introduction—the hiding room
A picture of a room:
There is a room in the back of my mind. I keep it very carefully hidden away, and the key underneath my tongue—but I know how to get to it, the path and the climb. It’s safe there. And I suppose, I am safe inside it. Nothing can get in, to find me. But nothing can get out, either.
The door is blue, and I’m not entirely sure why. But it always has been. Blue like the ocean, but deeper. Like the sky, but thicker. Like my mother’s eyes. Blue like velvet.
There’s a chandelier in the middle of the room behind it that I light with a flick of my hand. And there’s a bed underneath that, surrounded by these odd little bookshelves, full of memories and shaped like beehives. I’m not really sure why they’re shaped like that. (When I was a kid I saw a documentary about the architecture of the insect world—my awe must have bled through, into another level.)
I loved that room. And then, one day, I lost it. I gave it away my key—and I never looked for it again.
I liked to hide things there. The good things went onto the shelves, sometimes. They closed me in, my hexagonal little trophies. The bad things sometimes went under the bed. I hid all sorts of things there. But mostly I hid myself.
When I found the room, it was by accident. And at first, it wasn’t obvious that I’d found anything. I didn’t know that there was a bed I’d crawl into, or that there were those huge blue doors that I shut, to keep everything out. I didn’t know until I looked around, and saw that my hiding place looked like something.
It used to seem easier, boarding up the windows and sitting on the gigantic bed. It used to be easy, to box myself up in silence. I could live like a turtle, only sticking my head out now and again.
I played games there; a sort of solitaire, with all the pieces of the world stacked up in new ways. It was there that I learned to snatch words, and realized how much I loved to hold onto them, to let them slide through my hands or drip off my tongue. Some were like honey—some like raw lightning.
I learned that I could stitch them together, into something different. That some were like stains, on clothes, and some smelled like dry-rot—and some had wings. Sometimes I lit them on fire, to see what color they’d take. I beat them into shapes and I tied them into quilts, and wore them around like clothes-pinned capes.
I learned that I am not quite parallel. My lives and the lives around me, they weren’t all going the same way. They seemed to all go straight. And me—I couldn’t go any way but slantways. I cross other lines, a dozen roads, in which direction I couldn’t tell, sloping into something beyond that electrifying horizon I was afraid to touch my tongue to.
For a while, I thought that I was the only one. That I was just going to drift across the other lines until there were no more. Then they’d reach their destination, and I’d reach mine. And I’d reach it alone.
But eventually, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon a little-known secret. I nearly tripped over it—the shape of a boy. His backpack looked too big—or his shoulders looked too small. We were in middle school, after all. Our bones had to grow into our souls.
He was like a train going sideways across the tracks, and I thought for a moment that he was going to be run down, plowed through. And then—I joined him.
He had the secret in his backpack and under his hat, and in his shoes—he smelled like it. But it wasn’t until I saw that mark on his chest that I knew it for sure: We didn’t know where we were going.
Even if we knew the end, we didn’t know the middle; and that should have terrified us. Maybe it did, once. But not now.
It took time, and it took words. I found those in many places, and I stuffed them in my pockets, and wore them around my neck. I inked them into my skin in hopes that they’d become part of me. I found a lot of them in a booth, beside a window. Some I found on gravestones, or on the roof of a hospital overlooking a stained-glass sky, and a sun made of dying embers. But I found something real at the end.
There was a girl, who showed it to me. It was written on her legs. And there was that boy and his backpack, who could never keep up with his ears—they had ambition. They were going places. (The rest of us weren’t so sure.)
We three—we weren’t quite parallel. We had our rooms with our blue doors and we had hidden away the keys. But that’s when I realized that people aren’t meant to be picket fences; we’re spiderwebs. And we touch one another, in a thousand ways, in a thousand places. It’s a mess, and I can’t pretend it isn’t.
But there is a woman, who once told me what it means to be fearless—what it means to live. And I believe her. (She was a queen, after all.) She taught me how to step outside of my little room—which is funny, considering how often I went there just to see her. She taught me that there’s a good deal of life to be found, when you step outside—and in things like waffles and things like dirt and things like paper.
A picture of a runner:
There is no faster way to be destroyed, I’ve found, than to tear down the wall and be exposed. To have nothing but chicken wire between heart and mind and stand there like a nerve, waiting to be prodded. I used to fear it; but that was before I understood the glory of being ruined.
So (you may) kneel with me, and let’s tie up our shoes a little tighter. Point your eyes up—or point them at the dirt—until you find what you’re looking for. I will strap on my tether and run like mad, the wind passing through my lungs like tattered sails, and my heart in my mouth, all dirty and red and broken as a scab—but beating, and waiting to breathe for itself.
I speak, for I am spoken. I stand so that I cannot be forgotten—and I live intentionally—for I am no accident.
My hands are empty—if a little dirty. Fill them if you like. That’s what they’re for.
We run, and we crash into things. We’re human—it’s what we do. And it’s in the crashing that we find the things we didn’t expect. We break out of deeper shells, and the pain refills our legs. It’s the standing back up that refills our souls.
This is the story of a crash. It’s the story of how I lost the Hiding Room. And why I never looked for it again.
A picture of a café:
A bench, beside a window. Vinyl and ketchup and ceiling fans bordering on lethargy. The dull glow of neon and forgetfulness, and more coffee-stains than coffee. Home. I loved it and it loved me back—almost as alive as I was.
There is no small part of me that thanks that place for keeping my alive. But more of me thanks those two creatures who sat across the table the day that it all began, with a notebook and half a smile and the smell of rain, on the asphalt.