My Great Escape

By Linda O’Connell

Viewers snicker at a prominent insurance company’s television ad campaign. In the commercial, as Cheryl watches her she-shed burn down, she vows to rebuild a fancier and frillier she-shed. Her husband, standing beside her, rolls his eyes, and sighs.

I understand Cheryl’s need to have her own space. Shabby chic may be her decorating style, but mine is down home comfort. I don’t need fancy frou-frou stuff. My idea of relaxation is to cozy up with a fuzzy throw cover on a comfy couch in my own space. I long to read my book without fear of being interrupted by conversation, phone calls, or ding-dong doorbells. All I need is a lilac scented candle to add to the ambiance and a cup (or decanter) of whatever I choose. I long for the solitude of silence instead of the murder and mayhem shows my husband blares non-stop. There is so much moaning and groaning when he binge watches, I never know if someone is in ecstasy or dying. One particular series opens each episode with the same soothing lull-a-bye. Misleading as can be, because within seconds the shoot ‘em up begins.

Basement man-caves and garages have always provided a place for guys to slap backs, guzzle a brew or two, and crack jokes with each other. Kitchens have generally been where women dump their garbage on girl friends – all while tending to the kids, phone calls, and food preparation.I’ve talked to women friends and family members. I assure you, Cheryl has inspired them to seek a place where they can unlatch their bras, tune out the “I need tos,” and release the guilt of “I should be…”

My girlfriend has admitted she’s considering occupying her kids’ abandoned tree house as soon as the weather gets warmer. Her stack of furnishings and decorations is growing. Her husband adds to her stress when he adds to the pile… which he thinks is destined for a donation box. If he only knew.

My daughter has her own great escape room which I refer to as the Howl-a-Day Inn. There are three inch thick floor cushions (okay dog beds) on the floor and filled ceramic snack bowls (alright, dog food feeders) everywhere. She tells visitors it’s the dogs’ room, but she is not fooling her mother! I know that lovely new couch, soft throw covers, and writing desk are not for her Australian Shepherds. While her husband heads downstairs to the theater room to watch big screen movies, my daughter retreats to her dog palace to view her favorite pre-recorded talk shows. After a day of demanding toddlers, yapping dogs, endless phone calls, she needs to hear a panel of women express their views.

When I was ten, I longed for what Cheryl now possesses, my own playhouse where I could escape the realities of my restrictive life. My family of four lived in a small house behind an inner-city neighborhood confectionery. My dad didn’t have a steady job, and Mom was not riding the happy train.

Summer had been sweltering hot, and winter was brutally cold. Our only heat source was a pot bellied stove stoked with rationed coal or scarce wood. When the fire went out during the night, we shivered until daybreak, then Dad struggled to get another fire going. Backs-to-stove, my brother and I claimed a smidgen of warmth, rubbed our palms together, then spun around to warm our fronts.

Soggy cornflakes or soft boiled eggs fueled us to the bus stop five days a week. Freezing outside, cold inside. Frustration, confusion, and helplessness summed up the winter of my tenth year.

Spring however, brought promise: outdoors, escape, and freedom. I discovered my very own hideaway. The grocery store’s back porch was a vacant storage area with three walls. Mom was overprotective and seldom let us out of her sight. But since the opening was in full view of our house, twenty yards from our door, Mom could see me at all times. She watched as I set up my home away from home, my own space.

I scavenged for odds and ends, things with which I could furnish my playhouse. I gathered empty metal, milk crates, a discarded, worn moving blanket, a torn towel, pillow, my baby dolls – and I moved out. My living arrangement was basic. I made a bed and a chair out of cardboard boxes. In doing so, I found a place to sit without being disturbed, lie down without feeling my brother’s constant, aggravating shoulder shrugging.

I could breathe deeply, at last. I whispered my private thoughts to my dolls; I hoped, dreamed, and tried to figure out life. I was finally in charge: of my babies, my furniture arrangement, and myself. I darted in and out of our house for my needs, and slept there, I remained outside of the chaos. I inhaled fresh air instead of Pall Mall and Camel second-hand cigarette smoke. I listened to rain splashing instead of angry words thundering. I watched the sun scurry from behind the clouds, and I squealed at the sight of a rainbow – a promise of good things to come, according to my Sunday School teacher.

While my family life was uncertain and my parent’s marriage was unraveling, I sat in my playhouse knitting myself a safety net, escaping circumstances that were beyond my control. The desperately needed time I spent alone, began in my tenth year. It’s where I learned to practice meditation… to get quiet, calm, and seek peace, a technique I strive to use to this day.

