A room of my own – revisited

This morning I talked to a man I recently met at my gym while we both worked out on the elliptical. That’s a new one for me. I usually plug in my ear buds, listen to music, read my New Yorker, and hardly say a word to anyone while I exercise.

And he was very inquisitive – he asked about my back ground, my religion, my home town, my current home town, how long married, where I’ve traveled, and of course the dreaded question – number of children. That question always stops me in my tracks – even now, over 18 years since my son Paul left us. And I told him truthfully that Paul took his own life because he had bipolar disorder.

As a result I resurrected a piece I wrote for the now defunct Red Room site in 2013 – about the room I’m in right now – my private writing space. Even my husband knows not to bother me in here when my door is closed.

In rereading this piece today, I can honestly say, not a lot has changed. He’s still in my room with me.

My Private Island – A Room of My Own

(with apologies to Virginia Woolf)

Early on in my grieving process I felt that my house was my safest place, and I couldn’t wait to get back to it after being out in crowds. Other times I wanted to run away because of all the memories. In fact we almost moved to get away from the reminders. Now I’m glad we did not. Memories and reminders of what might have been are everywhere, not just in our home.

Instead I, like Virginia Woolf, created a room of my own in the house where our sons grew up. Six years after our son Paul died, I cleaned out and redid his bedroom and made it my writing room. Paul had already been my muse; he could continue in my new room.

I would finish telling his story there – about his illness and how the medicines didn’t work for him and how hard he fought against taking them, and how he couldn’t live without them. That story became my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On.

I transformed his room slowly. We first installed a huge bay window, side-opening windows, and a long window seat, giving the room more light and space than when Paul lived in it. We replaced the carpet with wood flooring and painted the walls medium taupe. The ceiling, new crown molding, window trim, floor moldings and doors are stark white.

I was excited when the wall of dusty orange closet bookshelves that had held his books and records was demolished. In their place we installed file drawers and shelves for in my books, writing files, and office supplies. A collection of Paul’s writing that I found when we finally moved his things from the closet is also in those drawers.

We next ordered my huge black draftsman’s table, desk chair, orange sofa, lamps, and a tall, narrow shelf unit. The shelf holds photos, a few special books including the book of Matisse cutouts called Jazz: The Text that Paul gave me, and the first Buddha of my collection – a smiley guy with a fat belly and tiny hands and feet in the prayer position. Buddha’s face and focus remind me of Paul.

I write at my large table opposite the bay window. I look out to the garden, at the three palm trees, the smiling outside Buddha, the small cement pond that attracts colorful birds, and the ginger plants behind it. I hear the fountain’s gurgle when the windows are open.

At first I worried about how it would feel taking over his room and making it mine. And now I know. It’s a feeling of cleansing, healing, and of being in a safe and comforting space. Its calm helps my writing. Maybe the reminders of Paul in there help too. His candlesticks are on the top shelf of the bookcase, his photos are on the next two shelves, and a portrait 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 – of an orange sun in a deep blue ocean. An assemblage created out of felt-covered wooden mallets originally used to strike the strings of a piano reminds me of Paul, the jazz pianist and composer.

I’ve added many other Buddha statues to my collection throughout the years. Some reside on a small square table under the assemblage. So, in making his room into my own, I haven’t erased Paul. I’ve created my room incorporating reminders of him. He’s there with me, inside me. He continues to be my muse.

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Comments

  1. Dear Madeline,
    I vividly remember reading about this in your memoir and thinking how brave you were to face the unthinkable pain of losing Paul. You found a path to healing while keeping his spirit close to you. You are such an inspiration to me and many others. Your story and your courage continue to touch me deeply. Sending blessings and hugs.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thank you so much Kathy. So nice to hear from you.
      Even so l never know when I’ll be blindsided and thrown back into the realities of my grief again. As I’ve learned, it never goes away.
      Having friends like you helps so much. Hugs back to you.

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