My room has a funny smell to it. I thought I took care of it when I threw away the rotting rubber shower mat I found stuffed behind the bureau, but no: the smell lingers and it’s been three days. My first night here in Cambridge it kept me awake. I imagined smell particles coming off the mattress, the floor, the couch: green and evil like the computer-generated viruses that shot from people’s noses and mouths in that viral outbreak movie. At one point I felt a tiny speck drift up my nose and alight delicately on my olfactory bulb. I sneezed for fifteen minutes.
The smell isn’t actually that unpleasant. There’s a certain musty sweetness to it—kind of like the smell of old rubber, which is why I was so sure I had it conquered when I found that shower mat. After a few minutes you forget about it.
But it’s not my smell. It’s the smell of an intruder, a stranger: evidence that I haven’t been here long. Someone else was here before.
And so it is with all of the physical objects in my room. Someone else sat at my desk; someone else hung their clothes on my rack. Someone else lay on my couch; someone else put their socks in my drawer. Someone else hung pictures on my walls.
What’s good, though, is that this person can’t keep it up for long. He can’t have recently hung pictures on my walls for very much longer now. Soon enough, the only person who will have done anything recently here is me. Soon I’ll be the only person who recently hung the towel on the hook, or stacked paperbacks on the bedside table, or spilled a drink on the floor. Soon all of this will be mine. Like Simba at Pride Rock, I’ll own it all—the whole kingdom—the way you own a good tool: casually, and effortlessly. I’ll reclaim this shitty, smelly room, and I’ll start to know exactly where everything is, and where it belongs, and I’ll drape my shirts over the back of the desk chair.
Now I’m beginning to understand the dog-peeing ritual. How glorious, how fantastic, to walk by a random tree, a tree you may have passed before, and BAM, the sweet, pungent smell of your own urine tells you that You own that shit. Was I here before? Fuck yeah I was here—and I had time to piss all over it too. That’s ownership.
Or those seemingly arbitrary rock walls that you’ll sometimes come across whilst strolling through a New England wood. Did some farmer really need to spend months digging up rocks from the nearby creek bed and carting them, one by one, to the property line? Wouldn’t a couple of clearly marked signs have sufficed? A couple brightly painted trees? No. This is mine, the farmer says, and more important even than deterring sneaky neighbors from expanding their real estate is the knowledge that it would take a small army several days to change that.
The funny smell, I’m actually beginning to realize, isn’t coming from my room. It’s coming from the whole apartment. I share the place with Marion, a middle-aged lady who seems to enjoy...how shall I put this...saving things. She’s lived in this place, apparently, for fifteen years, and now, considering what I pay for my room, pays very little rent herself, even though the living room is now inundated with her clutter. That small conch shell that she collected on the beach of, oh I don’t know, the Canary Islands with her, say, grand-nephew—that might be the culprit.
So let the apartment continue to carry this puzzling aroma. I have my own crusade to fight. In short order, an epic aerial battle will take place above the stoop of my bedroom door. My minions, my unique signature of loyal particles—all the skin flakes, food scents, sweat drops——will quietly muster their forces and will one day ambush Marion’s hordes. They’ll move in with deadly speed and crush her army, and her henchmen will be forced to watch as my room secedes from the union. We’ll form our own laws, have our own customs, and practice our own traditions. And every day, when I come home from work, I'll take off my shoes, open the door to my room and smell—nothing.
Then I’ll be home.