When I was eight and my parents divorced, both my mother and I saw a woman named Camilla, whose occupation, as a therapist, was something it’d take me years to realize. I simply saw her, weekly, as Camilla.
She was beautiful, always in flowy dresses or skirts, with dangly jewelry – but not jangly, never jangly – all soft edges and sweet smiles in my memory.
Camilla’s office was in a home with great windows throughout and a claw-foot tub in the bathroom. Everything had a pattern or some sort of decorative touch, from beads to feathers to flowers. Everything had a texture, a feel, and I was forever fascinated.
Despite my shoddy memory and the haze I see over most of my childhood, I have a few distinct memories of Camilla that are as clear to me as the paint on my nails. One such memory, in fact, speaks, I think, to my deepest, strongest desire: to build and create my home.
I’ve had a love affair with Crayola my entire life. From my first pack of 16 to the 64 pack with built-in sharpener, I have swooned with waxy love. The day they retired Raw Umber, I bowed my head in grief.
In this memory, Camilla brought out a healthy stack of bright white paper and a full 120-count set of crayons, complete with the Multicultural and Color Wonder sets.
(Of course I fucking know the names of the crayon debuts. ‘Love affair,’ remember?)
My home had recently been ripped asunder, with an angry, almost-teenager sister and a crying little brother. With Daddy in a little apartment with a neighbor named Pebbles. With Mama sad, but head held forcefully high.
Camilla handed me those treasured jewels at the same time she asked how my Barbie Dream House was faring in these troubled times.
A slightly shocking dichotomy – after all, Ken didn’t leave the Dream House, and Barbie wasn’t sad.
But she certainly caught my attention, shared though it was with those shiny, waxy riches.
And so picture it I did, with its many floors, rooms, backdrops, furniture and elevator – which was obviously the height of luxury.
She asked me to imagine – one of my favorite eight-year-old activities – if I could build my own dream house, to fit me, what it look like? What would those details be? How would I feel in this room or that?
My first question, of course, was whether or not I could have a Barbie Dream House in the Meredith Dream House. I’ve always been concerned with practicalities.
My young mind was opened in a new way when she said I could have – and feel – anything I wanted.
I’m sure I had some wonderfully complex little-girly desires, from princess beds for the dogs to a dungeon in which I might punish my torturous sister. No doubt everything sparkled, glowed or tinkled a pretty tune.
But what I remember from this exercise is, I hope, exactly what Camilla intended for me to hold – in every room, I was happy.
We drew pages upon pages of rooms, taping the sheets together, adding haphazard staircases and ladders, even a fireman’s pole, though I was far too terrified to try one.
There was a freedom in that day, that exercise, that I’m not sure I’ve felt since.
I know I’m not alone in the uncertainty I’ve felt thus far into my adult life, and I know it isn’t leaving any time soon.
I know, too, I have an opportunity, an outlet, in which to build that home again.
Granted, without drywall or rebar, windows or joists, but no less real than those drawings were, 20 years ago.
And oh so real they were – indeed, I think I’ve decorated as I drew those rooms in each place I’ve lived – from the yellow sheets in my dorm room to the red cabinets in my old kitchen, from the pink, gold and maroon curtains in that living room to the green and pewter great room I want now.
But now I have this chance – one of many, no doubt – to write my home. To build with words this place in which I am happy, safe and, frankly, in control.
Adjectives are my building blocks, verbs my mortar.
And you, filling the hearth with fire, the frames with pictures, the table with laughter.
Welcome, you, to this dream house. I’m so very glad you’re here.