A Room for Two

The room first held only two small boys
when those curtains were first hung.
It was the late forties and the pattern
reflected a somewhat modern take
of the times. They were still
there when as a tiny girl I
lost myself in daydreams
by the shapes and colors.

Oh the stories they could tell as
the room became crowded with
four more children–we sisters.
And before we got too big,
we were doubled up in beds,
sharing our too-tight space with
a sibling literally in our face.

As we grew older and had
more need for space, privacy
and autonomy, our dissatisfaction
grew also.

Summer nights brought
sweat and heightened emotions
as one small fan tried
valiantly to disperse the
anguish pent up in that room.

Bickering would escalate into
shouts and attacks. We were
cramped and forced into
togetherness that added its toll
to our lack of comfort.
We lashed out with fierceness.
We didn’t have the words to
express our grief and distress
but we did have our anger.

No one was exempt from
being pounded. Well,
except for maybe the baby.
Her quiet demeanor and
sweet innocence somehow
protected her from a lot
of the verbal and physical
abuse that we liberally
heaped upon each other.

The six of us “shared” that
one tiny room until we grew,
literally, too big to fit in it.
We overflowed out to the
couch which had a trundle
beneath so two of us could
sleep with a semblance of
having at least our own bed.
And out to the raggedy rattan
sofa on the enclosed porch with
the lumpy cushions that
gave me backaches as a teen.
I wanted no part of it.
I railed against the
injustice of my circumstances.

Living in those close quarters
was an agony that whittled
at my self-worth.
I knew my friends didn’t
live like I did.
They had rooms to themselves
or maybe shared with just
one other.
Their homes were quiet,
orderly places without
the noise…and drunk
parent laying passed out
on the living room floor.
I retreated until depression
and anxiety rendered
me mute and unable to
see a place where I belonged.

I remain a hyper-sensitive
person. Perhaps I’m better
able to sense when someone
else is hurting and can offer
some solace. And though I’ve
come a long way in my
understanding, even for those
who brought me suffering,
that small child can still emerge
and fall silent, not knowing
where her place is in the world.

Mary Kling hosts us at dVerse for Poetics where our topic is “Rooms.”  Please join us.  http://dversepoets.com/2016/02/16/poetics-room-with-or-without-a-view/

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21 Comments

  1. I know this story very well. Too well. You have written it so well!

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  2. Gayle, this is a crowded, painful memory well spilled.

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  3. I had 3 cousins who shared a room and a queen size bed. When my sister and I spent the night it was 5 of us in that bed. I remember the quarrels as we tried to sleep in that overcrowded bed. You created a good visual.

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  4. Such an emotional write. I could picture as I read through the lines.

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  5. Gayle, you wrote this with such emotion that it seems that this poem was meant to be written; and I am glad this prompt gave you the opportunity. Didn’t many of us as children wish that our family was like everyone else’s, our house was like everyone else’s? Sleeping so many in one room must have been hard……but I am glad you eventually found your place in the world, undoubtedly a less crowded place!

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  6. A poignant reminder of a difficult situation, for sure. A few years ago I took my mom to visit the homes of her memories. When we stopped outside that of her childhood, the elderly man who lived there invited us in and she shared with me a similar situation in which she grew up with 5 other siblings in a small space. I am also overly sensitive to space issue as, in my “other life” in the early years, we lived in huge dorms…but at least we had curtains around us. I relish my space.

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  7. I admire the personal share Gayle ~ I shared my room with my two younger sisters, but at least we had our own beds and cabinets for our stuff ~ I can relate with the bickering and arguments but thankfully it wasn’t so bad ~ I only moved out when I got married, smiles ~

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  8. Gayle, I so know the feeling of not knowing one’s place in the world because of exactly the same beginnings. Only instead of anger, I numbed out, which was hard to break free of. I also remember keeping my home life a secret, seeing other kids had very different lives than I did. I felt shame for my poverty, for the violent drunkenness of my home life…..at that time, four unheated tiny rooms. Wow. Your poem took me back there. I cant imagine so many kids in one room AND the parental situation as well. It was just my small sister and me, nine years older. Thanks for sharing……….I so know the territory you write about.

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  9. We never outgrow those hurts. I hope writing about it helps somewhat in coming to terms. It an awful feeling to not fit anywhere.

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  10. This is a very poignant poem, Gayle. I am sure you know the value and importance of privacy.

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  11. this is such an emotionally raw and heart-wrenching memory

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  12. I was lucky enough to have my own room… and when I shared it was only with my sister (at weekends and vacations)… it feels like an awful situation… sharing everything is something that might through suffering end up to a real asset… to really understand what it mean… but all those fights… (yes I fought with my sister too)…

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  13. this is so full of emotion and deeply touching…

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  14. You’ve written a lot here — shared or imagined, I know not. I do know, it is true for far too many. The alcoholic parent affects everyone within the home.
    I was lucky to have my own room. I knew growing families who felt like snails, forever curling tighter within their home. And sadly, they did not have the wherewithall to seek a larger “shell.”
    Very well penned with details that make it all real.

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  15. Man, this one is AWESOME. Seriously, so very good. Especially that ending.

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  16. Oh, I just feel like giving you a big hug. xx

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  17. I am so moved by this. It really expresses the pent up emotions of childhood and such difficult circumstances. Thank you for being so honest and about how it can still affect you.

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  18. A constricted childhood, incredibly well painted for the reader. Oh how I loathed having to sleep with my older sister, and when there were visiting families, sleeping head to toe like sardines in a can. To move at all in sleep was to disturb the whole lot, and rest was rarely obtainable.

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  19. A powerful piece. Love the bit about the one small fan…also, how you took this room from a place of daydreams to…almost nightmares… A deeply personal story that you’ve shared here!

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  20. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade)

     /  February 18, 2016

    Wow! A piece of social as well as personal history, powerfully told.

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  21. SMiLes yoUr story
    of six children to a room..
    and all the challenges of
    tight walls iN sibling
    rivalry matches
    my wife’s
    childhood
    down to
    the
    family
    demographics..
    but she had an
    addition to the
    bedroom then..
    a crazy mama’s
    boyfriend with
    knife pointed
    down
    to
    the bed..
    my wife
    is kinda
    hypersensitive
    too.. for good reason..
    as history like that
    doesn’t
    die
    an easy life..:)

    Like

    Reply

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