I slept in a cupboard. My parents made me sleep in a cupboard. That’s how I have always remembered life in the trailer in Anchorage, Alaska. At bedtime, I was ordered into the padded shelf and they slid the plywood sliding doors closed and I was enclosed in a small space. I felt trapped and panicky. Sometime after I finally fell asleep the nightmares would begin. It was always the same dream, abstract shapes before my eyes constantly changing. The shapes were geometric, meaningless, and in perpetual motion, a square turning into a circle, pierced by a jagged yellow arrow that turned color and became squiggly like a noodle. Multiple shapes overlapped, turned, morphed, changed color, never ceasing. The constant instability of the nonsensical image was what was most disturbing.
Flinging open the sliding cupboard doors, I would burst out of my cupboard into space and fall to the floor crying. My eyes were wide open and the disturbing display would continue, overlaid right on the scene of the trailer interior, right there before me just floating in the air. I can still picture the trailer, the light brown wood paneling, the curved wall at one end, the breakfast nook, my sleepy parents trying to console me. I was inconsolable and terrified. My mother placed a glass of milk in my hand. I would hold out for the milk, complaining until she gave me some, trying to delay going back to bed as long as possible. Trying to describe what I was seeing, I pointed to it in front of me, frustrated. “It’s right there! Can’t you see it?!”
Settling down after a time, it was into the cupboard again. Resigned, I climbed in. “Leave the doors open.” I said. My mother would leave it open a few inches and I would fall asleep exhausted. The next night the scene played itself out again with little variation.
Recently, I asked my old father about that, asked him why they made me sleep in a cupboard and closed the doors. “We did?”, he asked. I reminded him of the details, including the nightmares. He didn’t remember this at all. He just said, “That’s a horrible thing to do to a child. It’s a wonder you weren’t damaged by that experience.”
“Does extreme claustrophobia count?”, I asked.
Life in a Park
A trailer park is not a park. It’s a place you park a trailer. Despite the horrid experience of sleeping in a cupboard, I liked living there for the short time we did. And I realize that my parents were innocent of any wrongdoing, just wrong thinking. They wanted their privacy, I imagine. It was 1952 Alaska, something of a wild frontier. In fact it was called “The Last Frontier”. To survive, you did what you needed to do. So did I. I loved Alaska. I loved a fresh sense of freedom. We had come all the way from Los Angeles and, yes, we landed first in that trailer park where we lived in a trailer that had been parked there for many years, but there was a tangible sense of adventure in the air.
We rented. Each morning I watched my dad through the window in the curved wall as he walked across the field to his work somewhere. That was a mystery to me, at age 6, as to where he would go. Years later I learned that he worked construction, building a hangar on Elmendorf Air Force base. He probably hitched a ride to and from work with work buddies. I don’t remember what my mother did during the day, stuck in a trailer in Alaska while I was at school. It had to be boring until she found work. She always found work somewhere.