"What should i do with this box of newspaper clippings?" my mother asked.
I knew the box she meant. It was peach, covered with crimson roses, and partially collapsed from years of being kicked under the bed. In it were articles, photographs, bumper stickers, poems. When I was ten, I slid some verses from Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic in there. At 16, I inserted a photo of myself atop the Eiffel Tower.
I told her to put the box back under the bed.
My mother was "cleaning" my old bedroom, phoning me every so often to find out what she should throw out and what she shouldn't.
There was little I could part with. A papier-mâché clown hanging from a parachute with three broken strings? No! The collage inside my closet door of all my heartthrobs from junior high on? At 26, I was embarrassed I even cared.
No, I said.
On my next visit home, i had just put down my luggage when my mother said, "You have to see the guest room."
She led me down the hall as though I hadn't walked the path a million times--in pajamas, prom dress, cap and gown--and stopped in front of my door.
"Doesn't it look wonderful?" she said.
The red carpet that had cushioned my feet on winter mornings was gone, replaced with gleaming wood floors. Blue walls, once plastered with Pearl Jam posters, glowed pale yellow. And forget my old bedroom set. I didn't recognize the blanket or the country-style furniture--straight from Pottery Barn.
I opened the closet door. No collage of heartthrobs. Under the bed, no peach box with crimson roses. Most of my things--knickknacks, stuffed animals, trophies--were now in the loft upstairs.
I said, "It looks great."
not having my bedroom at our family home made me feel immature and old at once.
It was hard to think that the room where I'd fallen in and out of love and endured punishments was gone--along with the sticker-covered desk where I wrote 30 pages of a novel at age 13 and the corner where my flute rested when I quit playing it after two weeks.
I wanted to tell my mother that my bedroom had been a sanctuary where I could push the world out and figure out who I was, that maybe I still needed that every so often.
One year when I came home from college, I tore down a Beverly Hills, 90210 poster, left a PEACE ON EARTH poster up, and hung a painting by Gustav Klimt. Books by Sylvia Plath and Bell Hooks joined Nancy Drew. Over the years, I put myself together like a puzzle, add-ing and subtracting pieces. My room was who I was with hints of who I wouldbecome.
My first night in the "guest room," I realized that my mother knew all these things. She could read my emotions as closely as our back-porch barometer read the weather. She knew I needed a transition--the reason she'd phoned me a few weeks earlier about the box under my bed--but she also knew I no longer needed my bedroom. I had my own apartment, an adult life.
Maybe that's what hurt: The change was proof that I'd truly left my childhood self behind. And that she had noticed.
I was looking up at the ceiling when I realized my mother had forgotten one thing.
Stars. A hundred glowing stars. The kind you buy in a package and stick on your ceiling in patterns of constellations. They were my stars, and they had survived.
Even though I was lying under a strange blanket on a mattress that hadn't yet learned to curve into my back, I knew I was in my bedroom. And I always would be--as long as the lights in the guest room were off. *