Locked in a Room
*auto-fiction (fictional memoir)
I was eight years old when I lived in the room. My folks had just moved the three of us twelve miles inland from Coastal Ventura—90 miles north of Los Angeles—to mountainous Ojai. It was 1991. A sloping, fast-paced road called La Luna Ave ran outside of the boundary of our home, paralleling the 12-foot-tall Bougainvillea bushes. A gate protected us from the outside world. Cars rammed back and forth on the road. I felt, even then, trapped, both physically and emotionally.
In Ventura I’d lived down a short hallway from my folks. Now, in a 2,500 square-foot home, I was in the room next to the garage, and they were in a master bedroom a Universe a way, on the other side of the long, narrow home. I felt conflicted about this house. It had light blue walls. A black driveway. Avocado trees lined up against the silver chain-link fence. A breezeway where my father parked his ’94 Dodge Ram. Blue carpet covered the house’s floor. Exposed faded brick everywhere. A framed copy of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” perched above the toilet in the main bathroom. A large living room where I used to dance to my mom’s Beatles albums. (Later, my friends and I would drink in this room.) French windows exposed a backyard and a huge, bone-shaped swimming pool.
It happened a week after we moved in. I had a bunk-bed against a wall. A desk. Windows overlooking the lush front yard. No posters. Blank, shiny smooth white walls. Outside I saw lawn lights and I could vaguely hear the sound of soft but persistent traffic on La Luna, and the delicate spraying of the sprinklers for an hour before sleep. At night I laid in the top bunk and placed my arms behind my head and thought about things. About my father’s mysterious emotional distance. My mother’s strict, seemingly constrained rage which somehow seemed to have nothing to do with anything but herself. My old friends in Ventura. My loneliness. The confusion of being eight years old and feeling such anger, such rapturous delight in wanting to hurt myself.
That night it was late February. Still cold outside. The house was totally quiet. As silent as being up in the mountains above 10,000 feet, which I would later do many times. I had slept for a while and had woken up from a nightmare, sweating profusely, my heart thumping in my chest, drenched in fear. I sat upright. The nightmare was quickly dissipating from memory but it had something to do with a close friend of mine who’d lived up the block in Ventura. Our old home, the small yellow craftsman on Palomares Ave. The vague feeling of being lost; losing the connection with someone. Myself? My parents?
I realized it was pitch black in the room. So dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I swallowed. My heart was still drumming. I cleared my throat. The sound of a truck shifting into a lower gear sputtered from the road a ways off. I needed light. I wanted to turn the light on. Open the door. Go up the blue carpeted stairs into the kitchen. Eat. Chug some water. Stand there a while listening to the silver refrigerator hum.
Swinging my legs off the top bunk, I felt around for the wooden ladder. I found it and slowly descended. Then I dropped the half a foot to the hardwood floor. It was cool against my heels and toes. I shivered.
Feeling my way in the darkness, I felt annoyed. And afraid. Where was the damn door? Next time, I told myself, I’d sleep with a flashlight by my side. Then I ran right into the wall. Which part of the room was I even in? It was that dark. My basic sense of space and direction was limited.
I felt along the walls, feeling them cool and smooth and curving. I felt for the light switch; for the door knob. I remembered seeing this house for the first time, six weeks ago, with my parents, the real estate agent—dressed in a business suit, smelling of harsh perfume—showing us each room, gesturing with her arms, nodding at the pool and saying, Great for kids. What had been wrong with our house in Ventura? I loved that house. I loved my friends. I loved the cul-de-sac. Change confused me; strangled me.
Somehow I couldn’t locate the light switch. I felt with my palms along the smooth walls everywhere. Nothing. How was that possible? Annoyance turned to anger which, slowly, morphed into raw fear. I paused for a moment. Ok, I told myself. Forget the light switch. Find the door. Open it. You’ll be free.
After a half minute I resumed my journey. It seemed like I was walking through some sort of portal somehow. It felt more internal than external. I wished I could slice through this infernal darkness.
I began to worry. Where was the damn door? Why was this house so big, so long? Why did my parents sleep all the way across the room? It was as if we were two separate continents.
At last I found the door. My palms slid along the cold wood. I sighed in relief. Then I felt the knob. I turned it. It didn’t open. I tried again. And again. And again. I remembered that it locked from the outside. I tried harder and pushed. Nothing. It was certain: The door was locked. I was inside with no way to get out. I glanced at the alarm clock on my desk across the room: In large green digital numbers it was 2:17 AM.
“Mom?” I said, somewhat loudly.
No response. That darkness was harsh; the silence, ruthless.
“Mom!” I said again, louder.
I tried the knob again; jostled it. Locked. I started to panic. Claustrophobia descended. I rubbed my face. I needed to get out of this goddamn room. Right now. Right this very second!
I started pounding my fists against the cold wooden door; jostling the knob; yelling louder and louder and louder, for Mom, for Dad, for anyone.
“HELP!!!” I started screaming. “HELP!!!” Some part of me knew this was irrational. I was safe. In my home. In the middle of the night. In my room. No one could hurt me. No one could get me. I was okay. But I couldn’t resist the urge to run; to escape. To be free.
I backed up five or six feet and ran at the door, hurling my body at the thing. It made a loud crunching sound but it did not bust open. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks.
After ten minutes of this, exhausted, totally drained, I slid my palms above me down the door in anguish. I turned, sliding my back against the door, sitting against it. The house was perfectly silent. Not a sound stirred. It was like sitting at the bottom of a deep, perfectly black well in the middle of the desert. I was alone. Always had been. Always would be.
I buried my face in my palms. I cried some more. Finally, I wiped my tears. I breathed deep and slow. I sighed. The clock said 2:43 AM. Bright and green, glowing in the darkness like a distant lighthouse in the Atlantic Ocean.
“You’re alright,” I said out loud to myself. “You’re okay.”
I laid down, my body against the cold door. I was freezing now. But I didn’t attempt to climb back up to the top bunk. I just lay there, against the door. I closed my eyes, heard my slowing heart, and calmed myself.
When I woke it was gray outside. The clock said: 7:09 AM. Rubbing my eyes I yawned. I looked at the door. There were cracks in the wood from my escape attempts. To my shock I placed my palm round the knob and twisted. It turned. It was unlocked.
I opened the door. I walked out.
I was free.