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February 25, 2021 Nonfiction


Riley Manning

Rooms photo

At the funeral for your wife's uncle D'wayne, his wife/her aunt Peggy gives a singing of “As the Deer,” and the pastor recalls Henry Scott-Holland, who said, “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room.” 

You hold in suspicion this idea of a room, and have for a long time, since watching the Amish raise the walls of a barn on your grandfather's television as a boy. A room, then, a piece of air, of space, enclosed. This seems insane.  

You look around the sanctuary, its balcony. Is this a room? Maybe. Structurally, it sits apart from the rest of the church. To be in this building is to be in the sanctuary. It is the only “room,” therefore, you think, No, it is not a room. 

The car you drove to get here is not a room. Its trunk, full of your bags so you can head home straight after the service, it is not a room. What is a room if not a place where things are kept? 

Bed room. 

Bath room. 

A closet. Is a closet a room? Maybe. 

A coffin? A grave? Definitely not rooms. Goodbye D'wayne. 


A boy again, running through the outfield kicking over crawdad tunnels. Stop to catch your breath, that sticky summer air. Feel the air in front of your face with your hands. This could be a room, you think. There is nothing stopping it from being one. Even if walls make a room a room, the walls are the least important thing about a room. Everyone knows that.  

On the way home, you stop at a bar so dense with smoke that if you demolished it, the cube smoke-soul of it would hang there til the end of time, long after we have died, and people who are trying to quit smoking but can't would simply step inside of it and breath. Would it still be a room, then? 

A boy again, though not as young. A storm blows a tree through your grandfather’s house, bringing the rafters down on him where he sat, watching National Geographic on that same TV. He is fine, but the house is like a stepped-on ant hill. Pine needles keep raining in.  

You go back a few days later to pick through it. Your mother finds a brown ceramic box whose petite lid has a handle the shape of a resting calf. You have never seen your mother breathless. 

“We found the calf box,” she tells your grandmother on the phone. “Not a scratch on it. Yeah, we found it in what used to be the living room.”  

You look down at the wet carpet beneath your feet. Photos still hang on the wall. The TV is dark, but unmoved. The sky pours in. It still feels like a room to you, but maybe you are wrong.  


Your sister-in-law sends you videos of the house she and her wife are building in Tampa. She works for Restoration Hardware, so you know that the rooms will be primo. The roof’s on, but inside, it’s a skeleton of two-bys and furring strips and wires where the walls will be.  

“This is where the living room will be,” she says. 

With rooms, there is an unclear interval of becoming that may last months or may only last a moment. One day, she will walk in and flip the lights on in a place that was not a room the day before.  


As you grow, you pass through many rooms and near-rooms. Size and proportion are certainly a factor, but not the most important one. A football stadium, a basketball arena, these are not rooms, though the bathrooms in them are. A garage, not a room, whether the door is open or not. A chicken coop, not a room. An attic, not a room, unless you put down floorboards, put in a bed, put in a person and his or her things. Then, an attic is a room, though it kind of stops being an attic, doesn’t it?  

Because an attic is a place where nothing happens, an ageless waiting place where things sit for a time, where you can forget about them. 

Ironically, this is almost the complete opposite of a waiting room at, say, a doctor’s office. Whereas an attic is a place of returning things until next time, which will be just like the last time, a waiting room is a place where you find out the way in which nothing will be the same again. About the time you are learning this yourself, your now-wife is in a hospital room in Las Vegas, having her child, the father of whom perhaps sits in the waiting room, fidgeting. Ironically, your life is changing, though you have no idea, and his life will change very very little.  

So then, a room is a place where things happen, to say the least. Rooms have rules, even if they only exist for the sake of breaking them, like “no sex in the champagne room,” or whatever. 


In college, your girlfriend’s roommate breaks the silence of the night by asking why you don’t go down to your own identical dorm room. You play soccer for the college (badly), and every day, the locker room. The open shower situation is not a room, though you don’t know why. Maybe it’s room-ness is understood, but you’d never explain it to someone who doesn’t speak English as “a room.” For a fraternity party, you help build a gigantic bubble out of trash bags over the courtyard and inflate it with, like, 50 box fans, and though people have to pay $10 to get inside, it is not a room. 


Hallways, stairwells, mezzanines, these are not rooms. At the bar, behind the bar is not a room. Your mouth, enclosing so much gin, is not a room. You try cocaine, and like it, in a room. You fuck girls in rooms, near-rooms, and definitely-not-rooms. You fall asleep in one room and wake up in another. A building is a set of rooms. A one-room building is still a building, but it has no rooms, so it is not, itself, a room. When you wake up in your car in the median on the highway, you are not waking up in a room. In fact, there is not a room in sight. 


