My parents lived in the same modest brick house in Winthrop Massachusetts, just outside Boston, for over fifty years. Now they live in Houston. It’s a new thing, Houston… Texas.
Next weekend, I’m going to lead two writers’ workshops for women around the corner — literally a two-minute walk — from the house where I grew up. The house I could return to, until last year, because it was mine. Ours. Now it belongs to another family. A family just starting out. I’ll be around the corner from my childhood, from the place of all my firsts; from the place I went, seven years ago, to recover from surgery for cancer, the adult child of my parents, recovering in the room of my childhood. The video of Rena, Iva, and our group of Emerson College friends was taken there, in 1981, before we headed into our separate lives, when Rena was still a girl, laughing. It’s a place of magic, of playing in suburban streets until long after dark, back when kids did that sort of thing without parents watching — our gang of scrappy Irish and Italian kids, and me, the token Jew. A place so alive for me I can barely walk down the street without falling into the euphoria of a first kiss; of running home from Lisa’s Brooks’ house, fast, fast, in the dark; of climbing onto the low roof of the red one-car detached garage, my hidden place under a weeping willow, to write in my diary… the one with the tiny gold lock and key, kept in a secret drawer; memories of piano lessons with bald Mr. Greslin, two houses up the hill; and my love affair with the slate gray/blue Atlantic Ocean, my first ocean, across the street and visible from my bedroom window, an object of longing; and my beloved Nana and Papa, both gone now — her four years, him forty-four — and the first day of school all those years, every first day, new clothes spread out on the bed, sometimes bright red clothes, accenting the fact that I was red, and yes the kids would circle around me chanting, “Red is dead, red is dead, we won’t play with you,” so there was also that, but later there was theater and all those musicals and suddenly red hair was a cause for celebration, not shame; and there was Marylou Cronin, the young girl who was murdered by her mother’s boyfriend back then, and when I came home from camp, and Marylou was still missing, Gloria told me she was hiding under my bed… I looked for her for years under that bed, even after they found her body in separate black garbage bags, under his porch… she’s part of that time too, the tragic lost girl from fourth grade, discarded like trash… and years of Hebrew School and a Bat Mitzvah, back when it wasn’t as important for a girl as a boy, and I could only have a dessert party, not the whole dinner thing my brother had later; and Howie Brooks’ wallet-sized school picture tucked under my pillow in sixth grade when he still had braces and wore a red and blue plaid cotton shirt; and the Monkees the Beatles the Partridge Family and Bobby Sherman, all that early music, 1971, ’72, black lights and BBG parties, stolen kisses with boys on Back Beach, and a cement beach wall, down a steep set of rickety wooden steps, where I could sit above the ocean, alone, dreaming of what life would bring, never imagining that I would end up in Hawaii, 5,000 miles away from this place I could always return to, later: this place of joy, of all those firsts, of my young beautiful parents and my little brother, back then… a house filled with love and memory a house that is no longer mine.
I’ll be writing around the corner from my childhood in five days with all of that swirling around me. It just worked out that way, that this is the space I got. It’s a wonderful bright room overlooking the ocean (the weekend after that we’ll be writing in a theater in Boston), and I’ve never written in a place so filled up, so loaded with history… my history. It could be extraordinary. I wonder if I’ll be able to breathe. The thought both thrills and terrifies me. Going home to write.