Prompt: "Write about something from the past that continues to haunt, shame, or mortify."
I am standing at the top of the basement staircase.
I don't know how old I am, but there is a yellowed, plastic rotary phone hanging on our kitchen wall with a long spiral cord that is always twisted, and is fun to untwist, like Sisyphus, and there is real linoleum on the floor, not the crappy, shiny vinyl Armstrong tile that a future roomer will convince my mom to install after my dad moves out and my mom rents out every room but mine and sleeps in her red Volkswagen camper van in the carport. Which means I'm somewhere between 6 and 9 years old. Coming up the stairs are my older sister, Martha, and my mom. One holds incriminating evidence; both look concerned, with the same look that my dad and my step-mother will use on me years later when it is discovered that my sister has given me LSD twice. In the stairwell, my sister begins the interrogation. My sister, three years older than me, puts on her best adult voice."We found this paper, which is in your handwriting, wherein you describe this wonderful project and idea that you want to implement. But since this paper has come to our attention, we noticed that you have done nothing on this project, and, in fact, have hidden this paper, or worse, neglected it, in amongst mom's sheet music and used paper stacks."
My mother: "Yes..." followed by smarmy, overly concerned, falsely sympathetic grimacing.My sister: "Ahem. Yes. And we are concerned that this pattern could negatively affect your future. This inability to complete projects after you've started them."
I have walked the streets of Calcutta, India, and seen poverty. I have peed in closets in seedy hotels in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. And here, in Berkeley, I have met crazy people, hippies, and dropouts. But this new information puts the fear of future failure in me where before I had only envisioned a life of singing, gardening, riding bicycles, building things, and possibly flying to the moon. My mother, always energetic, always laughing at the gods, and always dragging me with her into the AV room at the elementary school around the corner so that I could crank the handle on the mimeograph machine to spit out sweet, acrid, chemical smelly, blue printed pages of "handouts", programs, song sheets, flash cards and other devices of a music teacher, and always at the last minute, chimes in:"We're concerned about your future. Why? Why did you write this? Don't you want to work on it any more?"
They read the paper to me. It is foggily familiar. I wrote it. Having dreamt up an idea, and written about it, I have lost interest in it. The paper still wags its incrimination at me from my sister's hand. I want to disappear down the stairs, the rough, furry timbered stairs, with painted treads, and a large, plank desk built in at the landing and knotty pine shelves that my dad built for my mother so she could have an "office" where she kept her extra sheet music (piles of Für Elise and Bach minuets for her piano students) mixed in with her "handouts," some active, and some relics from student sing-alongs and tie-dye parties. I love this stairwell. It is fun to climb, to lounge, to converse on. It is possibility. It is descent into the true heart of the house. Past my mom's music-and-activism mimeograph marketing collection, is the basement with exposed timbers, secret passages, a laundry chute, my brother's photography darkroom with its mysterious folded entrance that excludes all light even though there is no door to close, and my dad's woodshop where I make musical instruments of my own invention, and help build parts from exotic woods for my dad's boat. But I can't descend into the chthonic, safe, earthy, woody and warm world, because the Hydra, one claw on my paper dream, and one snakey eye on my dreamy, powerless mother, is blocking the path of Hephaestus.