Here’s something I wrote for my creative non-fiction class. The assignment was to write a 700 word portrait of someone, keeping sensory details in mind. This is my first run at it. I got some good feedback today in class, so there might be a revision.
“You want any diet soda? I have a ton in my fridge,” he says with one in hand. More cans spill out of the recycling bin in the corner, and when he leans over from his desk to pop open the fridge, you see just as many chilling.
“He’s not joking,” someone adds from the couch on your left. “If you don’t drink them, he will. And you should probably have some Cheez-Its as well.” Tom smiles at the comment from the crowd and points to a 3 pound box of Cheez-Its under his desk. As your gaze shifts from the fridge to the box, you notice the other items scattered around the room, in a messy, but inviting, manner. You almost feel at home in the very natural disorder. You accept a diet soda with thanks as you sit down on the couch.
Taking a closer look at the room, a lot of the possessions seem like junk. Magic cards are scattered in various boxes and piles on desks and across the floor, and the N64 controllers form a tangled braid of cords. A desktop computer dominates Tom’s desk, with a few scraps of notebook paper wedged underneath. The shot glasses on the dresser have something dried into the bottom. They’re likely remains from the same event as the couple beer cans mixed into the diet soda cans in recycling.
“Kevin put those up,” he says when you compliment him on the maps and “Where’s Waldo” posters on the wall. You dismiss the thought when you realize what isn’t there: a lot. You don’t see any kleenex or decorative trinkets. There isn’t even a bookshelf. You don’t see any other food than the Cheez-Its, though everything from the couch you’re on to the unpaired flip flop looks like it has seen heavy use. It reminds you of that Steven Pinker book on your shelf that you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t touched since putting it there. And that picture of you with your ex in that collage over your bed: why is that still there? In fact, you think back to when your parents packed you for college, getting a thousand little items, each for a specific purpose. There’s that Rubik’s cube in your desk when you get bored of writing and want a stimulating, abstract challenge, and the cough medicine in case you get a cold. From the looks of this room, Tom is equipped to ward off swine flu with absurd amounts of diet pepsi and to only relax by playing the same video game.
As you grab a handful of Cheez-Its out of the box in Tom’s outstretched hand, you notice that he’s also playing one of your favorite rock songs. You’re about to hum along a couple bars when you realize that no one else pays the music any attention. The speakers sound great, though, and when the music turns to a hit 90s pop song, you want to let him know how much you love it. Your mouth closes as quickly as it opens when you see that no one in the room cares what they’re listening to.
Tom takes the last drink out of his can, tosses it onto the recycling heap. Before you can get up to fix the recycling heap that toppled with the newest addition, Tom grabs another soda from the fridge. He, in a practiced gesture, cracks it open and sits down again, picking up with this can where he left off with the last one.
“Living in Tom’s room is something of a lifestyle,” Kevin says from the other side of the couch as you talk about the room. A few games of “Super Smash Brothers” and a few hours later, you leave and only then realize how odd that statement is, seeing as the door said that Kevin is the other occupant of the room. And when you left unceremoniously, you sensed that you’re not the first or the last visitor to receive this brand of Tom’s hospitality. In fact, the unceremonious nature of everything in that room is what made it such a great visit. The diet soda, the Cheez-Its, the music, the otherwise barren appearance are just as much residents as any person in that room; they’re all constants of the only lifestyle they’ll ever need.