My Life As a Doormat
A novel by: Rose Gardner
Chapter One: The ArrivalThe year was 1980, a time of innocence compared with what would lay ahead. Marijuana was illegal and not available at the corner pharmacy with a doctor’s note. The 80’s: an era when “cell” referred to miniscule components comprising organic life, or a room in a jail. Cell phones were available but expensive, and used mostly by celebrities who had an entourage to carry them. Terrorist cells were obscure, not on the front page of every newspaper. The horror of 9/11 was in the distant future. Yet, despite the relevant safety of the times, I was terrified.Here I was, the elevator doors just closed behind me and I dragged my suitcases into the middle of the eighth floor hallway of the building that would be my home. Roberta’s distinct raspy voice hurling obscenities at my best friend Ce echoed through out the empty corridor. “I’m not your friggin bank,” Ce screamed back. When Ce had suggested Roberta as a third for our New York City apartment, I was hesitant because I didn’t know her very well. Apparently neither did Ce.
My stomach clenched and I heard Mom’s words resound inside my head. “Come home Rose!”
“No,” I whispered as my mind raced and contemplated her suggestion. “NO!” I repeated. I took a deep breath and tried standing up straight while I pushed down my fear. My roomies screaming at each other like two rivals from a bad soap opera wasn’t a sign I should go home. Was it?
The yelling continued from behind the door of apartment 8A as my grip tightened around the two dilapidated luggage handles. What had happened to make Ce and Roberta sound like they were murdering each other?
“It’s just ’til next week until my checks clear,” Roberta raged.
“That’s what you said last week!” Ce howled. I felt immobilized but forced my feet to shuffle towards the apartment, dragging my over-stuffed suitcases. Lingering outside the door, I waited until all was quiet.
Silence. What was going on in there? Just as I was about to ring the bell another round of Roberta’s diatribe began. My finger froze in mid-air.
“Do I look like Wall Street?” Ce yelled, her shrill scream sent a shiver down my spine.
“I should’ve stayed in the cab,” I whispered to the pale grey carpeting as my body stiffened. Returning to the lobby seemed like a safe alternative to the war zone inside my new home so I parked the two suitcases next to the door and headed back to the elevator bank. But then I froze. What if I get the unlucky elevator? Paralyzed with fear, my eyes darted back and forth from the closed elevator doors to my new residence.
Roberta’s voice bounced off the hallway walls while informing Ce she didn’t need the lousy apartment.
“FINE!” Ce screamed.
“FINE!” Roberta screamed back.
Five hours earlier I’d been safe and secure in my hometown of Coral Gables, Florida. But now, here I was in an unfamiliar hallway in the giant city of Manhattan, and wondering what the hell was I doing there?
Three months out of college, and much to Mom’s dismay, I decided to move to the Big Apple and be an actress. “You’re not going to live alone in that filthy, crime-ridden city!”
“I won’t be alone. I’m going to share an apartment.”
“With who?” Mom opened the oven door, and smoke billowed into the air. “Damn it, Rose, you’ve got me so upset that I’ve burnt dinner!” My mother blamed me for everything. “Blame” should’ve been her middle name, instead of Blanch.
“Sorry,” I whispered, and then listened while she laundry listed every terrible thing I’d done since birth. “Sorry,” I repeated and accepted all her accusations as absolute truth. She was my mother after all, and I was a respectful child. I stared into space while she removed the charred chicken and placed it on the kitchen counter for her regular scraping ritual.
“With who?” she repeated. “Rose! Answer me.”
I rolled my eyes, and then left Mom in the kitchen with the burnt bird and soggy vegetables. Every day since graduation we’d had the same argument. I walked into my bedroom, and closed the door. I loved my mother but hated that she made me feel worthless.
“Rose!” I heard Mom shriek from the kitchen. I put my hands over my ears and tried muffling the sound of her voice. Was everyone’s mother like her, or just mine?
“Get out!” Ce’s voice zapped me back into reality.
I’d known Ce since kindergarten; when even at the tender age of six, little girls were bitchy and cliquey. Snotty brats clothed in frilly dresses pulled my
hair and laughed at my bleached-out overalls and nautical-themed outfits. All of them; except for Ce. It was the second week of school when she approached me as I sulked alone in the far corner of the large playroom where daily gymnastics was held (and recess when it rained). While my classmates played checkers and patty-cake, I crouched alone on the far edge of a gym mat, coloring Wilma Flintstone red in a worn coloring book.
“Hi, I’m Chelsea!” The girl with blond pigtails dressed in a pale cornflower-blue dress that matched her eyes kneeled besides me and asked if I wanted to play Chinese checkers
“Sure.” Startled, I dropped my crayon as Chelsea took my hands in hers and pulled me up, then led me to a game next to the popular girls. One of them pointed and warned Chelsea she’d get my cooties as we sat Indian-style across from each other. “I don’t know how to play,” I blurted out. My eyes welled up while I tried blocking out the popular girls remark. Certain that Chelsea had heard her too and would go back to the clique of kids who already knew how to play games, and wore pretty dresses, I felt invisible.
“That’s OK. I’ll teach you.” Chelsea smiled, and I noticed her two front teeth were missing, just like mine. She reached across the game board and squeezed my hand. “Ill teach you. She repeated. Her smile was reassuring.
“Thanks.” For the first time in my short little life I felt validated and from that moment forward we were best friends.
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