a short story by me, filled w quirks and teen angst
When I walked into your room for the first time since you were gone, I don’t know what I was expecting to find. Your parents were neat freaks — there was no way your room hadn’t been meticulously cleaned, everything put into order. I walked in. I don’t know what I was expecting. Screw that, I know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it, the conflicting smells of coconut and citrus and pine leaves that always clung to you because you refused to match your shampoo and conditioner and lotion no longer filled your room, it was the tangy odor of wood cleaner and the chemical taste of detergent that lingered on my tongue and stank up your bedroom.
There was a painting of lily pads that used to hang over your bed, there was no frame, only lily pads painted onto a ragged canvas. You’d put it there after you accidentally dented the wall after your blankets got twisted between your legs while you jumped on the bed at 2 in the morning on a Saturday night. I was sitting and laughing and watching you and changing the song after every chorus because we were indecisive, we had commitment issues, we couldn’t settle. You fell, and you dented the wall, and I remember laughing so hard my face turned red while yours paled because you knew your parents would kill you because they’re Mr. and Mrs. Neat Freak and they would flip shit when they found out that you dented their wall, their perfectly off-white walls that never matched the neon of you. You were freaking out, and it was funny, but you were freaking out, and I didn’t like you freaking out, I didn’t like you not laughing, not smiling, not happy. I grabbed you by the wrist, and we went to the bookshop down the street, the one we passed every day on the way home from school but never went into, and I grabbed the first print I saw. It was Starry Night. You laughed and said if you were going to have artwork in your bedroom it was going to be original, something people didn’t know, so you shuffled through some prints that were all famous paintings until you found the lily pads. You smiled ear to ear when you found it, when you found something original, I didn’t want to tell you that it part of Claude Monet’s water lilies series.
The painting was gone, though, and your parents must’ve fixed the wall. I wonder where that painting went, I thought it might look nice hanging above my own bed. I’ll have to ask them about that, later.
Your photographs were removed from the walls, as well. Did you take them with you? I always thought it was weird, that you put your pictures in a line right under the moldings on your walls instead of clustered up on one wall like most girls I knew. You said it was so you could see your friends wherever you were in the room. You had so many damn pictures. I liked the one of you and Chelsea, the one I took at Chelsea’s birthday that was actually a combined party for the both of you, but we didn’t tell you that because you didn’t like your birthday. You didn’t like April, especially not April 1st, because you didn’t like to be made a fool. I got you a stuffed animal, some large round thing that you could only fully wrap your arms around when you squished it so you could barely make out that it was a sloth. You liked sloths. You were kissing the stuffed sloth, and Chelsea was on the side, pretending to be hurt because you were kissing the sloth and not her and I thought it was funny and took a picture and you put it on your wall, right across from your bed.
Your bed was made. You made your bed every morning — neat-freak parents — but never properly, you’d just straighten out the blanket and line up the pillows against the headboard. I wondered who the last person to make your bed was. I pulled the duvet away from the mattress at the foot of the bed, and there were your socks, seven of them, all mixed and matched, and they were all fuzzy socks because what was the point of wearing not-fuzzy socks? You asked me that once, after I noticed you were always wearing fuzzy socks even though it wasn’t cold. You said your toes got cold, you didn’t tell me it was bad circulation, you said you got cold feet. You got cold toes, so you put on fuzzy socks before bed, but you didn’t like sleeping with your feet restricted so you’d pull the socks off with your toes sometime at night, when you were in that in-between of not awake but still conscious.
You always forgot you did that, and when you went to change the sheets, you’d find several, sometimes dozens of socks hidden at the foot of your bed. Your socks were always disappearing that way, stuffed under the blanket, I was always buying you new ones. After a while I stopped asking you what you wanted for your birthdays and for the holidays — not Christmas, you wanted to be inclusive, you never said Merry Christmas, always happy holidays — because you’d always say you didn’t want anything because you didn’t like getting gifts. You’d always blush and thank me, though, when I came over with a bundle of fuzzy socks in my hand. I should’ve brought you socks more often.
I thought about sending you a pair in the mail because I thought it might be a pleasant surprise but then I reminded myself that it’s not my job anymore and you might think I was pushy. Would you have thought I was pushy? I was pushy, wasn’t I? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that I was there then, even. There was a pair of socks in my backpack. I was going to give it to you.
I’ve never spent a Christmas without you, not since I could remember. Of course, we don’t call it Christmas, we call it a holiday party, but either way I haven’t spent one without you since before I knew you. My family hates the holidays, you know this, you knew this. I like the lights, and green’s my favorite color and red’s yours so it only seems right that we should spend Christmas together. I didn’t think this year would be an exception but what was I expecting? Of course it would.
