D. J. Cools

6/21/20162 min read

When I was 12 years old, I had a room of my own for the first time. Before that my brother and I shared a mattress on the floor of the upstairs family room.

My dad took a job in a new town, and we rented a large dilapidated farmhouse built in 1905. It was not in great shape, but it was what we could afford. The upstairs had been converted to board railroad workers in the nineteen-teens and felt like a hotel—wall sconces in the long hallway with rooms opening off either side. My room was the last on the left, directly across from the locked door of a room the landlord had forbidden us to enter. Of course my brother and I climbed outside onto the roof as soon as the coast was clear to try to peer through the window. The curtains were drawn. We tried the keyhole as well, but could only glimpse some dim boxes and draped blankets. Even from the second floor windows, no other houses could be seen. Surrounded by wheat fields in every direction, this was no small distance. We were 10 miles from the nearest town (pop. 800) and 85 miles from the nearest major city.

A room of my own changed everything for me. I stayed up late reading. I wrote stories. I drew pictures. I built models of WWII airplanes and hung them from the ceiling as if they were locked in combat. I reveled in the privacy.

But the silence of that place was as suffocating as a blanket over my head. Everything felt abandoned. Forgotten. Occasionally I would walk by myself through the fields or ride my bicycle on the surrounding dirt roads for entire days at a time. I climbed several the empty, groaning grain elevators that dotted the landscape. If I had fallen it is doubtful even my parents would have ever found me.

I felt like a ghost. If I met someone out in the fields, I wondered if they would see me or pass right through me. Maybe I didn’t exist at all. Maybe I was a character in someone’s else story, conveniently used to move the plot along, then disposed of when no longer useful.

Despite everything, I loved that house. The heavy, musty silence, the lights always off. The locked room, the creaks at night, the giant, mostly-dead trees all around the yard. It was as near to abandoned as it could be with a few quiet people living in it.

And the roof leaked when it rained.