I wake up at 10:30 in the morning, turn my head, and see a little stinkbug climbing on the blinds. Strangely enough, I don’t scream, don’t get right up to grab a tissue paper and throw him into the toilet. I let him crawl around. I actually watch him for a while, his tiny feet and limbs, the way he used his antennae to feel above him as he climbed the cord. His limbs tensing ever so slightly as he tries to lift himself from one blind slat to the next.
I decide to get up, make myself some breakfast, and leave the critter alone. He can have my blinds; I’m only staying in that room for five days.
I’m home from college for fall break. The night had been spent staring up at the ceiling, my eyes darting around, thinking how strange and foreign the space seemed to me. I now inhabit my younger sister’s room, when I’m at home—she took my bigger room when I moved to college.
It is weird. Living in a different room than I have for the past few years. Coming home from college only to feel like a visitor, a stranger in my own home. I don’t recognize the cramped room as much as my old one. Its nooks and crannies hide secrets I’m unaware of. The closet is filled with a mixture of my sister’s clothes that never made it down the hall and my numerous books.
The bookshelf, her bookshelf, now houses a few of my books, yearbooks, newspapers, and binders. Looking at the new home for my things brings me back to my old room.
* * *
I sat on the floor, stretched my legs out, and slowly looked around the room. It was one of the last times I would be looking at it as my own.
My gaze lingered on the bookshelf. Several binders, journals, loose papers, and books crammed into the space. Though I knew what was in each binder, I took out the one labeled “Sophomore Year 2007.”
Taking care not to spill the contents, I shifted the pages to the back. Cody: High School Vampire Hunter, the first paper read. It was the script for my high school’s dinner theatre show. I saved the scripts so I could go back and remember my lines. Turning through a few more pages, my fingers slid across my tenth grade schedule. Why I saved it, I cannot begin to imagine. Maybe I thought at the time, You can look back through this binder when you’re older and remember the classes you took, how you felt about math, about creative writing, and you can glance at the teachers and reflect on the times you had, and wonder if they are still there. Maybe I was doing just that.
Over time I’ve saved up a collection. I call them my memory binders. They span eighth grade until my senior year in high school, housing ticket stubs, show pamphlets, essays, stories, poems, notes, drawings, certificates, and other objects attached to occasions I don’t want to forget. Sometimes I lay on my scratchy blue carpet and go through these binders—reminiscing on important or even miniscule events in my life. Maybe somewhere deep down, I know, or at least I feel, that when all of these memories, all of these scraps of paper are put together, they tell the story of my life. That when put together, these scraps of my life that will be left on Earth for however long can prove that I existed.
I flipped through the pages until I found the English essay section. Reading over the comments my teachers scribbled in red ink made me smile, but something was also causing a sadness to fill me up. I read my essays and let my tears mix with the red ink.
* * *
Later in the day, I go back into my sister’s old room. I don’t call it my room; my room is down the hall, where I always used to sleep, where my clothing and trinkets once resided. The stinkbug is still on the blinds, a little higher than when I had left him.
I consider again the tissue paper and sending him off into a terrifying death of drowning with one flush of the toilet. But for some reason, I don’t act as god on this small creature. I let him crawl on the blinds. He inhabits the room much like I do, as a stranger, perhaps wondering how he had gotten there.
I don’t know if sparing this bug is morally right. All I know is that he is reliable. I go to bed late that night, flick off the light switch and say a hushed goodnight to my companion. He is now perched on his highest blind yet; quite an accomplishment for the day’s work.
I open my eyes the next morning and check the blinds. The bug moved to the opposite side of the window, but when I sit up in bed and blow on his antennae, he freezes, his antennae sticking upright.
Something in this bug tells me to leave him be, to let life happen.
I breathe in deeply, letting the air fill my lungs until I can’t take in any more. The calm clashes with the anger that once filled me.
* * *
My face was warm. The anger spread throughout my sides, my fingers, making my skin hot and prickly. Frustration built within my chest. I tried to hold it in.
