A Place to Stay

Endpaper: Sophie Bearman
Gregory B. Johnston

The Closet is a 9x5 foot rectangular room with no windows. You access it through the white door on the left of the common room entrance, just past the table that holds our mugs, Hershey’s syrup, Five o’clock vodka, and Country Time lemonade mix. The closet itself is relatively empty—a dozen or so hangers, a mattress. The space is mostly unused. Sounds just like any old closet, I know. And I guess that’s what it is.

The room—can we call it a room?—is pretty famous, actually. Last year, the space acted as a ball pit and, when my roommates and I first moved in, we knew it needed a transformation worthy of the suite’s previous residents. We passed ideas around: Caffeine hub? Meditation space? Batting cage? The possibilities were endless. They were also fairly unreasonable, for the most part.

Then by chance (and some association with Dorm Crew), we came across a large collection of abandoned pillows that had been used by high school students over the summer. My roommate, with the help of a friend, had the idea to stuff the pillows into garbage bags and transport them to the Quad. It was pouring rain that day, so they caught a cab outside CVS and crammed the bags into the trunk. The cabbie charged extra. “Because of the dripping bags,” he said.

Back in Pfoho we poured the pillows into our closet—35 in all—until the floor had been covered completely. My roommates and I advertised the space as the Pillow Room. In the first few days, we spent a lot of time just sitting in the fluff.

Our newly transformed closet reminded me of my couch back home—the L-shaped fern-colored corduroy monstrosity my sister and I used to convert into a post office or castle or mansion (but usually a post office) and play in for hours. We would build fantastic forts, leaving just-small-enough holes that we could weasel our way in and crawl along the dimly lit, slightly muggy interior. For some reason, playing postman was our favorite. One of us would crouch inside and receive mail—little hand-delivered letters, notes, and drawings that would be exchanged through the side gaps where two cushions met. For a couch, this one was memorable for its abundance of removable pillows.

The year I moved to college was the year my parents bought a new couch and gave away the one that we had sat on, taken apart, played in, and put back together. But that green corduroy is still what I picture when I think of home.

The Pillow Room at school was similar, in that you could burrow deep into the cushions there too. Our friends seemed to appreciate its comforts as well, and the closet became a refuge for those daunted by 3 a.m. returns to the River. Eventually, the Pillow Room made its way into debriefs at Sunday Brunch. (“Wait, so what were they doing in there?” “Not sure, but they were in there for a long time....”) Once, the closet even appeared in a friend’s blog about chronicling new experiences—our Cabot neighbor had never before slept in a room entirely composed of pillows. “Beyond cozy, if a little weird,” she said.

But, like all good things, after a few months of one-off sleepovers and a growing sense of accumulating dust, the Pillow Room started looking a little gray (or so I imagined). We started having disagreements about the future of the closet, about whether to get rid of the pillows or not, about what would eventually be used to take their place. My parents had always reminded my sister and me to tidy up after we had moved on from our fort to other activities. “You can’t just leave all the pillows laying there. Clean up, girls!” There was a nagging feeling that the closet had to be straightened up. I felt like I’d come full circle.

Then a very lucky thing happened: We were given a reason to change the room. My roommate, a triplet, found out that one of her sisters would be coming to visit, all the way from university in South Africa, for the first week of spring semester. And so, just like that, we were in agreement.

In a stroke of cleanliness, we cleared and disposed of the pillows (mostly). Those we kept found other functions. A particularly fluffy one made its way to my bed. Another six were placed under our broken futon to give an impression of height to what, in reality, is a very sunken couch. A select few remained in the closet, in the state it’s in today. The pillows, though separated, found new roles—new ways of providing comfort and support.

Before we left for January break, the closet had been transformed. Pillows gone, we dragged in a mattress. My roommate, excited about her sister’s scheduled arrival in seven weeks’ time, neatly dressed it with soft sheets and a gray cover. A framed picture of their family made its way onto the closet shelf. We decorated the door with a bright welcome sign.

Once J-Term ended and a new semester began, we found ourselves with one extra roommate, adding a fourth tea drinker to the suite. Most evenings we kept two kettles running. There were late night chats, our bodies extended lazily on the common room couches. The start to the semester was slow, and the presence of a sister brought each of us back home in different ways.

I thought of all the times I had cuddled up with my own sister to watch a movie in bed. I thought of both of us huddled in the green fort telling stories. I thought of our secret, non-verbal way of saying “I’m sorry.” And so, when we all squashed onto the sunken futon for a screening of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” hugging pillows to our chests, it felt almost right, except for the small sense that something (someone) was missing.

My sister called me the other morning to ask about the pancake recipe our family uses, the one from our yellowed, batter-stained copy of “Joy of Cooking.”

“Hey, how much yogurt does Dad add to the pancake mix to make the pancakes fluffy?”

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