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Authors: Jennifer Saginor

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BOOK: Playground
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were older so I could be downstairs with everyone else. There isn’t

a sad face in the crowd.

Women shine in their Nolan Miller, cream-colored satin suits

with plunging necklines. Their ears are weighed down by dra-

matic clip earrings with clusters of brilliant rhinestones. There is

so much dazzle that it looks as if everything was on fire. The bril-

liance surrounds me and lifts me up to a place of music and light.

37

J E N N I F E R S A G I N O R

On days when Savannah decides to stay at Mom’s I occupy

myself by playing hide-and-seek inside the Mansion. Dorothy

Stratten and I split up in the foyer. Dorothy closes her eyes while

I make a mad dash past the screening room and into the library.

I look around, deciding to hide underneath the bar. I open one of

the cabinets under the bar and crawl in. But before I have time to

shut the door, one of the butlers sees me. I hold my finger over my

lips and then duck inside as Dorothy is quickly approaching.

“Have you seen Jennifer?” she asks.

“Let’s see, that would be who?” he says, jovially.

“Can’t say I have for sure,” he says, leaving. I feel around in the

darkness accidentally squeezing something rubbery. It squeaks

and Dorothy busts open the cabinet door to find me holding a

large rubber boob! We laugh and split up again. I count to ten be-

fore I hunt her down. I run upstairs and wave to my favorite secu-

rity guard, asking him if he’s seen her.

“No.” He shakes his head as I pop my head into Dad’s room. I

open a big wooden armoire. No sign of her, but I do find a funny

looking plastic hotdog. I turn it all around, unsure of what it is. I

grab it and run out, bumping into a security guard on my way out.

“Is everything all right?” he asks.

“Fine,” I say, as my face turns bright red.

“What do you have there?” he asks and I shrug. The security

guard takes the hotdog away from me and says, “Little girls shouldn’t

be playing with this.”

Next stop, room five. I enter, calling out Dorothy’s name. I

open the closet door, shouting, “I got you!” I find nothing but extra

robes on hangers. I look under the bed. Still nothing. I stare at the

closed bathroom door. I make my way to the door, careful not to

make any noise. I turn the knob and yell, “Found you!” A naked

woman screeches as a man rolls off her in the tub. I freeze mo-

mentarily, and then spin around and peel outta there!

I return downstairs, where I find Dorothy outside lounging

on a chair by the pool. She smiles brightly telling me I won, even

38

Playground

though I know I really didn’t. I ask if she wants to play again, but

she tells me she has a photo shoot in half an hour and reassures me

that we will play again soon.

We’re at Mom’s house when we receive the news. The phone is

handed to me and on the other line is Dad who sounds unbeliev-

ably down.

“I won’t be able to see you girls this weekend. Something came

up,” he tells us.

“What?”

“I didn’t want to get into it over the phone, but Dorothy Strat-

ten was killed.”

You can hear his frustration, his devastation.

“What happened?”

“It’s a tragedy,” he explains in a low, hushed voice. “Her

estranged husband murdered her and then took his own life.”

“Why would he do that?”

“It’s a long story. It’s just a shame. Really sad.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too. She was a special lady. I’ll call you later; I just wanted

to tell you it’s going to be a hectic weekend,” Dad says.

“Okay. Bye, Dad. Love you.”

We hang up and I stand there for a minute thinking about

Dorothy. I felt suddenly more alone than ever. Years later, the reper-

cussions of losing someone I am close to begin to sink in. I realize

the people who mean the most to me are taken away the fastest. I

cling on tighter to those I am attached too; never wanting to let go.

My sadness is wrapped around a sort of disbelief that she is ac-

tually gone. This surreal world and all that occurs begins to not

feel real after awhile.

It was only last weekend we saw her laying by the pool with

friends.

39

Four

I t’s 1981. I am twelve when Dad moves into the Mansion full-

time for over a year. And though he eventually moves back to his

house, he continues to keep his room at the Mansion through the

rest of the eighties.

He starts dating Pamela, a natural redhead with fair, silky white

skin, freckles, and hazel eyes. She is a genuinely nice, warm-

hearted television actress who comes from a family of entertainers.

She is really kind and seems to care about us. Pamela has her own

house but spends most nights at Dad’s.

Pamela is different from the girls we’re used to seeing Dad

with—for one thing, she doesn’t like going to the Mansion. She

says she wants a normal life. She tucks us in at night and tells us

bedtime stories about a Pink Land where kids run wild in fields of

pink flowers and everyone is always happy. She cooks us dinner

J E N N I F E R S A G I N O R

and makes us eat all our vegetables. Even Dad becomes more like a

dad when she is around—he’s calmer, he asks about our home-

work, he even acts kind of goofy, sometimes. At times, I start to feel

like his house is a real home.

Out of nowhere Dad tells me he is going to remodel his house.

“Where will you stay?” I ask.

“My room at the Mansion until the house is done,” Dad says

matter-of-factly as if we should know better, and I can tell Pamela

is hurt.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Richard; you can stay with me.” Pamela

offers a cute, small smile.

“I don’t want to inconvenience anyone,” Dad answers.

“You’re not. Don’t be silly; I’d love to have you,” Pamela insists.

“I’m up there all the time. I already have my own room. Plus,

the kids will need a place to stay when they visit me,” Dad says,

oblivious to Pamela’s look of disbelief.

Our faces light up.

“Will we get our own room too?” we ask.

“Of course,” Dad smiles.

“You’re unbelievable,” says Pamela, shaking her head before

leaving the room.

