I’ve been told I should write a memoir. I feel weird about that, in part because I still have a lot of life ahead of me (I hope), and in larger part because I’d hate to piss anyone off or make them feel bad. And I feel like memoirs should be honest. I’m honest to a fault, I think, and it’s taken me a long time to learn the whole, “If you can’t say something nice . . .” thing.
I can say a few things about my life, though. That wouldn’t hurt. I was born to two Naval officers. My father is brilliant, my mother average. I don’t mean that in a harsh way, it’s just a matter of fact. And anyway, she makes up for it with energy and enthusiasm in spades. Meanwhile my dad is more of a Mycroft—very smart, but very set in his ways, and he doesn’t have much ambition. In fact, he actively avoids anything that will require more from him. Every time they try to promote him, he refuses to budge.
When I was very young, we lived in the country. We had a German Shepherd named Sam who would eat the neighboring farmer’s chickens, and once even ate the neighbor’s little dog. And our house was haunted by something we called “Charlie.” Charlie would move furniture around (yes, while we watched), would open the refrigerator and take stuff out and make sandwiches . . . He seemed pretty harmless, but one night Mom found Charlie rocking me to sleep and insisted we move.
We moved to Georgetown, Texas, which is just north of Austin. It’s bigger now, but it was tiny then. I had a really happy childhood there, which probably doesn’t make for an interesting story. I’m smart like my dad so I was in a special program at school where from Kindergarten through fourth grade I and a select group of kids were given over to Mrs. Truehardt. It was not a normal classroom; we were given pretty free range, though we studied specific units (local and state history, for example). We were some of the first to get computers, too. Every year other kids were worried which teacher they’d have and who would be in their class, but I had the luxury of knowing exactly who my teacher and classmates were going to be. School was something to look forward to, summers something to be endured until school started again.
Every summer I kept myself occupied with regular trips to the library. I would choose a topic—almost always ancient history of some kind—and read everything I could about it. I would take copious notes and then, at the end of the summer I would write an essay. One year was Ancient Greece, another was a comparison of Ancient Mayan, Aztec, and Incan civilization. I did dinosaurs once, too, I think. There were others, but these I distinctly remember.
This wasn’t all I did, of course. I had Girl Scout camp and all that kind of thing. I had friends. We would go down to the Paramount Theater in town to watch movies, during which I would make myself sick on Nerds and big dill pickles. And after the movie, we’d walk down to the Ice Cream Bucket. Because even if you’re sick to your stomach, there’s always room for ice cream.
I’m an only child. People automatically assume that means I’m selfish and spoiled. I don’t know if I am. I am generous by nature, but have trouble sharing my personal things, the things that have meaning for me. Who doesn’t? In short, I’m happy to pour you a drink but don’t ask to use my special cup. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Being an only child meant a lot of time alone, which is now something I absolutely need on a regular basis. It has been bred into me. I’m happy to be social, but I can only enjoy togetherness if I get the space I require at other times. And it’s not as if my parents neglected me or anything. They simply always treated me as an adult. And I, being a smart and responsible child, lived up to their expectations. So yes, I came home to an empty house each day after school. I liked that; it was good decompression time. I would eat a snack and do my homework, and at 5:00 I would follow whatever instructions had been left to me and get dinner started.
And I had this tape . . . Videotape, I mean . . .
My grandparents have given us a VCR one year for Christmas (not Beta, thank God). And as a family that took its entertainment seriously, we had all the premium cable channels, and I derived great joy from recording favorite shows and movies. And this one tape . . . It’s not an exaggeration to say I watched it every day, except weekends, for about two years. The tape started with a video for Amy Grant’s “Wise Up”—no idea where I’d taped that from—and then went on to Young Sherlock Holmes, which had been recorded off Showtime. I would pop it in and let it run while doing my homework at the living room coffee table.
It’s a wonder the tape didn’t wear out and quit playing.
And now I must explain the Sherlock Holmes thing. My father has always been a fan of Sherlock Holmes. He’d tried to interest me in the stories, but I’d had difficulty with Doyle’s style of writing and abandoned the attempt to read them. But when Young Sherlock Holmes came out, Dad took me to see it (I was nine), at that was it for me. I was all in. I began watching the Jeremy Brett series with Dad, too, and later would make one of my lifelong best friends after bonding with her over Brett and Holmes. I would hunt used book stores for any scrap of Holmes (and there’s a lot of it out there). Between my dad and I, we’ve amassed quite the library.
In any case, it was a good childhood. I had lots of friends in the neighborhood, and I used to even circulate a handwritten magazine, complete with crossword, to them all. We’d play Star Trek and Star Wars and Indiana Jones (most of the kids in the neighborhood being boys, though the Trek and Indy were all me—they were other of my favorite movies). And in 1984 a girl moved next door to us. I was eight and she was four, and she became my very best friend. I taught her to read. And I taught her about Indy and Captain Kirk and Sherlock Holmes, and she was a willing participant in any and all adventures I thought up. If you’ve ever read The Changling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, that would be a good example of mine and Tara’s relationship.
Which is why I was devastated when, in the summer of 1987, we moved away.