The Backstory

The Backstory

It was 1976. I was 5 years old, and blissfully unaware of any turmoil in the world, mainly because I was 5 in suburban America, also because my parents didn’t talk about things. Any things, really. I would later learn they’d been deeply unhappy with one another since I was 2, and had simply retreated to their corners to live out their lives rather joylessly: devoid of art, music, lively dinner chats or the desire to adventure.

So when we moved to a simply named street in a simple small town in North Carolina, I was over the moon to meet two kids my age across the street: David, who had a Big Wheel he graciously shared, and B, who was the cutest mini-hippie you’ve ever seen. 

B and I spent a lot of time together, mostly outside or at her house. The vibes were decidedly better there, and her mom let us have Kool-Aid and homemade fudge. We were allowed to play Badminton with B’s parents and their friends, and her dad showed us how to work the record player. Being the progressive bohemian he was, he told us about 70s rock and Cuban music. We didn’t really know what any of it meant, but we made silly dances to it and used that music as a backdrop to our games and playtime in their living room – the magical sanctuary into which we dragged all our toys.

It was in that living room, resplendent with wall-to-wall shag carpeting and seating arranged for socializing, that I encountered my first coffee table books. I didn’t know that’s what they were called at the time, but these oversized, heavy picture books were filled with photos of art, fascinating places that didn’t seem real, intimate stories of cultures and classes, explorations inside people’s homes and of the clothes they wore and their thoughts on life. Though I appreciated our own Encyclopedia Brittanicas at home, and didn’t know what to make of my mother’s collection of romance novels and self-help books, I felt the books at B’s house were LIFE. 

Rays of Biblical sunshine parted the clouds and illuminated those books every time I walked into that house. Sometimes I would get so lost in them that B would get bored with me and go do something else until I was ready to join her again. Bless her, she was never grumpy about it. When I had to be polite and leave the books, the feeling that this was “me” never left. At that stage in my life, nothing embodied joy and creative fuel and wonder like playing freely, B’s parents dancing an awkward cha cha in their bell bottoms and oversized glasses to the vinyl selections of 5-year olds, and the possibilities and boundless creativity those books emanated.

I think it all seeped into my cellular structure, because to this day I can conjure who I was in those moments. I like her. She is free and happy, a sunflower field of weird ideas and kooky creations. She makes wishes on dandelions and tries new things without fear of judgment. She is fully in her groove.