When your wife leaves Las Vegas, she takes all the things in her rooms and puts them in the back of a huge moving truck, a veritable room on wheels. With the help of her father, she puts them in a storage unit, sometimes referred to as a “storage room.”  

The differences between a room, a moving truck, and a storage unit are nebulous and maddeningly imprecise. Apartments are tricky. While a house is a big room with more rooms inside, an apartment complex is a set of rooms with more sets of rooms inside, yet the connective areas between these sets of rooms are not (usually) rooms themselves. 

Back up.


The simple fact is that a lot of things that typically happen inside rooms tend to happen outside of rooms just as easily. Things that should never happen at all, when they happen, they often happen in rooms. 

Your grandfather dies in a room. You push a woman down in a room. So many dogs shit in so many rooms. That short story, “Boys,” changes your whole perception about rooms, as does that Mitch Hedburg joke about rooms, though not as much when you hear it again way later. By then, you’ve started reading the news, and you are aware of how the most awful perpetrations imaginable are often committed inside rooms. By then, you have done things to people in rooms that change them forever, and things have been done to you in rooms that change you forever. A room itself can be a threat. But it can be a promise, too. If you and a particular other person happen to be in the same room at the same time, it can redeem the torturous nature of rooms completely, even if that intersectional room is a closet. A closet, then, maybe, is a room only when there are two or more people inside. 

You have become well-acquainted with the sensation of being in a room you have frequented for years for the last time, and knowing it is the last time. It is hard to think of a particular room that is not associated with some kind of trauma. There is a room in Jackson in a house where you lowered a wailing girl into an oat bath and begged her to believe the trauma you both were experiencing was not her fault. It has been 10 years since either of you, or anyone you know, has stepped foot in that room, yet it is hard to believe someone walking into that room for the first time doesn’t feel it, as if the room itself remembers. Does she remember? To what extent is a room like a box, in that you can close it up and leave it and forget about the thing inside? If a room remembers, then how can you own it? How can you own a thing that remembers? If you destroy the room, do you destroy the memory, or set it loose? 


You have a secret folder on your computer of your favorite rooms. Chernobyl, all those rooms left behind with bed frames and old dolls and chalk boards. The Winchester Mansion with its calamity of rooms and fake rooms. The idea of famous rooms is hysterical to you. A factory floor is not a room, nor is a tent, nor is an indoor swimming pool. You and your wife, each of you have been in rooms you will never tell the other about.  You visit New York City together and look up at the scattered lights of people still awake and bite your tongue to keep from saying, LOOK at all these ROOMS


Your stepdaughter grows up, inhabiting a few rooms of her own before you and your wife buy a house, a new set of rooms. For her fourteenth birthday, you wake up early to paint her room while she’s at school. You hang new lights, you assemble new furniture, you make it look like other rooms on your stepdaughter’s Pinterest board called “Dream Room." When she gets home, she is so happy. “This is such an aesthetic,” she says, and you realize that she perhaps understands rooms better than anyone you’ve ever met. Six weeks later, she will dip out of the room through its only non-painted-shut window. She will yell at you, “Get the FUCK out of my ROOM.” She will slam the door to the room, and when you remove the door as punishment, it will be no less of a room than before. Your wife will worry that she spends too much time in the room, and that maybe we made it too good, too inhabitable.  

When you put the door to the room back on, it squeaks every time it opens, so you and your wife can lay still in your own room in the opposite end of the house and hear her enter and exit, knowing exactly where she is by whether you hear an odd-numbered squeak (out of the room) or an even-numbered squeak (back in the room). 

You build a small deck on the back of the house, which you would never describe as a “floor,” though it may technically be one-sixth of what you would describe as a room. You and your wife watch YouTube videos of survivalists building shelters out of branches and though the narrator describes the shelters as one-room (adjective) shelters, though never as a room (noun). Your friend in Water Valley buys a shipping container (not a room), and makes a house out of it (ok, now, rooms).  

Every time you hear your daughter’s door squeak, you know she is one squeak closer to leaving the room for the last time, and you worry about the rooms she will find herself in after she leaves your set of rooms. At that time, you and your wife plan to convert a camper van and leave rooms behind for a while. You never talk about it, but you hope that when you die, you will not die in the clutches of a room.