The room was small, even for my seven year-old self. I had to duck to go through the door because it was underneath the seventh, eighth, and ninth stairs that led to the second floor of my grandmother’s house. The second floor was where my room was, but my room wasn’t a private place. The only private place was the room under the stairs.
I went there when the yelling was more than I could listen to anymore, or worse, when the quiet happened, when nothing was even worth yelling about anymore. The silence sucked everyone’s heart out, like when you get the wind knocked out of you and your body hasn’t figured out yet how to breathe again.
I could always breathe in the room under the stairs. That little door gave me power. If there was yelling outside, I closed the door on it and banished it. If it was The Silence, then closing the door made silence my choice, not the mandate of apathy.
My grandmother had given me that room. She put an old pillow and a blue blanket in there. One of the family dogs, at some point in time, had chewed the corner off the blanket, and it was ragged, so I always tucked that side away to where I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t a comfortable blanket, or one that represented a hug like blankets can do sometimes. We didn’t have that kind of family. It was a useful blanket, a blanket whose job it was to provide a barrier between me and the chill, because it was always cold.
There was a small black lamp with no shade, just a naked bulb that cast both light and shadow with thoughtless efficiency. The light couldn’t reach the small corner of the little room, under steps one and two, because the cord was short and the light couldn’t shine around the little bookcase that my grandmother had put there.
The bookcase was my escape hatch. There were biographies of famous people there, and stories that happened in places I would probably never visit. The books had even more power than the door. When I opened one of them, I was no longer seven, or small, or cold. I was beautiful Becky Thatcher, and Tom Sawyer loved me so much he’d take a whipping for me. I had pretty clothes, and my parents cared enough to organize a search party when they couldn’t find me. I was not just a little girl in a small room under the stairs of her grandmother’s house.