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"My Saturday Night Home"

Some Saturday nights, my childhood home became an ice cream parlor. My grandmother helped my cousin Alexis and me roll Play-Doh into scoops of ‘chocolate,’ ‘vanilla,’ and ‘strawberry.’ ‘Sprinkles’ were microscopic, ‘cherries’ juicy and dramatic. Four small hands and two big ones assembled our desserts and placed them in tiny tulip sundae glasses. Alexis and I ventured out of the kitchen and into the living room which became our storefront. I scoured the toy closet to retrieve my red cash register; Alexis pulled out the piano bench for us to kneel behind. On my handheld whiteboard, I wrote “Come in!'' in bubble letters. We were open for business.

On Saturday nights, home not only smelled like Play-Doh and Expo markers, it sounded like the whisper-screams Alexis and I used to announce that we were ready to ‘start.’ When I remember my brother Elliot and cousin Josh waddling over to ‘order,’ I try to understand why we chose the word ‘start’ and why we whispered. Perhaps we felt that to admit that we were playing pretend would be childish. Today, I can’t see how anything could have been childish to four kids under 13. Yet in each iteration of my chameleon home, Saturday nights imitated a reality we had yet to experience . Back then, playing pretend was the closest we could get to our futures; the four walls of my home acted both as a forcefield and incubator for our imaginations. My cousins and I fit an entire world between those four walls.

My favorite Saturday night activity was the one we repeated most often: fashion shows. My bedroom served as the dressing room. The longest hallway in the house became a runway. The couches, ottoman, chairs, and piano bench were already in the living room, but Alexis and I rearranged them so that our audience–our grandparents and brothers– could face the hallway. Alexis and I divided our show into themes: ‘sporty,’ ‘fancy,’ ‘comfortable,’ and ‘casual.’ When the contents of my closet bored us, we would call my mother to ask if we could take a look at her clothing.I didn’t know much about what my parents did on their Saturday nights beyond these times when we interrupted their date night . Nor did I care…on Saturday nights, nothing much existed for me outside of my home.

Alexis and I added ‘work’ and ‘super fancy’ categories to our fashion show when my mother gave us access to her tight dresses, blazers, and button-down shirts. Her wired bras seemed equally fascinating and daunting, especially compared to my flimsy training bras. I remember a girl in my middle school referring to her own cleavage as a ‘valley.’ I thought that I would only earn the right to wear wired bras when my boney plain dipped like my mother’s.

While my mother said Alexis and I could use anything we wanted from her closet, in the end I only ever borrowed shirts, jewelry, and high heels. No bras. I chose one slinky, cream-colored shirt for nearly every fashion show--probably because I believed it almost fit me. The shirt’s built-in camisole made it comfortable, I found its sheer fabric elegant, and the low cut meant I got to show off one of my mom’s necklaces. My family called me mature in my childhood, but I really felt mature in that shirt. I thought its cream color looked beautiful against my mother’s skin; I remember wondering why she seldom wore that shirt and, when she did wear it, I remember wondering if any shirt would ever look as good on me.

Eventually, on those Saturday evenings, enough clothing piled on top of the floor to obscure my bedroom rug’s blue and white polka dots. Alexis and I could then choreograph our runway walks. The hallway stretching between the bedroom and living room sides of my house was perfectly narrow. Alexis and I would replace the painting of a cobblestone road at the end of the hallway with my whiteboard, on which one of us wrote, “A & J Fashion.” Our ‘sporty’ choreography often involved tucking a volleyball under my arm. For ‘comfortable,’ Alexis and I held hands and each of us carried from my overflowing collection a stuffed animal--one that matched our outfits’ color scheme. ‘Super fancy’ usually ended in a dance, with the scuffling of my mother’s heels drowning out music from the piano.

The piano was the centerpiece of my home. My grandmother is a regular Mozart with the voice of an angel…which, by my logic, made her better than Mozart. Saturday nights sounded like “Moon River.” And every other night of the week sounded like me singing “Summertime” to myself to fall asleep; I slept best when my grandma sang it to me instead. Alexis, Josh, Elliot, and I all took piano lessons and learned to read music in elementary school. As my cousins and I got older, we each let go of the piano (Josh outlasted the rest of us--he still plays sometimes). We also let go of our Saturday nights together, each of us busy with travel sports, passing friendships, boyfriends, girlfriends, parties, and other very important teenager responsibilities.

I don’t remember my final Saturday night with my cousins and grandparents, probably because I didn’t know that Saturday would be my last. I don’t think my family stopped spending their Saturday nights together; I just wasn’t there anymore. But by the time I reached high school I spent most weekends out of town playing volleyball, and my time back home trying to build the friendships the sport often took me away from. In high school, volleyball offered me routine, I founded a charity because I cared about veterans, biology excited me…and much of what I knew about myself culminated in a goal: Attend A Prestigious University.

