Most sentient beings seek some sense of stability, searching for homes, carving out spaces for themselves. The Taínos settled in the island of Hispaniola. Your pet dog has a favorite ottoman, just like you have a favorite cubicle in the library. The alpha wolf marks his territory of choice with urine. I paint my bedroom “Sparrow” — a light-medium gray, eggshell finish, mauve in some lights, periwinkle in others.
A year ago, I nested. I bought two cans of Sparrow at Home Depot and returned to my room off campus. The colors were like twigs, the roller, my beak. I spread the paint across the wall in swaths of silver. My parents liked it. My friends liked it. That made me like it more.
Elbows bent, arms extended, I attacked the surfaces back and forth, up and down. My materials were all within reach. Blue tape, drip cloth, paint tray, brush set, this was me doing something of importance. Barefoot, I stood on the chair, or on the bed, to cover these walls with every ounce of paint in the can. “Sparrow just screamed of Jordi — I hope people agree!”
Plop, plop. With each new coat, tiny pellets fell toward the floorboards. I tried to collect all these paint dots off the floor with my fingertips, but the room was a field of microscopic debris, of unattended dust and fallen hair. All that dirt, I felt it as it rolled and mixed with the drops of gray. Everything smeared. Useless. The paint ended up on my soles, but I kept on going. I kept stepping on the tray. Then I waited for the wet walls to dry a little. My painted toes crackled when I wiggled them. It was part of the process, the weekend farce. A clumsy guy meeting paint for the first time.
Hours and hours went by before I took a break. “Can’t stop till I’m done with this section!” I examined my work in intervals. If a hint of the old green snuck through a layer of gray, splat! I covered it up and moved on. The details, the edges, the corners, they called for a smaller tool and some off-white paint. I dipped the bristles in color and stroked my brush the same way I’d gently poke my testy father when I wanted to wake him up. I worried that I would ruin everything.
The reward for my efforts eluded me. Gray was a safe choice. The space still looked bland, in need of a tchotchke or two, something cute and idiosyncratic. I had to spruce up the room’s barren walls — stencil in a clever design, daub a few chalkboard paint figures, buy the usual posters, build a habitat. I had to concoct a new coat of personality from and for myself.
My housemates and I went to buy the knick-knacks, the new art. We drove to the nearest Savers, where the half-priced home décor felt most familiar. We grabbed a cart and made our way around the maze, our attention divided inside the trinket jungle. Nothing here was monochromatic. Decisions needed to be made, and as the options multiplied, I lost control. I was walking in circles. Creating a home began to feel like a burden. Completion, self-realization, it seemed far-fetched. I pushed the cart and considered every purchase with feigned conviction.
Back at the house we flaunted our best buys and discussed our new plans, because as we agreed, homes are all about identity. They are nothing without a collective vision. Afterwards I retreated into my room to finish the paint job. My back ached, my head hurt, the fumes were getting me high. Back in Hispaniola we talk about Vicente, que va donde va la gente. Vincent, who goes where the people go. Maybe I was a Vincent, maybe my opinions belonged to others. But not in this bedroom.
Sarah is not too sure about the pink canvas hanging on the wall. I think it’s droll. Too messy, says Sally, too empty, says George. Thanks for stopping by, Sally and George. Gloria gives the room a once-over. She doesn’t find the extra lamp practical. C’mon Gloria. The lamp stays.