Introduction to Exotic
“Human psychology is the most mysterious thing in the world.”
― Munia Khan
Though kind, steady Jean certainly balanced out wild Katie, the Can Can girl, and Ellie had brought me security and comfort, I remained a blank slate compared to others my age in terms of awareness of the ‘real world’. I didn’t hear tales late at night from siblings about scary or mysterious beings, either real or imagined. On the playground, always the newcomer with no social skills, I wasn’t invited in. Instead, I watched the movement of unfamiliar bodies from a distance as they engaged in play, transfixed by their ease.
To me, based upon my limited experience, girls my age were either quiet or noisy; kind, or Can Can dancers, with all that implied. They behaved their parents and enjoyed them as Ellie did, or constantly challenged the status quo like Katie. As far as I could tell, those were my two choices, or models for being a ‘real girl’. It never occurred to me there might be a child who would fall outside of those two categories. Then I met Annette.
We moved from that instructive family neighborhood, eventually settling on the island from which I taxied to Jean’s home several years later. Before we moved to the island, though, we stayed for a month or so in the Baroness Hotel, which still exists on Seattle’s Capital Hill.
We had what I suppose was a suite; one bedroom, bath, and an efficiency kitchen that was part of the main room. I slept there on a pullout couch, not minding the arrangement at all. In the morning, I would awaken, my parents still asleep in their room, and the apartment felt like my own private world. I’d look at the window, watching pedestrians on their way to work, and wave, queen-like, from my seventh story perch. They never saw me, but I allowed them, from my imaginary small kingdom, the courtesy of acknowledgement. I remember thinking that living in this place, so different than the block we’d left behind filled with families and children, made the three of us special, that life would now change for the better.
There was one other child in the building, Annette. I was eight, and she around eleven. We weren’t exactly friends, but we were the only two children around, so occasionally we spent time together at each other’s place of residence. There were no nearby parks – this was right next to downtown Seattle, and I don’t think I went to school during that transition. We were waiting for housing, our move date dependent on factors beyond my understanding.
It was a thrill to have the freedom to take the elevator all by myself up to Annette’s family apartment. I felt very grown up, pushing the right button, nodding importantly to the adults who joined me on my ride two floors up.
Annette, too, was an only child, so that was a draw. To me, she was exotic looking – maybe because she was older and her features more defined. She had a sharp nose and languid eyes that never seemed to rest on my face. Her brown hair cascaded down to her waist – never contained – and there was an air of mystery about her, as it turns out, for good reason. It always felt as if she were encased by an invisible gossamer shield; never quite present.
One evening I overheard my parents talking about Annette. “They found her in the elevator, eventually,” my mother reported to my father.
“In the middle of the night?”
“Three o’clock in the morning,” my mother replied.
I quickly asked, “Annette got lost in the elevator in the middle of the night?” Nothing seemed more terrifying to me, as much as I loved that elevator.
My mother paused a moment. I was aware that she was choosing her words, like the time she told me that her brother’s wife had killed herself. My mother’s demeanor was so serious, I began to equate the two circumstances; the suicide, and Annette in the elevator. This situation had to have something to do with death.
“It turns out, Annette sleepwalks,” she said.
“She, without realizing it, walks in her sleep.”
“While she’s sleeping?” I tried to clarify.
My mother pulled me to her. “Sometimes,” she began, “even though people are asleep, they get up and do things, like leave their house or wash the dishes. Annette, apparently, wakes up and takes the elevator.”
I was stunned. “Why? Where does she go? Does she leave the building?” It been made clear to me that nothing was worse than the crime of even considering leaving the building unattended.
“I’m not sure,” my mother said. “They try to keep an eye on her, but apparently she does this frequently. They’re looking for other housing, because, of course, it’s dangerous for her to do this, particularly in a hotel setting.”
I never saw Annette sleepwalk, but I had a very clear vision of what she would look like when she did. She’d be wearing a long white nightgown. Her hair, as always, would float behind her as she walked, the nightgown somehow billowing. I assumed she’d have her arms perpendicular from her body – somehow that image had been explained to me – and she would glide down the dark Baroness Hotel hallways, occasionally turning slowly in her trance, pushing the button to the elevator. Then, she’d walk out the front door of the lobby.
That’s as far as I could imagine the scenario.
Shortly after my hearing of Annette’s predilection, her family moved. Annette never said good-bye, and my mother quickly tired of my constant questioning about what had happened, would happen, and why it had happened conversations about Annette’s strange behavior.
This not-really friendship with mysterious Annette with astounding capabilities taught me a few things my Laurelhurst neighborhood chums had not. The most significant was the awareness that things could happen to our bodies and minds that neither we, nor our parents, could control. That was an unimaginable power; its own entity, both frightening, yet alluring. For several months after Annette’s departure, I was worried, as I fell asleep, that her sleepwalking tendencies would somehow transfer to me, the only child left to wander the halls of the Baroness Hotel – as if it were a magic spell that lived only in this particular castle. This, of course, did not happen, but the possibility now joined a long list of fears and worries that ruled my days.
My exposure to this mysterious girl became an asterisk in my mental processing of how things happened to children – to people. Yes, do what your parents tell you. Yes, obey all the rules, all of the time. If you’re a Katie, you flaunt them, but I was not a Katie. Now, I realized, there was something that existed more potent than rules or parents. And if that was so, how would that change the way I could survive in the world?
Next Week: Peggy, An Invitation to the Circus
Art by Lisa Jensen.
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