Chinese Norman Rockwell

Serpentine is not a color, but if I had to describe the color of my room, it is the word I would use. A few months ago I was in need of housing, which led me to find this room on Walnut St, painted a most unfortunate and baffling color. A quick tour of the other four rooms (already staked out by the time I saw the house) showed better aesthetic judgment on display – pale blue, bright yellow, lovely lilac, and peachy pink – but this room, the middle room, right across from the bathroom and with only one window, the owners had decided to paint green. A few years ago, I had a polo shirt of the same color and it complimented my skin tone in the summers when I was more tan, but when I tired of it I could fold it up and put it away in a drawer. You cannot do that with the walls of a room. You wake up to the green only to work in front of the green and when you sleep, the green creeps into your dreams and everything becomes tinged with it. When you wash your face in the morning you realize you take longer because you are unconsciously trying to wash the green off your skin.

It is not a calming forest green, or even a sickly hospital green, but a fiesta green (I suspect the paint was called “Fiesta Verde” or simply, “Fiesta!”). I have a red aluminum water bottle which I placed in a corner and now that corner looks like Christmas.

The rest of the house is fine – painted odd colors here and there, but clean, cozy and filled with nice girls, slightly younger but who, in their wide-windowed, lovely-colored rooms, lounge on their beds and read in the abundant sunlight with their ankles crossed in the air. I walk by their rooms on the way downstairs or to the bathroom (which has more natural light than my room) and see them basking as I did once…

“Enjoy your time there, young woman,” I think and head back to my dim green hole.

My point: I am still in love with my room on the third floor of the pale, peach house on Warring St.

It had three white walls and one pale green wall, (which I had frowned upon when I first moved in but now I pine for that pale green wall!) and three more windows than the average college student’s room (four!), which meant more sunlight streamed in than I knew what to do with. Mostly, I basked. I basked on my bed, in my chair, on my other chair (the Ikea Poang, if you must know), and occasionally, left the room for a glass of water or nourishment the sun could not provide. Mostly though, I could be found in my room either napping, reading, watching TV, or surfing the internet, the sun’s rays generously warming some otherwise cold extremity. My room had been, as I suspected, a balcony when the house was first built. The wood floor was not – an imitation, laid over the original outdoor stuff and walls built where once, there was railing. In the middle of my senior year one of the house’s original inhabitants – now a grown woman of sixty something – happened to be visiting the area and, walking by her old house, turned back into a curious child. She knocked on our front door.

Our house mother let her in and spoke loudly with her in the hall outside my room before finally peeking in to alert me that we had a visitor. The woman, consummately Berkeley despite having made her adult life on the east coast, shook her head in awe.

“This was a sun porch,” she said, her eyes misting with nostalgia, “I used to sleep out here during the summers and drink lemonade during the day. My favorite place in the whole house.”

I tried to imagine what she was describing, and I almost could – though it meant mentally erasing the frat boys next door as well as the freshman dormitories across the street.

“How wonderful,” I said, “And how strange that now I am living here.” I was suddenly reminded of the movie “If These Walls Could Talk” – a film about lesbians, if I remember correctly – but which essentially told the story of a house through the years. I tried to imagine the woman as a young girl, wearing a frayed tank top and faded shorts, sitting with her back to the wall and a book resting on her knees, (for she looked bookish), reading on the sun porch with a glass of lemonade at her feet. I wanted to paint it – a Chinese Norman Rockwell – and give it to her. But I couldn’t.

“Time flies,” the woman said, and our house mother took it as a cue to rattle off some cliche or other, beginning with her favorite, “Let me tell you…”

Before leaving she smiled at me, nodding at the open books on my desk as well as the air. She sensed it: an air of leisure, of a young woman in a room of her own, cherishing the peace and the sunshine and the warmth.

“Enjoy your time here,” she said. “I will,” I replied.

And I did. Oh how I did.

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