We FaceTimed, late September, I wanted to hear your voice but more than that I wanted to see your face, make it feel like we were in the same room. Your room was a mess. I remember commenting on it, I can’t remember what I said, of course, your room would be a mess. It was so obvious. It seemed almost too movie-cliché to be real: that the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Neat-Freak would be the messiest bitch I’ve ever met, with a chair piled high with clothes I hadn’t seen before, a bathrobe slung over the top of the bathroom door. The call lasted four minutes and twenty seconds. You laughed, saying let’s hang up on four-twenty. We waited for an awkward few seconds after we’d said goodbye so you could hang up after four minutes and twenty seconds, four minutes and twenty seconds that didn’t feel long enough and would never feel long enough.
I felt wrong snooping in your room. I went back to the kitchen. The marble counter was polished and shining. I thought I remembered it being matte. It wasn’t, at least not anymore. Your mom was wearing a red dress, your dad was wearing a typical suit with a green tie. There were lights everywhere. I like lights. I was wearing a red tie, I remember picking it out because you like red. I was hoping you’d wear green.
I don’t know what I was expecting. I don’t know why I was expecting you to come home. Maybe because you’d said see you later, not goodbye, maybe because you like red and I like green and we’re supposed to spend Christmas together, maybe because as much as your parents treat me like a son I’m not theirs. I’m yours, and it feels wrong that I was there without you because I’m not their son, but you have neon in your soul. You have neon lights in your eyes and you were built for New York fucking city, you were created with lights and people in your soul, and even though you like sloths you walk fast, so fast I can’t ever keep up with you, and you walked right on out of here.
I should have known you wouldn’t come home for Christmas or for cornfields or for dirt roads and a house so spotless you don’t even need mirrors because your reflection’s on every window, maybe not even for your parents because you always complained about how they drove you crazy but I thought maybe, just maybe you’d come home for me, or at least have the common courtesy to call and say you wouldn’t be here because it’s goddamn Christmas and you should know that we belong together at Christmas.
Maybe it was because you get cold feet, maybe it’s because we have commitment issues and we’re indecisive, and I can’t ever keep up with you because I’m like a sloth, you like me because, well, I guess because I’m me, but I move too slow for you with those neon lights bouncing around in your eyes, and maybe some part of you knew what I was going to say tonight.
I was going to tell you I decided to apply for college. I was going to tell you that I applied for NYU and Manhattan College and I was going to ask you if that would be okay, would it be okay if I followed you to New York City? We always talked about leaving McCook, but you wanted to go to New York and I wanted to go to LA. We couldn’t compromise because we’re both so goddamn stubborn, but I couldn’t bear the thought of us living a country apart.
We never talked about how smart you are. I knew you were bright and I knew you were obsessed with your grades, but I never knew just how smart you were. I didn’t know you were Harvard smart, I didn’t know you were Yale smart or MIT smart or Colombia smart. How did I miss how smart you are? I guess I was focused on other things because I never thought it mattered how smart you were or where you were going away to, why didn’t I think it would matter where you were going? You didn’t tell me what schools you were applying to, you only told me once you got in and of course, by then I knew, I knew you’d go to Colombia because you are New York, you are the city of bright lights. Of course, it fucking mattered where you were going, where you were going away to because do you know how much a plane ticket from McCook to New York is? Of course you know, you knew, you’re the one who can afford to buy it, I’m the one who wants to visit you so goddamn bad but can’t and you’re the one who can but won’t, or at least that’s what I thought.
I finally asked your parents why I was there and you weren’t. They said you didn’t know I was coming, I was supposed to be a surprise, you’d be there any minute and shit, holy shit I was wrong, you were coming, you were coming, but then a few minutes passed, and you weren’t there, did you get stuck in traffic? and then an hour passed and you still weren’t there, was your flight delayed? and then two and you wouldn’t answer your phone, where were you? and then three hours passed and finally someone answered your phone, you didn’t answer your phone, someone else did and I swear to God I think I died a little inside.
The patient gowns here are green. I hate that. The walls are white, not off-white like your bedroom but still spotless. The lights are fluorescent. I used to think fluorescence and neon were the same things, but they’re not, they’re almost opposite. They gave you socks, those ones for hospital patients with rubber on the bottom so you don’t slip and fall but they’re not fuzzy and what’s the point of socks if they’re not fuzzy? I still had fuzzy socks in my backpack, though, so I asked a nurse or orderly or whatever if they could switch them, I didn’t want to touch your bare feet. At first he protested, said that you could fall because they didn’t have rubber at the bottom but then I think he realized that you wouldn’t be walking anytime soon, so he nodded and took the socks from me.
I wondered if you would pull them off. When I came back in the morning, I half-expected to find your socks tucked under the blanket at the foot of your bed, but no, they were still on.