Wallpaper Memories by Susan Mellsopp
Our memories are like wallpaper, some are glued to our consciousness forever, others fall apart at the joins and corners. These memories can tear at our very being and jilt our souls. The patterns of life seldom match our expectations.
Like a new home, we can choose to wallpaper the rooms of our minds with all the choices, emotions and experiences of an interesting life. Our foibles are exposed, our long-standing patterns can become mismatched, and boring. Choosing to paint over our disappointments with colours reflecting our frustrations or moods mirrors the imperfections of living. Mysterious hues are like the flowers of life unfolding.
Childhood is the place where we prepare for a life of dreams and disappointments. The blank walls we are born with are soon filled with amazing and sad experiences; love, family, education, fun; or abandonment and sometimes death. The walls in my childhood home were covered in yards of scrim to which the wallpaper was attached. Most were rich and patterned, flocked, and extra rolls always had to be purchased to reach the high stud. My home reverberated with early love, loss, frustration and undeserved anger. Laughter seldom bounced off those walls, even those which my sister had scribbled on bringing forth wrath of immense proportions from our mother. Memories were absorbed, overlaid, watched and filled the many corners of a family existence. When rooms needed re-papering economy of choice meant obscure changes and boring reflections.
In my mid-teens we left behind the tattered memories, the curling papers, the rotting scrim. A brand-new home had been built, one full of light and the opportunity to grow new memories and put up impenetrable walls. Allowed to decorate my own bedroom, which had a stable door opening onto a terrace, I chose a soft lemon with a quiet slightly raised patterned wallpaper. It was calming, necessary for those turbulent restless years and the many hours of study spent ensconced in this light filled and cool room. Marks and scuffing where furniture was pushed against the wall soon showed, much to my chagrin. It bowed to the ongoing bruising of my soul. A darker lemon eiderdown soothed nightly a struggling teenager who was not permitted to rebel. This same wallpaper still hung on the walls of my room when the house was sold decades later. I wonder if it shed its secrets and grief when stripped back.
Other rooms had quiet, reflective papers. This induced an almost soporific atmosphere; everything was aligned so patterns matched. The main bedroom had a simple gold and brown pattern, it swirled around the room, and failed to match properly in several places given the presence of many corners, windows and doors. A reflection of the inhabitant, somehow as she remained attached and relevant, so did the private abode.
Eventually the patterns shifted and the wallpaper of life became misaligned and much maligned. Married, I moved into an old cottage with ancient torn wallpaper, some painted over decades before, ugly choices made by previous unknown inhabitants. Building a new tiny home, I was not even allowed to visit it while it was being constructed. It arrived in the middle of the night on the back of a truck. I had been given a budget of two dollars per roll for wallpaper. I never considered just resorting to paint, it was not yet fashionable. Choosing a floral pink pattern for the main bedroom, the children’s room was a plain soft green. I paid extra for one roll, about four dollars, to put on the kitchen wall as a contrast to the soft orange and green of the other walls and cupboard doors. New colours were expected to brighten up my life. When the house was finally extended as the family expanded, the main bedroom was adorned with a dark cream and brown pattern, in fashion then but now quite ugly. It’s twists and turns definitely reflected a marriage within its walls. The room shrank into mindless oblivion, as did one of its inhabitants. As corners curled and edges which lacked proper glue tore, so did the relationship. The remnants were used to cover school books for children who disliked their daily visits to this establishment. A renovated local coffee bar papered their walls in the same paper, somehow it cheapened it.
One child chose a hugely patterned paper that had horses and carriages all over and a turquoise background. These very busy walls were reflected in his exhausting approach to life and eventually death. Finally the pink floral wallpaper which had been painted over was stripped, tiny piece by tiny piece soaked in soapy water. It was the ultimate exercise in parental patience. A soft mauve replaced the pink, a quiet colour for a quiet child. Yet like life, it takes more than pigment or new paper to assert attendant change. Eventually paint covered most papers, making it extremely difficult to remove. Like life it adhered stubbornly to its underpinnings.
A new lounge was again papered in patterned lemon wallpaper, somehow a life affirming favourite tone. This room saw parties, reading, many hours of rugby and cricket watching, boredom, frustration and eventually violent anger. For such a quiet subtle hue it evoked the hidden and stress in shattered lives.
A new home for the newly single, wallpaper was banished. A soft ivy green paint offered peace, relaxation and a quiet safe home. I was glued to a new future full of hopes and hidden dreams. Watching from afar I surmised that the crooked seams and joins of our lives and loves are often mismatched, eclectic, and the vibrant choices we attach to our inner walls become our wallpaper memories. We do not forget the links between the hues of our life and the rooms we live in. Feature walls, again in fashion, are like standout life experiences. Paint is easier, the modern muted tints a new life link. As we absorb our memories into rooms without wallpaper or scrim, life no longer adheres, memories are hidden in the walls of our souls.