1/16/2004

The Yellow Room

The Green Room, with its beanbag chairs and TV/VCR combo and comforting posters of animals and musicians, belonged to us kids, but the Yellow Room was my dad's. It was rare for the door to that room to be open, rarer still for me to find myself in there with him, amid the stacks of coffee-ringed papers. My dad disappeared in there, to sit, I guess, in his green leather swivel chair and type, or simply stare at the luminous rectangle of the cursor blinking on and off on the tiny screen of his Kaypro computer--as though that was the visible beating of its heart.

The Yellow Room was wedged up under the eaves of the house, on the second floor, and took its shape from the plunging roofline. The yellow wall along which his desk was situated was the regular size, but the wood-paneled ceiling sloped away so that the opposite wall was only three feet tall. It was as if the room was designed to segregate us by age--one side fit only kids, and the other marked the forbidding territory of adulthood. Set into the shorter wall was a white door that led to the crawl-space my parents used for storage. Even more than the Yellow Room's implicit off-limits designation, that door's hobbit-sized dimensions beckoned me whenever my dad wasn't in the house. You could only poke around among your dad's manuscripts and coffeemugs for so long; the boxes of junk that lay behind that door were far more interesting.

I remember one rainy Spring afternoon I was in there, poking around through piles of pictures and broken toys and whatnot, when I found my father's bong. I recognized it from the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) workbook I had recently completed at school. I had conscientiously committed all the book's contents to memory. I was determined to "make a difference" as I had been taught by "just saying no"--not only on behalf of myself, but for everyone else in the world too, regardless of what answer they preferred to give to the drug question. And here, in the yellow light of the bulb on the wall, I held up this plastic pipe, yellowed from smoke and resinous on the inside. At first, I thought it was a crack-pipe. But those were glass, I knew. No, my dad was smoking marijuana. For a half-hour, I was tormented by a dilemma: to do the right thing and turn my dad in, or to remain silent, a complicit criminal and sinner. I think this was my first introduction to classical tragedy. Ultimately, I chose to remain silent. But for weeks afterward, I tormented myself with the knowledge that, when push came to shove, I had just said "Yes."

Years later, someone told me that children who sleep in yellow rooms grow up to be insane. I can say with confidence that I never slept in the Yellow Room. Still, it left its mark.