So I just tied up the ends of my first year of college. I’ll be posting some updates about how my last week went, along with some end-of-year reflection stuff, but today I just want to talk about empty rooms.
I finally cleaned out all of my stuff from my dorm room and it looked like this:
It was creepy. Dead. Like I never lived there. Like maybe every experience and lesson I discovered this year was erasable: not part of some building process toward the greater adult me that I like to think it is, but just another point in a sequence of transient moments.
People usually create a visible mark of their persona on the space they inhabit. For a lot of my friends, this mark was deliberately crafted. Their walls were plastered with collages of posters, maps, and photos they brought from home, along with beautiful arrangements of signs and programs from every campus event they have attended. From the day they moved in, turning their walIs into agentive artistic expressions of their interests and experiences was the way they made their dorm rooms feel like home.
I admired this approach, but it wasn’t me. For an artsy person, I’m quite a functionalist (or just lazy?) when it comes to living spaces. I made myself feel at home in my space not by decorating it, but by simply living in it. I never put up any posters or photos and I barely bought any additional room supplies. I just got enough containers to store my clothes and textbooks and started going.
So my personal mark on the space still happened, but it was in a less intentional, organized, and pretty way. It happened in the form of ever-accumulating stacks of printed readings and graded papers on my desk, which I told myself I would get rid of after that stream of late-night papers ended (never). It happened in the form of the pile of dead pointe shoes collected under my bed, which I couldn’t bring myself to throw away, rationalizing that maybe they weren’t really totally dead (though I no longer wanted to wear them in class) or that maybe someone would want pointe shoes for a recycled art project (hey, it has happened before). It happened in the form of some stray gum wrappers sprinkled around my shelves from when the rate of my stress-chewing was faster than my ability to reach the trash can. It happened in the form of the cards, d(r)yng flowers, and decorated post-it notes from my friends which I stacked on my windowsill, gestures that I treasured, though didn’t reciprocate quite as often as I should have. It happened in the form of a little stray glitter from one of those cards, dispersed across my desk and floor, which I didn’t pick up both because that would require effort and because I found it sort of magical.
My visible identity in the room, the imprint of me, then, wasn’t something I carefully constructed, but instead the semi-neglected extras of my life, the things that happened to me while I was too busy doing more “important” things to clean them up. And for me, that was sort of perfect.
Isn’t real life what happens in those messy, forgotten, in-between spaces?
But then I killed this spatial self in a few hours as I packed my things away. Since my school papers had not yet had time to collect sentimental valus, I was able to toss them without much extra thought. I stripped the shoes of their ribbons and threw them away. I saved the notes and cards in a folder. I swept up any stray trash, packed up my clothes and textbooks, and left.
And now it’s just a generic empty room, like I never happened. A blank room waiting for someone to happen to it, waiting to turn into someone.