In Our Room

02/08/2011 at 10:07 am (Exercises, Senses)

I realize it’s been a very long time since I’ve posted anything on this site.  There are multiple reasons for this, but I’m back, hopefully adding new creative work more frequently, from this point forth.

This “welcome back” post is an exercise I did recently for my novel-writing class at USC.  The first part of the assignment was to take a character (in this case, Bear‘s protagonist, Stephen) and describe a room from his point-of-view.  Only details, no emotion, no commentary on the scene.  The second part built on the first part, describing his reaction to the room, how the character felt about this private space and his place in it.

In Our Room


The bedroom that I shared with my brother Demian when I was eleven and he was six will always look like summer to me.  I remember that whenever I entered the room from our door off the front hall, it always appeared to be drowning in light.  No shadows on the wall, no moody corners ever met my eye; the entire room was suffused by the sun, bursting inside through a window without drapes.  There were always finger smudges on the inside of the glass — and outside, occasional droplets from the morning dew that had swept across the San Francisco bay and accumulated on our window — but the insistence of the daylight obliterated those marks by mid-day.

The worn wooden headboards of our two twin beds grazed the bottom ledge of the white window frame, where Demian had positioned his action figures like a battalion of soldiers.  His plastic Spider-Man, which used to be mine, had its perch at the top of his bed, as if ready to spring down upon his bedspread, where Pinocchio and Bambi lay unaware that arachnid-danger loomed above them.  My bedspread lay crumpled on the floor, library copies of Jack London books and my personal collection of oversized Tintin paperbacks — with the adventures of a Belgian boy and his dog Snowy nestled inside — scattered across the yellowing sheet.  A half-empty glass of Pepsi and a ravaged box of Wheat Thins commanded the majority of space on the nightstand that separated our two beds.

On Demian’s side of the room, posters that had been thumb-tacked on the sun-burst walls struggled for space.  A Benji movie poster nuzzled up against an Incredible Hulk banner, which loomed above a March-of-Dimes walkathon announcement.  The blast of colors and shapes and material — from glossy to newspaper-print to the black velvet from a flea-market-bought mini-painting of the Fonz — stood in contrast to the walls on my side of the room, bare but for a small calendar of the Alaskan wilderness.

Strewn along the floor, miles from the bamboo hamper in front of the closet, were his clothes and my clothes, commingled in an almost perversely intimate way.  From under the bed poked more t-shirts and holey socks, in addition to half-broken toys and comic-books that had been abandoned for other pleasures.  This was our room, in 1976, and it looked and smelled like summer.


Even though entering the room I shared with Demian looked and smelled like a three-month break from school, it felt more somber than hopeful.  The blinding sun through the poorly-insulated window made me sweat whenever I tried to read a book on my bed in the middle of the day.  The mess of the clothes on the floor was my responsibility as well as my brother’s, but thinking about cleaning it up fostered resentment toward him, so it stayed in unclean piles until my mother finally caught the overwhelming odor of foot wafting into the hall and demanded that we toss it into the wash.

All the posters on Demian’s side of our room reminded me that he had more zest, more appreciation for life and its bright colors than I did.  At eleven, I saw those monthly photographs of frozen tundra as a place of physical escape, while experiencing my internal world in the same cold, bleak terms on a daily basis.   All my young-boy possessions served to ground me, to anchor me to my life, for a little while, and then the reality of the space outside that room would throw everything I thought I knew into disarray.  I felt suffocated and trapped in this bedroom filled with old memories that were becoming tainted by new truths.

I didn’t feel safe in my room anymore, didn’t know who I could trust or how much to trust them.  Demian’s bed, his belongings, his vibrant personality inside this room made me feel alternately relaxed and anxious.  Relaxed that he was safe and unaffected by the small fissures I had begun to notice in the foundation of our family and the neighborhood around us, but anxious thinking of what I needed to do to keep him from discovering that our world was slowly becoming an unstable and hazardous place.

The sounds of the train whistle, far off and otherworldly in the middle of the night, filled me with visions of travel and escape.  I wanted to create my own unique trill, one that would signal the departure of my brother and me from a depot crowded with detachment and blindness.  Demian deserved to be protected, and while our room served that purpose for the moment, I knew that eventually the roof above us would collapse and it would be too late for me to do anything to save him.  Or myself.

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