the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
Mmm, baby: The very best in food porn
April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
Living on my own felt like a necessary step, though I hadn’t come to the formal conclusion that I was, in fact, “ready.” It wasn’t even something I really wanted to think about, but I had been offered university apartment housing from the wait-list and thought that I should take it. As I walked through the chilly January air, I decided on optimism, so I optimistically climbed the stairs to 4C and knocked. The door swung open, revealing a big guy with long hair.
“Hi, um, I’m going to be living here,” I said.
“Hi,” he said, and went back to his room.
It was the first few weeks of the term so I was still in a making-an-effort mode, plus I needed the WiFi password, so conversation needed to happen. I crept past the kitchen, turned right, and knocked softly on his door. Then harder.
“Come in,” came the distant voice. Gripping the knob tightly, I slowly opened the door. After a moment, he turned to me. He was playing something that looked like World of Warcraft, and had to remove one of those microphone-equipped headsets.
“I was, uh, wondering if you happened to have the password, to, you know, the wireless internet here.”
“Uh, yeah.” As he fished through his desk drawers, I decided to take a stab.
“How are classes going so far?”
“Oh, I’m not in any classes this term.”
“Oh, I thought you needed to be taking classes to be in University Housing.”
“Well, last year, I had a kidney transplant and I didn’t take any time off. Then Columbia found out and sort of forced me to take some time off. But they sort of forgot about me in the system, so I’m still here. They haven’t told me to leave, so...”
Stunned but cautious, I replied. “I’m sorry.”
I took the slip of paper and crept back to my room, still stunned.
A week later, I forgot his name. He never left my mind, but I just couldn’t remember it. I went to look it up in my phone, but then I realized we weren’t friends and I consequently never asked for his number, much less a nickname. He wasn’t discourteous, just aloof. Nevertheless, I never saw him, so I didn’t have to pretend that I knew what to call him. In my mind I came to know him by his detritus, the Domino’s boxes that would appear in the refrigerator, the black bag under the sink that slowly filled with empty beer bottles. I was happy with this. He didn’t bother me, he was no-maintenance, a sort of neutral ghost. I remembered his name again after a while.
It was spring. He was walking around the living room, which was surprising enough, when he casually mentioned: “I’m moving to California at the end of the week.”
“Oh, ah, wow,” I said.
“Um...can you give me a copy of the power bills so I can pay you back?”
“So why are you moving out there?”
He was going to California, he said, because his mother was sick. There was something wrong with her hormones, and the doctors thought it was because of the number of times she had been pregnant. “By the way,” he told me, he had been raised a Mormon, went straight to BYU out of high school. He was later kicked out for having premarital sex. Then he had been one of the few, the proud. After his tenure as a Marine he interned in Governor Schwarzenegger’s office. He was once married, he had a son, he came to Columbia to study engineering. Then he switched to philosophy because it was too easy. He was working one day when his foot swelled up to the size of a basketball, and when he went to the hospital they told him that he needed to be on dialysis, STAT. He dated the nurse who inserted his catheter and loved to salsa dance. He was getting divorced and it wasn’t amicable. He hoped that he would be able to see his son in California. He walked into the kitchen, pulled open a cabinet. “Do you want any of this?” he asked. Not knowing what to say, I gratefully took his spice rack, his ramekins. It was “too much,” he told me, to bother trying to take on a plane. A friend would come by in a week or two to pick up the rest and ship it to him. And then, he was gone.
Weeks passed by and no one came for Steven’s stuff. Columbia’s Housing Services called me and told me that someone would be over to repaint his room. It would have to be empty. So, early in the morning, I walked there and dragged out everything inside of it. My back aching, I stood there and looked at the pile in my living room: sweat-stained mattresses, white and thick, books of Russian philosophy, condoms. Curtains, spilling packages of hooks and nails, highlighters. Sets of headphones, an electronic shredder, mink oil. His military uniform in a garment bag, with a badge for sharp-shooting. A pill organizer, framed photos, a mirror I cracked in ripping it off the wall, a lined-notebook. I wanted to read it, piece together some story, some coherent narrative out of barren outline and those much-to-be-desired fragments. I flipped through it, but there was nothing that made him more coherent.
I left him many messages reminding him pick up his things, asking him to have someone take his stuff, threatening consequences if someone didn’t take his stuff. Summer passed and new roommates moved in. Sometimes we sit in the living room and do our homework in silence. His uniform lies draped on the kitchen table, his polished shoes sit under it.
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