College, then, felt like a volleyball tournament. Life at home persisted though I couldn't be around to watch it happen. My parents sold our piano and replaced it with a second dog. Meanwhile, I tried to replace the goal I had just accomplished with a new one. Going to Vanderbilt felt like the greatest achievement of my life--once I got there, I wasn’t sure what else I should aim for, much less how to aim for it. My one science class bored me, I didn’t feel excited about any of the three public health clubs I joined, and my favorite assignments were for my Women Poets in America course--which had nothing to do with my Medicine, Health, and Society major.

This Big Adult Real World was unlike the one my cousins and I had imagined. This world seemed to present questions I didn’t feel ready to answer, like ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and ‘where do you want to work this summer?’ When I listened to my peers talk about their prestigious consulting and investment banking internships, I envied their stability but not their work. I didn’t know how to progress toward a goal when I wasn't even sure what I enjoyed anymore. A Fruitful Life, A Fulfilling Career, and Happiness felt too elusive, too distant, too intangible to be objectives. I wasn’t patient enough to Find Purpose or Embrace The Uncertainty.

In that period, I often spoke with my father about my shaken sense of identity. When I was nineteen and visiting home on a Saturday night, my father and I returned to this ongoing conversation. We sat in the same living room that, for years, had disguised itself as an ice cream parlor, a fashion show, a stage, a mall, a fortress. When my cousins and I played pretend, our minds could roam freely. Our imaginations were powerful enough to make pillows and blankets into castles, my mother’s work blouses into designer pieces, my grandparents into fashion critics. I wondered how I could feel so trapped in the place that once allowed me to feel boundless.

That evening my father reminded me of those Saturdays at home--a time I felt further from with each passing year. He asked me if I remembered the one woman play I had once put on. I began by lying on the piano bench covered by a blanket. I instructed Josh to introduce me. My cue to begin acting was his line, “enjoy the presentation.” Josh’s own artistic touch that night was to hug me as he exited the ‘stage.’ I then stood up and performed a ‘commercial’, the details of which now escape me…but the advertisement involved my ‘slipping into something a little less comfortable’ by putting on a pair of my mom’s high heels.

My father pointed out what I couldn’t see: I had created my old Saturday night home. We had no cashier had we not made the piano into a register. We had no castle in which to hide out if we hadn’t draped sheets over chairs and lined pillows on the ground. I had three other kids to play with, two grandparents, and a living room; with my imagination, I could make them into anything, anybody, anywhere.

“I love the concept of being transported to far away places where your imagination runs wild without consequence--in a safe, secure, and loving environment,” he wrote to me in a text. “If only the real world were that creative, understanding, and consequence free…being a child is so liberating.”

Months after that conversation with my father, I took a summer internship at a designer clothing brand. Though I was excited to be in their New York office, I wasn’t getting paid, my days were filled with busywork, and I didn’t feel aligned with the company. So, by July I was back at home in Miami feeling frustrated by my failed search for a new interest. The first Sunday I was home, stomping noises woke me up at 7:30 in the morning. I sandwiched my ears desperately between pillows but couldn’t escape the noise--I felt like the roofers were jumping around in my head, throwing tiles, taunting me. I marched to my bathroom, took the irritation out on my gums as I brushed my teeth. I wanted to scream but couldn’t. I wanted to talk to someone, anybody at all, but my family was asleep. And I’m not sure how exactly, but I ended up at my computer with a document open, writing the thoughts that felt like they might suffocate me if I didn’t find a way to let them out. Each word was like an earmuff, another layer of white noise. The faster I typed, the quieter the sound in my head felt. An hour later, I stopped writing as though coming out of a trance. The week went on and I edited the story until realizing I had nowhere to share it.

So I created a website. In naming and designing the page, I forgot about my annoyance from that Sunday morning and my hopelessness over the past year. I shared the link on social media and responses from people I loved, people I’d forgotten about, and strangers flooded my inbox. Readers told me I’d captured sentiments they felt but didn’t know how to express; they said that the way I framed situations changed their perspective.

I created purpose out of my frustration the way my cousins and I created universes out of a living room. Soon after, I declared my English major at Vanderbilt. I felt nervous to tell my father–who had also studied English in college– that my concentration would be in Creative Writing. But my father didn’t say what I worried was true--he didn’t call my major useless or imprudent. Instead, he told me that he knew I was meant to create from the moment I started playing pretend. And that, by writing, I could make every day feel like a Saturday night at home.

1 Comment

Carolina Pino
Carolina Pino
Nov 10, 2023

Yet again, you somehow know exactly what I need to hear :). This is brilliant & creative & thoughtful... I am smiling from ear to ear!

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