In my retirement, I’ve been looking back remembering my playhouse. I wonder if I’m going through my second childhood. I am very content, happily married, and I’ve already found myself; there is nothing I’m secretly seeking. But lately I am considering emptying my husband’s back yard utility shed, painting it a pretty shade of pink, and decorating it with girly possessions.

I think I’ll wait until he rids it of mice first.

About this writer

  • Linda O’Connell

    Linda O’Connell

    Linda O’Connell a preschool teacher for almost four decades, is notorious for holding her life together with duct tape and humor. Her greatest loves are family, the beach, and dark chocolate.

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15 Responses to “My Great Escape”

  1. Bobby Barbara Smith says:

    Your lovely story brought back memories of my own childhood she-shed. I think we all need that secret place that belongs only to us and our imagination. Great story!

  2. So relatable, Linda! Especially the husband blaring the TV non-stop! Eeeek! I can’t even go to another room, because I can still hear the TV then. I swear, I’m going to buy him some kind of ear buds!

  3. Val says:

    Yes! De-mouse that structure, paint it pink, and claim it as your haven. I guarantee you will be “the sharpest tool in the shed!” I’m lucky to have my dark basement lair for escape. Only one mouse in 20 years.

  4. Linda–Good luck! When you fix up the shed, and then head there to spend some time in it, you had better tell your husband you’re going for a walk. If he finds out you’re only as far as the backyard, he’ll come back there, sniffing around for you–wanting to ask you a question or to inquire, “What cha doing?”

    Sometimes mice aren’t the biggest pests… (And yes, Bill. I’m speaking of you! ;)

  5. I so enjoyed reading this! (I too have one that has the TV on from eyes open to eyes shut). My ‘office’ is my escape, but oh so not the relaxing, meditative space that I long for.
    Great feature Linda! I love the delightful phrases you use and how you weave the creative bits together to create a great piece. Well done!

  6. Alice Muschany says:

    Linda, as always, your stories have a touch of humor and a life lesson within them. Every “She” should have a she-shed (try saying that ten times in a row). While we women may be chatty, there are times when we crave alone time. Thanks to TV ears, he can watch shoot-em-ups while I play my vinyl records that take me back to my glory days or just enjoy the silence. But a she-shed would be even better. Hope you move into yours soon.

  7. Dianna Graveman says:

    As always, I enjoyed your story, Linda! You made me long for my own space—something that’s not likely to happen in our little bitty home. Let me know how the shed works out!

  8. Maybe it’s our generation. I always longed for a hide-away and…a pony. When my kids were young, I had a treehouse built fulfilling what I thought was the dream of every young boy. My boys never went up to that beautiful treehouse to play! They preferred the basement where the large TV was. So, maybe it’s a girl thing to want a room of one’s own- far away from the hurly-burly of adult conversation and adult strife. I would have loved a treehouse!

  9. Kim Lehnhoff says:

    Linda,
    We’ll have to go thrifting one day to decorate your backyard sanctuary!

  10. Kim Vernon says:

    Linda, I can so relate! As usual, you entertain with a good story, a chuckle, and a life lesson. Love the images you paint, and the honesty with which you recall the less than perfect portion of your childhood.

  11. Rose Ann says:

    There’s just something about having a space to yourself–a place to revel, clear your mind and acknowledge yourself. You remind us of the importance of introspection!

  12. Susan says:

    That was such a nice story, Linda. It had many emotions expressed in it. Nice job! Susan

  13. Connie says:

    I remember having a couple of places that I would retreat to as a child. One was to climb to the top or the maple tree in our back yard where it was quiet and breezy, and I could hear my own thoughts. Another was behind a group of bushes that lined up against our house. I was hidden, safe from view there and could call the space my own. Wonderful article that I can relate to.

  14. Mary Ann Crimi says:

    Thanks, Linda, for reminding me it’s okay to want a cozy nook of alone space. I enjoyed reading your essays–so relatable!

  15. Friko says:

    Linda, I never had a room of my own as a child or teenager; in fact, I had to sleep in the family’s sitting room. As soon as I could I got away.

    From then on, wherever I lived, I made a space just for me, to the extent that, at one point, I deliberately arranged a living room with the sole aim of making it boring for the person I lived with. Obviously, that didn’t last.

    Now I have a whole house to myself; I wish I didn’t.

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