I just heard that I received an honorable mention in the Women on Writing (WOW) Fall essay contest. The prompt was to write about creating a space you deserve in your home and using that space to exercise your creativity. I went to my memoir for inspiration, and I adapted my piece for the contest from there.
Since WOW will not be publishing my essay on its website, I'll publish it on mine. Here it is:
Making Room for Me
It took me almost six years after my son Paul died to redo his room. Once in a while we used it as a guest room, but the closet still had the dust accumulated since he last played his keyboards in there and his books and records – first in his meticulous alphabetical filing system on the shelves and later in neatly packed and labeled boxes stacked against the wall. We finally gave away his furniture and instruments and stacked those boxes of books and records out in our garage, leaving the dusty closet empty and ready to be transformed with file drawers and book shelves and a place to store my evening clothes.
I recreated his room, with a new hardwood floor, a bay picture window, walls painted deep taupe, a white ceiling and crown molding, and furnishings in vivid oranges and black, into my writing room and office. But, putting my style and tastes into it didn’t mean I was erasing him. Paul had been my muse for so many years; he would continue to be my muse in my new room. I recreated his room into a place where I could finish telling his story and mine – about his bipolar illness and how the medicines didn’t work for him, about how hard he fought against taking his meds because he realized he couldn’t live a creative life with them and how ultimately he couldn’t live without them either, about his suicide and its devastating aftermath, and how I managed to survive through it all.
Because I don’t want him to be forgotten, because I want the world to know there was a beautiful person named Paul Sharples who once lived and created his beautiful music in this room, it is fitting to write this story there.
I write sitting at a big draftsman table opposite the bay window. I sometimes like to gaze out to the garden, at the three palm trees, the small cement pond, and the ginger plants and my smiling Buddha behind it. I can hear the gurgle of the fountain. Once in a while a pretty colored bird comes by to take a seed from the birdfeeder or a dip in the pond.
It took me a long time to get to this place, but it is worth the wait. The orange sofa is like a futon – he once slept on a futon in this room – only richer and more elegant. A lava lamp in shades of orange like the one Paul wanted me to buy him the day we spent walking on Melrose right before his birthday, December 1995 stands on my desk. I had just bought him a pair of black wing tip shoes, and he saw a lava lamp in a shop window and immediately asked for it. But, I wasn’t feeling generous enough to buy it that day. Now, I know a lava lamp gyrates in time to music. Then, I didn’t realize that Paul didn’t just want a lava lamp. He needed one. He needed the lamp to calm him down and help him deal with the pain of his illness. And he needed it to keep time with his music whether it was the music he played on his keyboard or in his head. So, I needed one, too.
At first I worried that taking over his space and making it mine would be hard on me. But, I needn’t have. When I’m in there I feel cleansed and healed. It is a safe and comforting space. I feel calm in there, and that calm helps my writing. Maybe the little reminders of Paul in there help too. His candlesticks are on the top shelf of the bookcase, his photo is on the next shelf, and a charcoal and white chalk drawing of me when I was pregnant with him hangs on the wall. I also have a photo of a sunset taken on September 22, 1999 – his last night alive. It shows a beautiful reflection of an orange sun in a deep blue ocean. It is so peaceful. I also have an assemblage, another a reminder of Paul, called “Backbone” made by my good friend out of felt-covered wooden mallets originally used to strike the strings of a piano – the instrument that kicked off his music career when he was 10 years old. No, I haven’t erased him. He is in there with me. He is inside me. Always. No, I’ll never be able to erase him.