I feel like a parent trying to keep tabs on her kid at a carnival. One second, I catch a glimpse of my mom crossing the pillow aisle. I blink, and she’s moved on to nightstands and ottomans. My mother has a vision for my room––she knows right away if something will work. “These throw pillows will clash with the duvet cover,” she says. “This coffee table would be useless in your room—a waste of money and space.”
“So,” she says, sensing me approach from behind, her nose one inch from a hanging wool rug she is examining for snags. “You want to write your thesis about what?!”
Freshman year, I was assigned to Hollis 11, a hallway double. Four white walls, a dusty wood floor, two bare mattresses on two black metal frames. Furniture shopping helped fill some of the empty space. But once the fitted sheet was on, the tapestry hung, and the closet packed with hangers, my parents kissed me goodbye and I was on my own. My roommate wouldn’t be moving in for a few days, so on the first night, the ghosts of Revolutionary soldiers and transcendentalist thinkers would be my only company.
Sitting on my bed that night, I opened up my.harvard and began perusing. Within a few minutes, my heart sped up and I was lost in a sea of endless clicks, jumping from course to course. Error message: Your shopping cart is full.
But I knew it wasn’t quite right. Why couldn’t I just envision it all laid out like my mom in the furniture store? I didn’t want to be the coffee table.
Sophomore year, I came to school with bedding, hangers and a coat rack, which my dad helped me disassemble and shove into the backseat of his crossover. After 40 minutes of packing, unpacking, rearranging and repacking the car, we finally manage to slam the trunk shut without the overflow luggage popping it back open.
“So,” my dad says, after a grunt of satisfaction. “What kind of job do you see yourself applying to after college?”
It’s junior year, and I finally have a room to myself. Even though I have my bedding, coat rack, hangers, and tapestry, the floor feels cold on my bare feet and the ottoman too small even for one friend to sit on.
As we walk around the furniture store, I tell my mom—only half joking—that I plan to become an erotic film director like Erika Lust in the Netflix documentary series “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On.” Social Studies concentrators go on to do all kinds of things after they graduate, I tell her. I’m going to write my thesis on pornography and its impact on body politics in western societies. I see it starting to come together. Can she?
We fumble with shopping bags stuffed with pillows, boxes filled with picture frames, and work together to carry the wool rug. Slowly but surely, we make our way into the elevator and back up to my dorm room. She was right. The rug covered just the right amount of tile in front of the couch, and the orange hue of the throw pillows matched the quilt perfectly. My room is finally together.
“Can you call my Uber for me?” she asks.
She’s nervous because her flight leaves at 6:30 p.m. and it’s already five. I request the ride, tell her the vehicle’s license plate, give her a kiss goodbye and send her out the door, gently closing it behind her.
Back in my newly-furnished room, the feeling of emptiness lingers. I know that they’re proud of me and want what’s best for me. But I can’t help but wonder if they think I’m a coffee table.
My computer lights up as a new message appears in my inbox. Maria Elefante, 5:12 p.m., subject: “What’s the name of the documentary you want me to watch?”