But the anger burst out in tangy screams. I yelled at her more than I want to admit.
Leaving my room would mean moving into hers. It’s not that hers is smaller, or more cramped, or painted baby blue, it’s that I would have to call her room my own. And with all of her things in it, my room would become hers. She’d have both—they would both be hers. Neither one would wholly be mine.
“It’s my room, Hannah! Why would I give it to you?”
“Because you’re leaving!” she said, so simply it made it hard to not go along with her argument.
“I’ve never lived in your room,” I explained, “why would I live there now?”
“You’re leaving,” she said again. Like it was a final thing.
I wanted to scream back at her, to fight the finality. But I only pursed my lips and stared up at the skylight. The beauty of the sunlight casting shadows on the carpet conflicted with my distress. I wanted to lay down on the blue carpet and move my arms and legs, watching as my movements created the shadows. But I stood in the doorway and let the anger bubble up again.
* * *
Weeks passed and I knew I had to give in. She threatened to move my things into her room when I left. I pictured my papers flying everywhere, my binders being shoved in the room in disorganized chaos. No. I didn’t want that.
“All right,” I sighed, “we’ll cycle.”
“We’ll what?” she asked, one of her eyebrows raising dramatically.
“I’ll move some stuff into your room in order to make room for your stuff. We’ll cycle.”
And so began our day-long task. I stacked the binders lining the bottom of my bookshelf and tried picking them all up at once. “Out of the way,” I called, kicking her door open. The binders made one loud thud as I dropped them on the carpet.
“Where am I going to keep those?”
“That’s only the beginning,” I said, turning around and going back to the bookshelf. “Now for my books.”
I came back, arms loaded with books. Their weight felt good in my arms. I’ve read all the words on all of those pages—when the books are lined up they prove this.
The binders remained where I dropped them. Hannah sat on her bed, her hand sliding across a piece of paper. Colored pencils were spread out around her. She stopped moving her hand and chose a different color.
I sat down in front of the bookshelf and looked at my binders piled in the middle of her floor. There it was—all my stuff, all the stuff that defined me. It was being uprooted and I was being forced to plant it in her room. Like a desert shrub that the city-residing mother insists on planting in her window garden. The desert shrub’s label warns the mother it won’t thrive in her garden climate, but she ignores it.
I grabbed the binders one by one and lined the second shelf with them.
* * *
The chill in the house seeps through the blanket I wrapped around myself. I slide a finger through the blinds and peer outside at the fresh snow. The stinkbug is sitting peacefully on a blind slat. I don’t bother him.
I turn my phone on. Noon, the phone clock reads. I’m still tired.
The binders on the bookshelf beckon me. I could easily spend hours peering over the work of my past, but I let the binders stay where they are. I have to get up and start the day. The dirty clothes are preventing me from shutting my laundry hamper. The bathroom is beyond my cleanliness standards—Hannah doesn’t seem to mind hair curling up in the corners or toothpaste drying up in the sink.
I dump the clothes in the washing machine, measure a cup of detergent, and pour the thick, blue liquid in. I start the wash and get the cleaning supplies from the hall closet. I’ll wash the bathroom to my liking.
* * *
The duffel bag won’t close. I squeeze the sides together, sit on the bag, try to zip around my legs. Finally, I take my sweatshirt out and manage to zip the bag up.
I stand up and glance around the room. There is nothing on the floor, except for my duffel bag and backpack, which will be gone soon. My eyes settle across the room on the bookshelf. I can’t pack them, I tell myself, there’s no room in my dorm.
I quietly shut the door and pad down the steps. Break is over and I have to head back to college. Five hours of driving will pass and take me from this home, this room that is not mine.
I left my memory binders in my sister’s room. They’ll be waiting for me when I come home.
The bug, I also left him in the room. For all I know he’s still there, crawling around on the blinds, feeling his way on the desk, or squeezing into my books on my side of the closet. I’m content with him living in that room, keeping it inhabited until I come home.