“The boogey man’s gonna get you!” he said.
I was never exactly sure what the boogey man was. I imagined he was tall with long, strong fingers, quick to grab little girls’ legs.
Our house was two stories. Upstairs we had our kitchen, living room, the bathroom, my parents’ bedroom and my room.
Downstairs was the potting studio that opened out to the pool. My father had his own den with dark wood paneling. It smelled of pipe smoke and leather.
My sister’s bedroom was downstairs. It was a tie between her room, and my brother’s beneath the garage for most interesting place.
Her room had a jewelry collection hanging in front of her vanity mirror. The room always had a lingering scent of her spicy musk perfume. The perfume bottle top had a leopard fur button for spraying. She had a saffron yellow dress full of tiny round mirrors from India and a bright purple scarf draped around. She was 13 years older than me and without question, the most exotic person I knew. She seemed to always be leaving, leaving for a date with her boyfriend, then leaving for college when I was four.
My brother’s room smelled of aquarium and teenage boy sweat.
“Stop, you’re gonna overfeed them!” he said as I crumbled soft orange fish flakes over the tank top. I couldn’t help myself. I loved to watch their lips breaking the surface and pinching at the food that smelled like salty shrimp.
He had painted pterodactyls on his walls and they swooped down in a prehistoric sky. The aquarium bubbled. He usually had on the radio, the TV or both. He liked background noise to distract him from the constant whine in his ear, the tinnitus he developed after a bad dive.
I spent many times running up and down the stairs. I never knew when the boogey man would get me. I ran downstairs and GRAB! The boogey man got me! I shrieked! Then I heard my brother’s laugh and I ran down the rest of the stairs. He swept me up and spun me around.
“Better be careful!” he said.
* * *
I had an easy time with some words. Cat, house, man, mouse. But orange seemed like an impossible word. I couldn’t spell it out and I couldn’t make any sense of how to order the letters.
My brother sat down with me at the kitchen table.
“I’ll help you,” he said. “First, draw an orange. Make a circle.”
I made the o.
“Then, think about something you like to do, running. Oranges give you energy to run. What did you do after you ate an orange? You ran. Write ran.”
I added the ran. oran
“Now, you like oranges so much, they have the first two letters of your name. Write ge.”
I put them on. orange
From that day he taught me, I have always spelled it in three pieces. I draw the o, the ran and the first two letters of my name.
I never misspelled orange again.
I haven’t forgotten.