I remember the height of the ceiling. The double bunk bed with room to spare. I remember red carpet. Could the walls and carpet both been red? No, no... I don’t remember red carpet. I remember typing out “plush red carpet” one June evening when I couldn’t be the keeper of our story anymore. Not alone. So I typed it up and stuck it in an envelop with a stamp. For him to hold and carry for a while. “Plush red carpet.” I think the carpet might have been black. And I wonder how much of the story I got wrong. How much I got wrong as I lived it.
The walls were definitely red. Bright red. The windows, the great big bay windows on the roundel portion of the room, had black trim. Perhaps. I didn’t know the word roundel then. The walls were definitely red.
That first night, half the house, half the campus it seemed, stopped by to talk, joke around, ask advice, sing. A stream of never-ending, late-night company in and out of the red room. A room with an almost full size bunk bed, a water bed, a mac, a pc, an entertainment center, a recliner, a couch, a coffee table, an end table, and a mini-fridge with a brita pitcher also held a sea of people. Kind people. Interesting people. A lot of people.
I walked home almost certain I would never go back.
In fact, I had gone there to say just that. This isn’t going to work. It was nice to meet you. See you around. I said it, finally. Quietly. When he asked them all to leave. I walked home in the quiet dark. Along the bank of the lake. In the biting cold. The wind had teeth that night.
I went back. First on Valentine’s day, for a romantic comedy and a pint of half baked and he wasn’t there that night. I could hardly eat a bite. I went back a second time to say again this isn’t going to work. It was nice to meet you. See you around. I said it. I said it louder this time. I looked him the eyes while I said it. Eye-level, I was sitting in his lap. He said fine. I got up to put on my coat, one arm after another I could do this, but he took my hand and pulled me towards him. We slow danced in that college bedroom to songs that reminded me of my grandparents. I closed my eyes, but I could still see those red red walls.
He walked me home, he insisted. But I insisted only halfway. I wanted the quiet dark and the bank of the lake. I wanted the biting cold, the sharp edge of the wind.
I went back after that. Again and again. As friends. With friends. Our friends now. Friday nights we watched movies, whichever movie was making the rounds in the house. In the beginning, we sat on the couch, on the carpet, on chairs. Friends. All of us. In the beginning, I fell asleep before each movie ended. Drained from keeping the distance all week, finally at peace with us both under the same red walls. I fell asleep curled up on the corner of the couch, my best friend sitting next to me. She would wake me when it was time to go home.
She and I walked the bank of the lake together. Not for a moment taking for granted the still water, the light of the moon, the curve of the bank on the other side. Not for moment taking for granted how lucky, how happy we felt. Even though, even though.
When it became routine to spend a Friday night in the red room, when the boys played a game of chess during the movie, when the rest of the house expected us to still be there when the bars closed at midnight, I fell asleep before the opening credits began. When it became too tiring to stay on the other side of the room, I fell asleep under the kind watch of the red walls. Safe and home and back again. One more week.
We talked in circles. Ate ice cream at midnight as the cafe closed and opened it the next morning as the winter, then spring, sun rose. We talked about everything. Drank jungle juice in grimy basements, his arms around my waist, and ginger ale at dinner with his family, his hand resting on the back of my chair. He said no and I said no and we wouldn’t talk. She would drive me down to the parking lot by the lake and pull out the box of tissues from the back seat. Then he and I talked in circles. Ate ice cream at midnight as the cafe closed.
We would still all clamour up the stairs to the red room on Friday nights (and Saturday nights and Thursday afternoons). Late in the semester we all fell asleep most Friday nights, the three girls on the water bed, to a slight rocking and the flickering of a horror movie. The boys on the recliner, the couch, across the carpet, whatever color it may have been. Content and happy and friends.
The next year they moved into the two rooms next door. Eight walls that have seen my best and my worst. All of our best and our worst. None that cared for us more than those red walls. We hardly set foot in the red room after that. It held the upstairs bar for parties with faces I hardly recognized. I went downstairs to get my drinks. My last year, the house caught fire and everyone moved out for the rest of the year. I walked through the house once, after it was repaired, after I graduated. The door to the red room was locked but I imagine the walls were white. And the red room became just a memory. That, too, has faded.
Today, I have a room with red walls. It felt like home the first moment I walked in, the first moment I fell asleep under the watch of the walls. Kind walls, my red walls, I knew immediately. I thought, weeks later, of the red walls from not so long ago, when I felt steadied, steadied, steadied by red amid nights of red nightmares. And thought, a fling and brief love-affair come true.
I realize now it’s long standing. My love affair with red walls.