I had once read a plaque on a museum wall that instructed me on the proper way in which to view a Mark Rothko piece.
Approach the towering canvases.
Get close enough so the white walls disappear into your periphery.
Proceed to become engulfed by the oil and acrylic with powdered pigment on canvas.
I did as instructed. It made for an interesting visual experience, but other than that, it didn’t really move me too much. The abstract blotches of purples, reds and blacks were all supposed to evoke love, sadness, passion — emotions that consume you. But at the time, this was just another prolific artist and an interesting piece of trivia, so I moved forward into the museum without much of a second thought.
When I met up with my roommate’s future summer subletter back in May, we weren’t complete strangers. On the contrary, I would go so far as to say that we were pretty friendly acquaintances. We had both been to the same Homeshake concert last semester. There had been several Friday night group smoke sessions we’d both found ourselves in. When we stumbled into each other on Bear Transit, he even asked me if I’d be around over the summer to go see XXXTentacion — a true display of friendship if I’d ever known one.
When we moved in, he offered to help move my furniture from all the various corners of Berkeley I had collected them from. As we lugged daybed drawers, Ikea shelves and roadside desks, we just talked. We chatted about movies we had watched, food we liked, where our parents were from — all while he taught me the proper way to carry a twin-sized mattress from University to Haste.
Then we began to eat breakfast together. We were the only two people living in a seven bedroom home for a few weeks, so the breakfast partnership came quite naturally from the small lonely echoes in the hall. We’d sit at the kitchen table, an off-kilter little fold-out thing from Ikea, and sip blistering coffee and munch on avocado toast until my linguistics class began at 12.
As the summer progressed, we ended up falling into each other’s company in the small moments. It wasn’t on purpose — when he had moved in, we were both under the assumption that we wouldn’t be anything other than roommates. Our housemates and friends all expressed skepticism, sneering as they inquired about how a man and a woman could be “just roommates.”
Sam would respond to them, grinning, “I guess we’re just pretty progressive.”
But in the end, their skepticism wasn’t completely unfounded. I had ended up where I stubbornly find myself more often than I would like to admit — caught in the feels. It was in the three nights it would take us to finish any movie because we would fall asleep halfway through. It was in the marigolds I found on my desk when I had to drag myself to Peet’s at 5:30 for the morning shift.
And when I found myself on the phone with my friend back home, trying to explain how and why I had come to feel this way about Sam, I couldn’t articulate it. It wasn’t love at first sight or outlandish romantic gestures. It was this slow percolation of a honey-scented breath, it was the color of red lipstick stains on someone’s neck, it was everywhere.
So when he told me would be leaving Cal for the upcoming school year, I felt that little lump in my throat. I hadn’t realized that all this time I had been planning the next semester, and the semester after that, filling them with these little moments that took up my days.
Recently, I was alone in my bed looking up at the ceiling, thinking about him going back to Los Angeles for our sophomore year. The whiteness of the painted plaster filled my field of vision, and I felt that sadness I was supposed to feel back when I was in front of those Rothko paintings so long ago. As I laid cocooned in my duvet comforter, I became enveloped in the consuming bleak expanses of eggshell-colored drywall. It echoed inside of me slowly — the palpitations of my heart cracking in all the places it had grown full with those sweet summer moments.
In the amount of days I can count on my hands, Sam will be back home in Los Angeles. Sometimes I wish I could be as young as I was in that museum — young enough to not have had to experience those all-consuming feelings — so it wouldn’t be so hard to say goodbye to this summer.