Things I’d Tell My Younger Self | Day 15

Dear Chris,
That room is too small for you now.

*Disclaimer. While there are not spoilers in this post, you might feel like you know too much about the themes of Room after you read it. It’s not very specific but for those sensitive to movies being ruined…you’ve been warned.

I just got to see an advanced screening of Room, which has a limited release this weekend and opens nationwide on November 6. It is the kind of movie that will wreck you and then rebuild your hope. You know…like life.

Room is a story about so much. The stories we tell ourselves to survive, embracing truth, recovering from trauma, coming out of a dark places, the difficulty of exposing yourself to the light, our need for each other and the reality that once we move into freedom the old places shrink in size and when we try to go back, we realize that there’s not enough room in the past for what we’ve become.

It is a touching metaphor for life and a study in the stages of grief.

And it’s likely going to inspire more than one blog post because I have many stories of this sort of movement in my own life, as do we all.

Have you ever experienced something that so completely altered your life that you thought you would never recover? I have. A couple of times. And most of the people I know have as well. When I’ve experienced something that lands me living in a small space where anger or sadness or fear or despair or  fill in the blank is the defining characteristic of my existence, coming out of the dark can be just as frightening as being in it because the truth is that I get used to the dark. The dark is normal. The dark is familiar. Sometimes the first step (or subsequent steps) toward freedom is downright frightening… a personal version of Stockholm Syndrome.  And often when we’re in a room in the dark, no one knows to help us…because what shows on the outside does not always match the inside. It can be as scary to step out as it is to let someone in. And often, once I’ve stepped out, I long to go back because my old normal feels safer than the new place I find myself standing in.

In a way, that’s just the process of growing up, trying new things and expanding in the world around you.

I was thinking about my childhood house (as I’m editing this post, I realized that I typed house and not home) yesterday after a brief Facebook conversation with a friend who grew up across the street from me. There are some good memories that live there but also many painful ghosts. I mentioned on Day 5 that I used to hang out a lot in my closet as a kid. It was a little safe haven. A dark hideaway where I could go in and close the door, shine some stars on the ceiling, fire up the LiteBrite, play with toys, play with friends, whatever I wanted. It was my own space and I loved it.

Sometime in my early teens, after my brother had moved away to college and started his own family, I eventually asked to move into his room. I can’t remember why exactly. Maybe just because it was something new or maybe I wanted a tangible reminder of his existence in my life because I missed him terribly. There were no remnants of the posters of Kareem Abdul-Jabar or Larry Bird that had hung on the sloped ceiling above the bed when the room was his, but one reminder that this had been my brother’s room stayed on my wall… a plaque with Snoopy on it, labeled Joe Cool…which I think he made in shop.

When I moved to a bigger room, though, I also lost my closet. It got filled up with all the things that my mom needed to store instead of the toys that had lined the shelves before. I was a teenager by then and I was leaving childish things behind but I remember having a sense of loss and frustration because what had once been a refuge for me was no longer.

At one point in my mom’s second marriage, after I had changed rooms, she talked seriously about wanting to move out. Things were pretty bad, but you wouldn’t have known unless you lived inside the walls. Without prompting, I packed up most of my things. She changed her mind and I was devastated. Maybe the only thing worse than having to leave a room before you’re ready is having to stay when you desperately want to get out.

I was thrilled to leave home and go to college. My college dorm was the first home that I loved and felt comfortable in. Living in and experiencing the “big city” life of Minneapolis/St. Paul was my first step out of a small town and into a space that felt like it finally fit. My brother likes to joke that I loved college so much that I never really left…and he’s not actually wrong. College was an amazing four years for me.   It was my greenhouse. Not without it’s challenges but comfy and warm with lots of room to grow.

When I was a sophomore, my mother finally did decide to leave her husband after much encouragement and help from those who knew her, but she did it one weekend while I was away. In fact, it’s possible (though the memory is hazy) that I didn’t know it was happening until after the fact…it happened in a matter of 48 hours…a quick get away out of the “room” she had been living in for 13 years.

As much as I had come to dislike the house I grew up in, I never got to say goodbye to it. My bedroom was packed up and I never got to see my childhood room again. I didn’t have a room to go back to. Even though I didn’t like that place, it was still a difficult loss and I longed to go back to say goodbye.

A lot has happened in my life since then. Some amazing things and some terrible things. I’ve lived in many physical rooms that have come and gone and I’ve lived in just as many inner rooms, some full of light and air and some without windows and doors that were so pitch black, I couldn’t find my way.

But with as many experiences as I’ve had, I always had a desire to go back and visit that house…and specifically that little closet. I had a need to say goodbye to the place that had been my safe haven.

I got a chance to do that a few summers ago. My brother and sister-in-law and I got keys to the now empty, hollow house and went for a visit. I was in my mid 30s and I hadn’t been there since I was 19. That house and all it’s ghosts still felt like they had some power in my life.

We walked through it, now dirty and worn down, carpet reeking of cat pee from previous tenants. I remembered that house being big but it was dingy and small to me now. We went upstairs to my old bedroom and I opened the door to that closet that had been my safe space and it too seemed tiny in comparison to what I remembered. My brother made me get in and took a picture of me there. (I tried to make my a little Chris face.)

  
I had known for a long while that I had outgrown that house and that little room, that I had moved beyond it, but it wasn’t really until I physically experienced the smallness, the emptiness, that I was able to let it go and realize that it didn’t have a hold on me anymore.

Like one of the characters in Room, I found that my room had “shrinked”.

I’ve had a lot of physical rooms that I’ve longed to go back to and several metaphorical ones that I never thought I would get out of. But I’m always thankful to get to the moment when I’ve the old places aren’t big enough to hold me anymore.

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