Plague Diary V, Memory
Between the ages of four and eight, I lived in a north-end Pittsburgh neighborhood. Our rented house resembled the Adam’s family home: decrepit, dreary, distorted. Perched on one of two hills, with Jack’s Run Road running between, the old house was large enough to be divided into two living spaces. A family whose last name was Barefoot lived in the other half. The house was approached by a steep driveway and surrounded by a sparse lawn—neither my father nor Mr. Barefoot were fond of yard work. On the other hill there was a convent, beneath it a sprawling apple orchard.
My friends at that time had oddly alliterative names: Douggy Dobler, Billy Bickel, Bussy Barefoot. There was no attention paid to the fact that I was the only girl. Occasionally, my parents and I would visit old friends of theirs who had a daughter my age. Her name was Maureen and I have always called her Mar. I would gleefully announce to my friends that I was going to Mars. My parents would back me up, unaware of the implications. Of course, the glory associated with this deception lasted only until Mar and her family came to visit us and she was introduced to my playmates.
Childhood antics aside, the house on Jack’s Run Road was haunted. It was haunted by a creature that sabotaged my dreams and pranked my daytime composure. A shape-shifting creature that might have been a demon escaped from the nuns across the road. It might have been Mothman come up from West Virginia. Or a Phynnoddere, a bugbane, a Gef, that followed my grandmother to this country from the Isle of Man, perhaps Jimmy Squarefoot himself.
Whatever it was, it was there to menace the perfectly carefree childhood I should have had. Perhaps all children have such a creature frightening them, startling them, drawing on their darker natures. Perhaps none of us are allowed the freedom of uncontinual glee.
My creature slept in the coal cellar, rattled the windows in thunder storms, pushed me out of one of the nun’s apple trees, animated the shadow of the pear tree on my bedroom wall, sent a tiger to Billy Bickel’s yard to stalk me, smashed my face into a stump on Douggy Dobler’s sled, set fire to my dreams for a month, loosened the plaster on the ceiling so it would fall, sent an army of tiny soldiers climbing the wall of the school nurse’s office to harass me when I was sick, and periodically hid my possessions.
I don’t dwell on such nuisance. It’s the source of my (perhaps false sense of) fierceness, and certainly my sense of humor. It prepared me for what has come and what will come. It exposes the whimsy of fate and auspicious possibilities destiny.