There are three things left in the room. A Gibson guitar, a sleeping bag, and the erroneous impression that I loved him. The first two things will stay with me. I'll pawn the guitar but keep the sleeping bag. Mine is getting old. The latter, I imagine, will stay with him forever.
I pull the vacuum from outside the door, a Hoover that I brought from home. It sucks up all the trouble that we made. It picks up wrappers bottle caps and ashes. It cleans up very well. He's leaving in the morning but I won't see him off. I'll say goodbye tonight once all the boxes are addressed.
If these walls could talk, theyíd probably choose not to. Maybe their voice would be heard in the sullen hum of the radiator, or whistle softly over the cracked window pane. The sloppy paint job exaggerates how sad and empty a place can feel, even if itís abundant in life and furniture. A plastered bulge by the closet covers a fist sized hole. It was there long before I was, evidence of previous residents, whispers, and screams.
And the closet, the dark wedge of space in the corner, housing for doubt and pride draped over hangers and stacked on the shelf. Itís only meant to be considered as storage space.
At dusk a deep melon light moves like ballet over blades of beige carpet and the face of each wall. It casts shadows but creates something pure, a blank slate, an open canvas. But to someone, it is finally empty.
His eyes and heart are tired of the city and I'm happy as hell to watch him go. I'm okay with losing an alcoholic friend.
He asks for favors up until Iím gone.
He wants to know. Will I mail the boxes tomorrow afternoon? Will I take this shirt to keep his memory? Will I finish this bottle of wine with him tonight?
"No, no, and maybe." I say. Later, I will stumble eight blocks home and hit the sack. I can not sleep when Iím this cold.
This clean room has four bare walls and beige carpet. Aside from indentions left by the four feet of the bed, no evidence is left that someone lived here. This is no place to bid farewell.
Tonight the sky is the most silent shade of bruise Iíve ever seen. Coffeemate clouds spill in and swing across the sky with ease. Still, there is no wind. No toss for my hair as I walk away. No gush of air to push us together one last time. I decide that this is where to say goodbye, under a canvas I can remember while trying to forget the rest. Not in the room where it all began, a snug corner cavity rented out monthly by Heather the owner. Rather, outside, in a place where the surroundings drown out the scene and ambulance songs remind us that the world is still going around.
His flight takes off at nine am. Iím nowhere near the airport. Instead, I have come back to the room. Just double checking to make sure nothing is left behind. I remember walking in for the first time. I saw it as a whole. I didn't pick apart the artists or bands posted on the walls, the pictures taped to the mirror on the antique dresser. All I saw was art and music, a place where I could see myself sitting. Even being happy. Much like hearing a good song for the first time. When the music and the singing sound sweet and mysterious, before realizing that the drums are digital and that the lyrics are meaningless. Before you realize that it's nothing like something you'd want at all.
I lost a ring in this room once, a gift my mom brought back from the Dominican Republic. Two linking silver bands stemmed out from a turquoise shell with amber inside. It slipped off my hand one night and I nearly turned the room upside down looking for it. I gave up that evening but kept watch every returning visit. Even when packing the room up in cardboard, I kept my ring in mind. Perhaps it was sucked up with the rest of the trouble in the vacuum. Or maybe it was packed in a box addressed to Oregon, set to ship out when he did. A piece of myself that I just had to let go of.
Once things go missing, they tend to bring on more meaning than they ever had when they were around. This goes the same with objects, pets, houses, people. There seems a need for closure, a better definition for mental clarity. It's why average people become martyrs in death. Why a lost ring becomes the greatest piece of jewelry ever owned. Now that he is gone, this room will become so much more than four bare walls. In my memory, it will sit as a sanctuary where I go to refurnish rearrange and redecorate something that never fit me to begin with. This room will embody a boy who left me with a guitar and a sleeping bag.
While we were packing, it hit me. That I found nothing in here to be familiar. I donít listen to Black Sabbath and my favorite movie is not Tremors, Tremors II: Aftershocks, or Tremors III: Back to Perfection. I know because Iíve watched them. All. Consecutively.
With every item thrown into a box, the room began to crumble. Beneath the mask of decoration and furniture, I failed to see the room for what it actually was. A place so empty it echoed.
In lieu of covers and sheets, I sat on the mattress and took in the fact that I had never before realized the walls were beige or that the blinds were broken. I grew frustrated with things Iíd overlooked. How I found this space inviting, I may never know.
Before there was nothing in here, there was everything. There was a lamp in the corner and light spilling in. And there were two people. Eating eggs and watching Seinfeld. He played the guitar and I read Kerouac in my glasses. He did pushups while I hit the snooze button.
The empty room holds more than dust and memories. Phantoms from the past drift in through the AC vents, they fuse in the power outlets. They are only shadows of who and how we used to be, pictures and scene frames, silhouettes and songs. Then, like the ghosts that run the labyrinth of a Pacman game, their safe blue state blinks back into a pack of monsters. And in a precious moment of defeat and relief, the screen reads GAME OVER, goes blank, and turns back into an empty room.
In memory, I fill in the gaps over the skeleton of what I remember these four walls to be. I do anything I can to make it whole again. I hang Monet and Elvis Costello posters and fill the mirror edges with childhood photographs. Once it's full in my mind, the details fade. I see it again as something whole where only art and music reside. Iím reminded of how lovely they are sitting next to each other.
The guitar leaned in the corner. Last to go. I'd always loved it but it wasn't mine, even after I was told so. I even loved to play the thing, but it didn't sound right under my hands. He didn't have enough cash to ship it to Oregon. He left it in my hands for permanent safe keeping.
I sold it because I didn't need the presence of one thing to remind me the absence of another. Also, electricity was due. It only represented a place I couldn't go back to, an apartment with new names on the lease, a room that now embodies a new person new art new music. Maybe even someone more like myself
Upon digging through my own room nearly a month after he's gone, I come across his ugly red shirt, the one I said I didnít want. How he snuck it in, and when? I donít know. Surely though, this was no accident. It was tucked in a corner too deep to have been simply left behind. Immediately, I start a list of ways to rid myself this awful garment. Do I have a friend with an upcoming birthday? How about the garbage? Will Goodwill accept a bag with just one item?
The effort becomes too much for too little, and I toss it in the laundry bin in acceptance. It's a little piece of him I just have to hang on to.
He calls to ask how his guitar sounds.
"It sounds like electricity" I tell him.
He sounds pleased.
He wants to know. Do I miss him? Do I love him? Do I think he should move back?
"No, no, and hell no," I say.
In the background I hear his fiancť sobbing.
I almost wish to have her on the phone instead. So I can calm her fears as he will not. Someone needs to tell her that there is no point in trying to rearrange the furniture in a very empty room.