came to college less than prepared for the mental rigors of life as a proper university student. My mind was numb, and my creative spirit had stagnated as I limped my way to graduating. Some part of me was lost — I knew that much. What I didn’t know was what that piece of me was, much less how to get it back.
I moved into my dorm room earlier than my roommate, which meant that I got to choose which side would be mine. I spent most of that first day agonizing over the possible implications of picking one of the near-identical sides of the room over the other: “The door swings to the left when it opens; do I want my bed to be visible when the door opens even slightly? Which side has the better angle when viewing the courtyard? Do I want to be marginally closer to the restroom or the elevator?”
But for all my meticulous planning, I failed to inspect one crucial component of the room — the carpet. By the time I noticed the stain adjacent to my bed, ‘twas too late, for my roommate had already grown fond of his impeccably clean carpet.
I wasn’t mad about the stain per se; as someone prone to spillage himself, I cannot pass judgment on the poor soul who indelibly soiled my room. Indeed, one of the first things I did after shaking my roommate’s hand for the first time was knock over a plant I had brought from home, shattering its ceramic pot. No — my initial anger was directed at my own negligence. But that anger morphed into a fascination with the stain — Stainley, I call him. The more time I spent hovering over Stainley, the more intrigued I became about his origins.
Unfortunately, I have no knowledge as to who the prior residents of my current room were, nor do I think it is fair to assume that my immediate predecessors were the source of Stainley’s conception. Perhaps he has dwelled in my room for years, ever present, ever mesmerizing in his unique shade of cream.
On the days I cannot stomach debugging another line of code or writing another Weekender article, I turn to Stainley and theorize how he came into the world. Was he a mistake, collateral damage from some accidentally spilled beverage? Or was he the product of a night of one-too-many drinks? Or was he brought into this world deliberately by a crazy ex who thought the best way to retaliate against their former lover was to stain their carpet?
I do not know, and I find it problematic that the not knowing still haunts me. He is here, and should that not be all that matters?
I feel as if I have taken advantage of Stainley. He has become not only a source of creative calisthenics for my atrophied mind but also a companion. I know it’s naive to believe that the remnants of an unknown liquid sealed into a dorm room carpet could be sentient, but I can’t help but feel a touch of somberness ripple through me whenever I inadvertently step on him. I imagine that the neglect he feels is not unlike my own, an insignificant speck swallowed in the noise of the University and the vacuum of the uncaring cosmos.
We are the same, Stainley and me.
Despite being mute — as far as I am aware — Stainley provides me with a certain clarity. I only wish I could know what he needs of me and be a good friend to him in return. Our relationship is still developing. Over the course of these last few months, I have come to realize that we so often become obsessed over the question “How did this stain get here?” that we forget to ask, “How is the stain doing?”
I hope the precious few weeks I have left with Stainley will teach me to ask more questions like the latter. I hope I learn to invest more emotional energy in asking how the stains in my life are doing — both the literal and the metaphorical.
I don’t regret choosing my side of the room. If anything, I pity my roommate, who I suspect doesn’t have the same relationship with his carpet as I do with mine. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that the answer to all my problems rested in a blemish in my carpet, I’d think you insane. Maybe that’s what you think of me, that I’m insane. But if I am, I can’t imagine myself returning to the realm of mundanity where inanimate objects are lifeless and imperfections in our carpets are nuisances. I love Stainley. I hope he loves me, too.