but now they were about tattling about something we never got properly punished for.
I was torturing myself about the wall, and one day we just decided to come clean about both things, and then we could start all over. We wouldn’t have anything to hold over each other’s heads. We told my mother about The Wall and The Word. She couldn’t believe she never noticed the wallpaper missing. She sort of giggled again about my sister being tormented about saying “Bastard” four years before.
And after that night, I could finally let The Wall go. I didn’t have to worry about getting in trouble.
I started with a brand new slate.
And promptly played a game of Truth or Dare that had my sister holding me in blackmail for another three years.
Without someone watching my back and saying, “Oooh,” anymore, I’m never sure when I’m stepping over the line. I don’t know when I’m making the wrong decisions. I never know when to shut my stupid mouth.
At least we kept each other in line.