When I went back to our college apartment after a month of staying with my parents, I half-expected one of my roommates to be standing at the kitchen sink. Instead, the empty entryway greeted me, steeped in soft gray light, shards of sunlight from the large window glinting off of the metal cabinet handles. The front door shut heavily behind me. The apartment was silent.
All three of my roommates had moved back with their parents, and two of them lived out-of-state, so I was here to adjust the thermostat and check the apartment. More importantly, I was here to retrieve an assortment of things I’d left behind: my large squirrel mug, my hammock, my D&D character’s kazoo. I set my backpack on my bed and carefully, deliberately slid my belongings inside as if I were preparing for a long journey. At the beginning of the semester, I’d imagined what we’d do with these items. I’d envisioned hanging the hammock on campus near dusk and reading The Lord of the Rings with my girlfriend. I’d assumed the kazoo would take its place beside my scattered dice as my six friends and I gathered around our large plastic table, and played games of dragons and shadowy islands.
The strangest thing for me was that, looking around the apartment, I could still imagine any of those things being possible. The apartment mostly hid the fact that everyone had moved out; only in more obscured areas, like inside the refrigerator and underneath the beds, were there obviously emptied spaces. The shelf by the door still held several battery-powered candles and our Mason jar of bubble tea straws. The dishes were still stacked where I’d put them to dry a month ago. Our schedules from the spring semester – a detail that impressed any adult who visited – remained taped to the wall. It was as if I’d returned home to find one of the few periods when everyone else was at class.
Like those periods, the apartment felt paused. Everything was still, holding its position until everyone came back. Even the bedroom light waited thirty seconds before turning on – long enough that I wondered if there was a power outage – as if the electricity was hesitating in the wires. For a second, I imagined staying in my room for the next few months, waiting for everything to return to normal, but then I zipped my backpack and turned back to the door.
It had felt like an ending as all my friends moved, one by one, off-campus. It hurt to stand in our familiar apartment that seemed to claim everything was okay when it wasn’t. Still, I left the dishes on the drying rack and the loose papers scattered across my desk as if they were promises: promises that soon, soon, we would all return and pick things up how we left them.