I arrived for my first riding lesson wearing brand new beige jodhpurs, just like the ones Caro, the slender, older blond with the popular boyfriend and the prize-winning palomino Arabian, wore in Horse Crazy: Horseback Summer. Emily was the heroine of the book, the freckled redhead whose recent ascension into puberty and, by extension, womanly hips, left her with only ratty jeans to ride in but whose wisdom enabled her to see through Caro’s phony attempts at friendship meant only indebt Emily to her in a big way. But I wasn’t going to be Emily. In an effort to leave the young girls of 1980s America with a moral lesson worthy of the Girl Scout and the 4H clubs I had dropped out of after just one meeting each, Virginia Vail, I was certain, had painted a very slanted picture of Caro. I knew that being Caro was better than being Emily. There were no Arabians at the barn I went to and I was a brunette, but at eight years old, I had read between the lines of enough books written by Vail and her peers to understand the rules for getting to the top of the tween pecking order. Those jodhpurs, ordered from a real tack catalog, were a good start.
They couldn’t, however, compensate for the ridiculous vision of my 50 pound, four foot self atop a thoroughbred that stood over 16 hands tall. My legs, splayed into full cowboy posture by the horse’s girth, didn’t even extend halfway down his belly and my fingers could barely wrap around the reins. I was an ant atop an elephant. Wearing an emerald green hockey helmet. My parents had been willing to pay for the jodhpurs, but they were not going to pay for a proper riding helmet until they were certain I was going to stick with horseback riding for the long term. I had a habit of quitting. Quitting art contests, quitting the flute, quitting my interest in having a little sister. If my imitation of Caro had been unrealistic before, it was downright farcical with the green hockey helmet. Caro, of course, had a velvety black show helmet with a red satin interior and a leather chin strap that smelled every bit as delicious as her Arabian’s saddle. Continue reading →
I used to be afraid of my parents’ bedroom because it lay at the end of the upstairs hallway, far away from the brightly lit staircase and the liveliness of my family of seven, sometimes eight, down below and even though that fear had always been just because of the location and the darkness, my fear grew noticeably worse after I watched an episode of the Twilight Zone in which a little boy had been left alone in the house with his ailing grandmother and when she called to him and he went to check on her, her scrawny arm reached out from under the covers and grabbed him and he discovered that she was a horrible looking monster who I was sure slept in my parents bed (or maybe under it or maybe in the closet) whenever they weren’t there and no one had thought to turn on the upstairs hall light yet so I had to creep through the total darkness to get to the room and grab whatever little woobie toy I was in need of and then go fleeing down the carpeted stairs as fast as my sock feet could take me without slipping out from beneath me, sending me bumping on my fanny eleven steps down to the landing where I could stand up and compose myself and then walk calmly into the kitchen where everyone else was still eating dinner and I could pretend that I hadn’t just escaped the very Devil herself once again. Continue reading →
It’s the Fourth of July in rural Western New York. The family is gathered at the grandparents’ house, the house the mother grew up in, only a mile down the road from their own. Both grandparents are still alive, although the grandfather won’t be much longer. The family doesn’t know this yet, but they are preparing for it. The homestead that had sheltered three bookish children in America’s golden age of microwave ovens and color television and the lingering threat of nuclear war now boasts an upstairs rental unit that bolsters the income the pensioners receive from the tenant-occupied cottage out back and the Social Security checks promised to all Americans of a certain age since 1935. The tenants are transient but the property division is not. It will only increase with time as the front of the large house is sectioned off into an efficiency and more of the expansive yard is bulldozed for parking. The grandparents’ belongings, when he has passed on and she is passed off to the care of a nursing home, will be consolidated into basement and garage, and later just the garage, and then they will be nowhere. But tonight, the children are free to roam around and the garage is still a garage in function, not just name. Continue reading →
The condo was in the heart of the city, in a historical neighborhood that would never be blighted by 30-story buildings or new construction homes that looked like Cubist paintings rendered in 3D. But the preserved brick exterior belied the interior – a catalog of appliances and furnishings unavailable for purchase in a mall or department store. But first one had to walk down a long narrow hallway, a luxurious waste of space filled only by an Italian motorcycle. A real one. Then, the hallway opened into the great room that housed said furnishings and the far wall of which was composed solely of windows that looked out onto the scrubbed facades of the neighboring historical brick. The west wall formerly served as the exterior of the adjacent building and Depression-era, painted-on advertisements for an insurance office still covered it. The east wall, which could be covered by a projector screen with a push of a button for the ultimate home movie viewing experience, had been done over in a faux finish intended to invoke a somewhat gritty industrial feel that complemented the exposed ventilation ducts. An open kitchen occupied the space in the great room nearest the door. The granite countertops and stainless steel appliances required for entry into the young, well-to-do, urban professionals club were free of clutter and impossibly clean. A bathroom into which several of my friends could have dropped their entire apartments pretended to fill the excess space behind the kitchen on one’s way back through that interminably long hallway to the doorless master suite, which unmistakably, until then, belonged only to a bachelor. This was the space that I would come to inhabit for 15 months.
Written in Robin Black’s To Bore or Not to Bore…Descriptive Passages No One Will Skim (June 10, 2015)