By Kevin Carrel Footer
His first night there, he slept on a cot as they all did. They camped in the unfurnished rooms like soldiers on campaign – or vagabonds seeking refuge from the elements. That first night the furniture had not yet arrived but an aunt took them to sleep there anyway. Everyone was excited about the new house as if its chandeliers and terraces and gardens were the very expression of a life that was to come.
He and his younger sister chose to sleep in the room with pink paisley wallpaper and pink shag rug. Forevermore, that room would be known as the “Pink Room.” He slept in a corner beside a radiator that hissed and clanged softly in the night as if someone deep inside the boiler – someone they never discovered — were hammering on the pipes.
The empty house was very exciting to him, as was the rain outside and the cots. He would have liked to have remained awake that night, to explore right then the passageways and never-ending rooms, but the long day of preparations and ceremonies — and now this new home — was stronger than his will and he dozed happily holding to thoughts of what would greet him in the morning.
He lay there thinking of what he had glimpsed as he and his sister ran from room to room. The green marble of the living room fireplace; the terrace with its balustrade illuminated in the night; the view from the solarium to the gardens; the ballroom with its floor of blond wood, its stage and its bar rescued from a Barbary Coast saloon; and most intriguing of all to him, a sort of workroom in the basement in which no effort had been made to disguise what lay within the walls: the thick support posts of wood and the spindly two-by-fours and frangible lath out of which all the artfulness of the house had been constructed. It was like the ant farm set he had been given in which you could observe the ants building their tunnels in the sand between two closely-placed glass walls. In the basement, it was as if all the art of the builders of this house, all their craft, were exposed. They had left a single puzzle piece unfinished so we could better appreciate what they had created.
That eagerness to explore the next day, to search for meaning in the cupboards and hidden corners of the house never left him. He spent his childhood discovering the house as if he were discovering himself. He became an inveterate explorer of those places and probably no one knew the house and what was hidden there like he did.
Being curious became his way of life. He was forever playing spy, building secret forts or arranging vast games of capture-the-flag with friends. But he also learned that houses hold secrets that cannot be told to just anyone, because not everyone will understand and fewer still will be able to comfort you. Life, learned in that house, became a game of hide-and-seek. Some things are sought while others prefer to be left hidden.