Dad shouts after Pamela as if she were Mom. “What do you

want me to do, rent a house? Would that make you feel better?”

The following day, Savannah and I race into Mom’s house

thrilled about having our own room up at Hef ’s.

“We’re gonna live at the Mansion! We’re gonna live at the Man-

sion!” we chant without thinking of the consequences. Though we

know how she feels about the Mansion, we are hoping our enthusi-

asm will change her mind.

“What’s going on?” she asks.

“Dad’s house is going to be remodeled for a year. Dad’s going

to live at Hef ’s and said we could have our own room there too!”

blurts Savannah.

42

Playground

Hopeful, we look at Mom,

“Please, Mom? It’s really fun up there. There’s so much to do.

There’s Frogger and monkeys and a waterfall. We never see any-

thing bad. I swear,” I say.

“Please?” Savannah begs.

“I’ve been there before and have seen many inappropriate

things for children.”

“It’s changed!”

“The answer is no.”

Mom sees the childish excitement in our eyes—the whole

world will fall apart if she denies us. She softens for a moment.

“Can’t you at least come and see for yourself ? We can show you

around.”

“We can show you the monkeys!” says Savannah, tugging on

Mom’s hand.

“Please?”

“Okay. I’ll take a look around.”

Mom shakes her head like she’s disappointed in herself for giv-

ing in.

“Yippee!” we shout, dancing around.

“But if I find anything inappropriate, that’s it. Understand?”

Savannah and I nod at each other as we continue to cheer.

The next Friday, movie night, Savannah and I give Mom the

full tour of the Mansion before guests arrive. We lead Mom

around by the hand, showing off the mansion like it’s ours.

We stroll by the animals, the pool, and the birds. Savannah dis-

tracts Mom in the changing room while I check out the grotto to

make sure no one’s there, signaling to my sister that the coast is

clear. Mom enters the steamy grotto, spinning her head around in

every direction, scrutinizing the steamy space, immediately ques-

tioning all the open bottles of baby oil by the cushions.

“Mom, it’s for tanning!”

I quickly pull her back out into the daylight.

43

J E N N I F E R S A G I N O R

We take her inside to the library, where she eyeballs a set of

porcelain boobs and
Playboy
magazines on display. Mom’s eyes

lower in disgust as she lifts her nose to the indecent material.

“Don’t worry. We never come in here. This is where the guys

play cards—I mean, Monopoly,” I say.

At this point, Mom seems okay, not entirely convinced, but Sa-

vannah and I are still hopeful.

“You should see upstairs!” I yell.

We smile when butlers pass and Mom’s head turns as they refer

to us by name.

We walk up the grand staircase and Mom comments on the

oversize pair of brass breasts hanging on the wall.

“Mom, some really famous guy did that, Picasso or something.”

Mom shakes her head as we hang a left, past Hef ’s bedroom.

We are halfway down the hall when she stops to examine the glass

cabinet filled with naked figurines. I cringe, fearful of her reaction,

motioning to Savannah to yank Mom by the arm immediately.

“Mom, over here!” she screams and Mom glances away just in

time. We continue walking, pointing to room number two.

“That’s Dad’s room!”

We head down the long corridor lined with framed pictures of

celebrities. Mom stops to stare at a picture of Warren Beatty.

“I didn’t know he came up here.”

“All the time,” I brag, as if we’re old-timers.

“Oh, Tony Bennett. Look at Clint Eastwood!” Mom stares at

their photos.

Savannah and I cross our fingers.

“I love Tony Curtis!” Mom rattles off.

“Cheryl Tiegs, Farrah Fawcett?”

“See Mom, women come here too!”

“Mick Jagger, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson . . .”

“This place isn’t as bad as you think,” I say.

Mom turns and looks at me sharply, as we turn another corner

lined with more pictures along the hallway and stop at room six.

44

Playground

I enter first, Mom follows, then Savannah. Mom scans the room like

a hawk, opening the wood cabinets and drawers. She practically

sniffs the place as I quickly cover a few
Playboy
magazines with my

backpack. Mom walks around as I push an ashtray underneath the

bed, panicking because the butlers must’ve cleaned the room and

put everything back that I hid! Mom reaches for the wooden box

filled with cigarettes as I step on Savannah’s foot, hard.

“Ouch!” Savannah cries at the top of her lungs.

Mom swings around to comfort her as I leap for the wooden

box, shoving it behind a chair.

“I’m sorry,” I mouth to Savannah.

My heart pounds as Mom moves to the window and gasps.

“What on earth! Who are those women?” Mom shrieks, refer-

ring to the topless Playmates basking out by the pool.

“Booby ladies!” Savannah shouts for joy.

I cringe, grabbing my head with my hands.

“Oh, they’re nothing,” I say casually, hoping she won’t notice

that they’re naked.

“Nothing? They aren’t wearing any clothes!” Mom shouts.

“I mean, they’re nobodies!”

“Nobodies?”

“I don’t know who they are!”

“I know exactly who and what they are!” Mom yells.

“In some countries nudity is considered art!”

“Whoever told you that is probably a sex maniac!” she

screams.

Mom is pissed. We’re now walking briskly back down the

hallway.

“I will not have my daughters around naked women! It creates

a negative message and one day you will thank me!”

A couple in terrycloth bathrobes exits the bedroom beside us

and Mom glares at them scornfully, ushering us away.

“That’s it! I’ve seen enough!” Mom assures us.

The celebrity pictures on the walls blur together as we pass.

45

BOOK: Playground
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