When I visit my parents in Brookline I usually stay in Boris’s old room. It’s dark in there due to the brick-print wallpaper and tree cover out one of the windows. The walls—as in every room in the house—is plastered with my pictures. That’s never not weird to me, but after decades, I’ve learned how not to focus on the decor too much. What I can’t ignore is the oddness of spending nights in this room.
My parents moved to this house when I had one foot out the door. I was halfway through senior year of high school. My old room, across the hall from Boris’s, soon became Max’s. My parents half-heartedly argued that it should remain mine, but I convinced them that it should be his, even though he’d only just been born when we moved in. I had no intention of making this house my home.
I chose my room because it has it’s own entrance through a sun room on the side of the house. The summer before I left for my doomed semester at Parson’s in NYC, I turned that sun room and most of the bedroom into a studio. In my mind’s eye it’s not much different than the room I sit in typing this. Piles of books, art materials, easels; half-finished pictures tacked to the walls. Every place I’ve lived, even with compromises made for coinhabitants, looks more or less this same way. A living space is a reflection of its dweller’s mind, so I guess mine is a kind of dynamic mess, though I can reach into any pile of crap and find what I’m looking for.
Anyways, the reason I’m telling you about the bedrooms in my parents’ house is that on this visit, for the first time in forever, I slept in Max’s room rather than Boris’s. I think they started putting me in Boris’s room when I visited because for many years after I’d left Max was still living in his. So then it became the default. But sometime in the last few years I learned that my father now uses Boris’s room as a kind of study/headquarters, meaning that when I visit, he has to vacate and move over into Max’s. Habits and patterns are hard to break. I’ve been asking to stay in Max’s room ever since I found out, but they insist on putting me into Boris’s. They think I like it there. I don’t.
It’s so dark. And whenever I stay there, I think about what a shitty older brother I was to him. It’s heavy. So this time I insist on Max’s room and they relent. The sun streams in every morning, they warn me. Sort of like night and day, though it’s just across the hall. Don’t overinterpret what I’m saying about light and dark, it’s just a fact of the layout of the house within its topography. I don’t remember whether Boris wanted Max’s room when we first moved in, but I assume I had dibs being the oldest. Life’s unfair that way.
The light does stream in full force every morning. The bed is right up against the windows because there’s no other place for it. There are only a couple of my pictures here because much of the decor is how Max left it fifteen years ago. A whole shelf of completed Lego projects, a few stuffed animals, some sports trophies, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and books of fairytales in Russian that they read to him at bedtime when he was small. The old desktop computer wheezes on at intervals. The sounds of other people’s homes—even those related to me—never stop feeling strange. If there’s any trace feeling of the half year I lived in this room it’s stored in some remote lockbox in a forgotten annex of my memory. It won’t be retrieved and is unlikely to yield much of value.
Rooms used to be my primary subject matter. In this house, the vast majority of work hanging on the walls is pictures of the places I’ve lived. A few were made in the house on previous visits. I try to at least leave a drawing by way of thanks for my parents’ hospitality. They think of this as my home too, which is sweet but untrue. It was interesting to stay in a different room this time. I think I’ll ask to stay there on future visits.
But the only place that feels like home is the place on Lock Street. The one below the gut rehab that may never end.
—I reviewed a great play at the Trap Door.
—Wednesday morning my talk with writer Kathleen Rooney goes up. Listen other talks here.