Follow me then, into the kitchen, through this doorway which, unlike all the other rooms of our house, has no door to shut you out or keep you in. The atmosphere is easy come, easy go. There is nothing to hide in this room, nothing to lock up. Its contents belong to one and all. I am especially fond of the linoleum floor and its intriguing pattern of green and red concentric squares. It would appear to be a simple checkerboard to most people, but to me it is so much more. In the center of each six inch square is a black half inch square centered in either a green or red one inch square. The squares then increase by half inch increments of alternating green or red color until the final six inch square is reached. This arrangement of shape within shape and color within color provide an endless possibility of pattern and form and an endless opportunity to imagine and explore. I am eight years old. I scrub this floor every Saturday morning. I get down on my hands and knees with a bucket of warm soapy water and a soft, clean rag. I scrub every square inch of the floor with the ardor of a mystic finding herself in the midst of an infinite and unintended journey. The voice you hear belongs to my mother, “What’s going on? It’s taking you forever to scrub that floor.”
When I was younger, about four years old, I used to climb up on Helen’s lap and sit out there in the kitchen with them. Helen would let me look through her pocket book for candy and chewing gum, and she would let me take sips of her ginger ale. But then one day something happened to change me forever. It was something my mother said: “Go in the other room like a good little girl.” Her words came as a shock to me. How could I ever be anything but a good little girl? I looked at my mother and in a state of utter confusion stated, “But I already am a good little girl.” Everyone was impressed by my wit and my logic, I could tell by the expression on their faces and the way that looked at each other and smiled. My mother did not smile. She stared at me with a stern face and with an air of one-up-manship said “Then go in the other room like the good little girl that you are.” I realized at that moment that my being good was not a permanent condition, that it was instead a never ending process that carried with it the ever present possibility of not being good. And what’s more, that that possibility could be determined and therefore arbitrarily controlled by someone other than myself. I was sickened by the horror of this revelation, and by the arduous path that now lay ahead of me, the endless proof I would have to provide to the judges of goodness whoever they might be. I felt broken and shamed. With my eyes downcast and my head hung low I dutifully left the kitchen. I threw myself on the sofa, buried my head under a pillow and cried for a long while over my great loss and the ponderous knowledge that replaced it.