The First Room on Your Left

Photo by Isabel Cruz

By Isabel Cruz

Over a few humid days and cool nights, I packed and loaded all of my belongings into my small Nissan hatchback. Eager to finish as soon as I started, I removed my presence from the residence one bag at a time and thought how ill-timed my move back home seemed. To leave my community by the sea at the first sight of the number eighty showing repeatedly down the UI of my iPhones weather app, only to travel further inland where the sight of the number eighty would be a relief.

Summers in the Central Valley are nothing like the glorious, idyllic California summers that stand as the stereotype. Instead, they are dry and unforgiving and if you are not accustomed to them they can be brutal. They are pale yellow hills and drawn blinds and neverending air conditioning as you move from your home, to the car, to the store, to the car, and back home again. Here, days are spent monotonously indoors until the sun begins to lower against the saturated blue sky so that the air becomes breathable once again and fatigue is no longer a looming threat.

I am back with my family for now, back in my high school bedroom. My room does not feel as dated as I imagine a childhood bedroom might feel upon a return back from college, but nevertheless, it represents a previous time in my life. The posters adorning my walls are only just slightly out of my taste now, and the photos taped up by my door were taken almost four years ago. Whenever I return to these walls, I debate whether it’s worth my time to put up new posters, and new photos, but I never do. There is a certain comfort in returning to a place that has stood unchanged since you last left. I see the decor in my room as a point of reference for my personal growth, like how pencil markings on a door frame act as a marker for height. 

I welcome myself back into this space curated by my high school years and shove my bags towards the foot of my bed frame so that they are accessible but out of the way because I feel little desire to unpack even if I will be here for several weeks. Exhausted and warm, I switch on the fan and fall into my twin bed in one lazy swoop. “I’m happy to be back.” 

The first hours back home are always the purest. Everything is novel and hugging my family after months apart only invokes the most positive feelings in me. But as each day passes and I fall into yet another routine, the novelty of being home begins to fade. I look at my calendar with more frequency to see how long it will be before I can move back to the coast for school. When I notice that the days are passing much slower than they feel, I wonder if I should take the time to unpack some of my clothes after all. “I’m gonna be here for a while anyway.” 

Days pass and I begin to feel a pull towards the rug that occupies the space between my bed and my desk. This pull urges me to press the back of my head against the green pile and direct my eyes to the fan that hangs eight feet above me. I lay in a still daze while the fan powers around, and around, too fast for me to be able to fixate on one of the blades for even a fragment of a second. I wonder, “why do I have to be here.” 

This is not the summer I imagined. I imagined beach days and west coast road trips and music playing in backyards. I assumed these summers during my college years would be my freest yet, specifically this one which bookends a year spent in isolation, but the reality is that here, the ocean is two hours west, gas is costly, and backyard heat is unbearable. I assumed I wouldn’t be able to do anything but take advantage of every free hour and have the best time I could possibly have, but as I lay on my mossy rug, I realize that it feels right to be still. It feels okay to be passive. 

As much as I would love to travel or experience the sought-after Southern California summer, I can’t help but continue to lie on the floor of my old bedroom. And I know that it isn’t so much that the room is making me feel this way, but instead that here, I don’t feel wrong for taking things slow. I imagine that this rug and these walls and this weather feel trapped as well in this valley, unable to move. Maybe this is exactly what I needed. It feels good to slow down one last time before my life resumes. 

While I am here, my fan will continue to spin. Quietly spinning until it’s time for me to pack everything up and leave the room in its stillness. 

Perhaps my move back home is not as ill-timed as I thought.

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