The House on West Forest

West Forest.jpg
Of all the houses I lived in as a child, the one on West Forest Avenue in Decatur, IL, is the one I remember most. I brought it back to life in two of my novels. That front porch you see there had the swing in which fictional me met my first love, Jack, featured in Ghosts of the Heart. It was a huge house, big enough for my family of Mom and Dad, little sister, and four younger brothers. It was here that I shoved my little brother Paul down the stairs for the crime of reminding me of my worst self.

That upper bedroom window on the right is the one that looked out on the world from the double bed I shared with my sister, a room reinvented for a chapter of A Dream of Houses. And that is where I loved to escape on lazy afternoons to read and dream – sometimes to be afraid. Very afraid. And what was I afraid of, you might ask. Was my mother cruel? Was my father predatory? Oh, no. No, not at all. I was afraid of vampires. That story is told in full here: And while my parents were basically straight out of Father Knows Best, they were far too dull for my romantic soul, which was also steeped in Cowboys and Native Americans. But TV cowboys were a little too placid for me. Too pasty. Too neat. No, I didn’t want to be a cowboy. I wanted to be a Native American, and spent long hours on that shared bed, under that window, pouring over the Rand McNally Atlas, tracing out a route to uninhabited areas of Canada, where I felt certain I would find some untamed Native Americans, who would understand my predicament and welcome me into the tribe. Somewhere around James Bay, I think it was.

I was sure that no one would miss me. Certainly not my little sister, who didn’t like sharing a bed any more than I did and slept wrapped up in her own special quilt as far away from me as possible. Joanie wasn’t a cuddler, not even on cold winter nights, when my skinny frame had just enough fat on it to keep the bones from showing. But the more I looked at those maps, the more I noticed all that lay between me and those faraway woodlands. All those highways. All those cities. A couple of peanut butter sandwiches just wasn’t going to make it. Later, I thought. But by the time later came, the dream had faded. That’s one of the things that growing up will do to you.

I loved that house. I didn’t like leaving it for the nice new split-level my dad had made for us, even though it had my own room. I wouldn’t have it for long, because I graduated from high school, went off to college, and then to the big city. I think I have missed the house on West Forest for so long because I left my childhood there. Maybe because I also left many of my dreams there. Life after that time was a crash course in the modern world. No trees to climb. No vampires at the windows. No adoption by Native Americans. Just me. Barely grown-up skinny blonde me. Who, if she had her druthers, would likely have continued to read about life instead of live it. The real world, she would find, was not her oyster.