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New normals, old normals: Notes on a forced readjustment

April 3, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

The window in my bedroom looks out onto a cluster of North American sycamore trees in the backyard, trees that in the summer are so thick and plush and layered with leaves that they fill the whole window frame even from a distance with a deeply opaque green. In the winter—when the branches are bald—the dark, arborescent lines spread over a grey sky and look like the sand-strewn desert patterns of dried-out rivers in Danakil, Ethiopia. Looking out the window now from my desk, it is still early spring; the branches threaten to bud and spread their green-yellow pollen, miraculously, everywhere from the sunny back porch to the cold tile flooring in the basement.

The pollen is let into the house by a rascally sliding glass door in the dining room that always gets caught on itself. Everyone insists on keeping the door open when the weather gets nice, even though it invites hosts of bugs to stay over as denizen families—the most terrifying of which, as my sister and I have long agreed, show up in the summertime: mosquito hawks. And the pollen! The door lets in so much pollen. Sometimes, in the spring, it bunches up and rises from that one arborvitae bush and floats like a flock of crows and spreads around the backyard.

Growing up, my allergies would get so bad that following an afternoon of play I would scratch my eyes, all red and puffy, until tears spilled from them. I would retire to my bedroom in the evening with hot towels over my eyes and lie there until the sun had set in the window beyond the trees and the room fell dark without my knowledge. There, I would sleep and imagine what life was like beyond the fence and the trees and the bush and its damn pollen.

My room is much different now. The bed is now where it used to be when we first moved into the house and I shared the room with my sister. It sits on the side of the room close to the door and gives me a straight-shot gaze out the window. My sister and I shared the room for several years, when we also shared our father’s bedtime readings and co-conspired child mischief until it was decided that puberty demanded our separate spaces and my mother dissolved her next-door office to become my sister’s current room. Our rooms are side by side—hers is about two-thirds the size of mine—and they served as army bases during our feuding years.

Kyra Tan

For years, my room was painted a light robin-egg blue, leftover from the previous owner. When we repainted it a handful of years ago, my mother let me choose. I chose a royal matte blue alongside a glossy alabaster white trim; the shade of blue was deep and dignified like I imagined being older to be. The color would haunt me for years, though, making the room feel always too dark too early in the day. It’s still that color, but repainting would require way too much work.

For the past three years, it’s been used more or less as my family’s storage unit, serving as an actual residence only when my grandfather, who lives in Nigeria, stays with us at the house from time to time. He consistently leaves his belongings in my drawers and hampers: hoodies, his many annotated books, loose bits of paper with scribbled notes of forgotten ideas and lists, ancient or even alien electronic devices. A ton of stuff that I assume he’d probably need is also in there, like quarter-full orange pill bottles and toiletries. My favorite so far has been a birthday brochure (whatever that means) from his, I think, 60th birthday celebration containing a surprisingly extensive biography and chocked full with warm words from close friends and family praising a lifetime of achievement in Nigeria—with the Rotary Club or involving some humanitarian work next to various mid-to-high level public officials (this might partly be conjecture on my part). I usually never care to clean out his stuff because I’m never really home long enough. That has changed, for now.

The first thing I did when I returned home from manically recollecting my life from Maine was tear apart my room. I did it immediately because I had boxes of shit I needed to put back. I needed to reclaim the space for however long I might be there. I began with the rug— the rug that my mother put there is the exact same color as the walls, giving the room an IKEA-monochrome feel that I detest. I rolled it up and stashed it under the bed with the tents. The bare wood floor feels more natural, even though it’s more prone to splintering. The room never used to have a rug, I don’t think.

I followed with the bookshelf, pulling down cookbooks, old AP textbooks, notebooks and binders from high school, high school yearbooks, journals and sketchbooks from when I used to have a “gift,” as my mother said, for art. I literally exclusively drew dragons for a solid five years of my life—and they aren’t good. I found some toy chemistry sets gifted to a younger me, when my family believed they had witnessed a scientific bent (they hadn’t). And many, many other garbage artifacts.

I spread all of it out on the wooden floor where I sat cross-legged, sorting, stashing, tossing and assimilating new things. I moved in my three boxes of college books. I organized my bookshelf by topic. I put up the posters I had in my Bowdoin room, including the Dali painting—”Metamorphosis of Narcissus”—that, hanging above my bed from freshman year, had sparked so many conversations in burgeoning friendships. At 1 a.m. I dragged out four trash bags and two full boxes to be shipped off.

These past few weeks, I have been inhabiting long-lived spaces and precious corners of the house that have seen my body outgrow and leave them. Each corner has so many stories folded up in them. That staircase to the basement is brimming with the most mundane memories—just sitting, thinking on them, from years ago, a decade even. But I’m transported so vividly—so many floating images tucked into the living room couch: that sunset, that breakfast. Why does my brain remember the mundane?

I don’t know how to be an adult in this space yet. I’ve moved in my books and posters, claimed my space, but I haven’t quite understood how to assimilate my ambitions yet. I spend a ton of time staring out that window from my bed. I wonder how many seasons will pass before I leave again.


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