On my way out of the house the other day, I ran into my housemate, Arjun, on the porch. It was hot, sunny, mid-morning. He was smoking a pipe by himself, sitting on the top step, wearing a yellow T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up enough to expose the tattoo of an applesauce pouch on his right bicep. He was staring across the street.
“Whatcha looking at?” I asked. I sat down next to him, curious to see the world through his eyes for a moment.
“Just those trees across the street,” he said. Arjun finds beauty in lots of things. It’s unclear if that’s his personality or the drugs. One morning, for instance, Arjun and I were doing homework together at the kitchen table before class. I was watching recorded lectures and munching on dry cereal. Arjun seemed to be taking a break from his work – his laptop was open but pushed off to the side. A beam of sunlight shone through the kitchen window and formed a square patch of gold on the table in front of where he was seated. After a while, Arjun pulled his laptop back in front of him, glanced at the screen, and said, “Actually I’m gonna look at the sun a bit longer.” He closed his laptop, folded his hands neatly in his lap, and went back to staring at the patch of light. And just the other night, when the dishwasher finished its cycle, Arjun opened it up to unload. He watched the drops of water fall from the top shelf onto the stainless steel bottom for a moment, then dragged me away from my work to come look at the way the water droplets sparkled when they landed and splashed on clean metal. It was lovely, but I wouldn’t have noticed it myself.
“What about them?” I asked now, looking at the three trees planted in the yard of the home across from us. For a moment, Arjun didn’t answer, but then seemed to realize I was genuinely curious.
“Oh, well, first of all, the shape of them is beautiful,” he said, gesturing at the tree on the far right. A few feet off the ground the trunk split into two large branches, one continued its trajectory upwards, the other curved off to the side. It formed a trident shape, with two prongs. The leaves were beginning to sprout, but were sparse enough that we could see the way the branches grew.
“It’s lovely,” I agreed. We stared in silence. Since the weather has been nice, Arjun has been much happier. He was stressed during the winter months – partially because of the weather, partially because of an incident with his girlfriend. “The pregnancy scare,” he confided in me several months ago. “Yeah, pregnancy scare… pregnancy scare… and it being cold. Those were the two things on my mind in January.” Now that the weather’s nice, and Arjun is single and celibate for the time being, there doesn’t seem to be much on his mind. Nothing to worry about other than the way the sunlight looks when it shines on household objects in the morning and the way the branches grow on the trees on the other side of the street.
“One thing I don’t like though,” Arjun continued, “Are the mounds.” At the base of each tree was a neat mound of fresh soil and mulch.
“Really?” I said. It was unlike Arjun to take issue with much of anything.
“Well, yeah, I think it just looks a little artificial. Like, I’m sure it’s very healthy for the tree, but…” he trailed off.
“Do you wish the tree was just growing out of the ground?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Arjun nodded. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think that’s it.”
My other housemate, Abbi, seems to have a lot on her mind these days. The other night, I got back to the house after a late night in the library and found my housemate, Regan, crammed in her room with six of her friends. They were crowded around a laptop on the floor watching baby sensory videos. On the screen, colorful seahorses floated and danced synchronously to orchestral music. Regan’s room was small and hot with body heat, and the skunk smell was loud.
“Why don’t you guys go hang out in the TV room?” I asked from the doorway. I held the door open wide to let fresh air waft in.
“Abbi’s in there,” Regan whispered. “She’s not moving.”
“Just Abbi?” Regan nodded. “Did you ask her if you could use the TV?” Regan shook her head. “Do you want me to ask?” Regan shook her head.
“She’s not moving,” she repeated.
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll go ask her.”
When I saw Abbi, she didn’t look like she was going to move. She was curled in the fetal position on the couch, cradling a bowl of roasted brussel sprouts against her stomach, watching a movie alone in the dark.
“What’s up?” I asked. She shrugged. I sat on the coffee table in front of her. “Why do you look so sad?”
“Regan asked me the same thing,” she said. Her voice croaked a little. Without shifting her position, she stretched her arms above her head. I felt her forehead – normal temperature.
“You look awful,” I said. “Do you want me to wash your bowl for you?”
“I’m still eating,” she said defensively. In a horizontal position, she speared one brussel sprout and brought it to her mouth, then rested the fork back in the bowl, satiated, apparently, for the time being.
“I’m gonna do some work in my room,” I said. “Do you want to come hang?”
“Not at all,” Abbi said.
“Do you want to smoke later?” I asked.
“This is what I want to do,” she nodded at her movie.
“I think Regan wants to use the TV,” I said tentatively.
“I’m not moving,” Abbi said firmly. That was that.
“Abbi’s being weird,” I told Regan the next day. We were laying in my bed, Regan was scrolling through TikTok, I was staring at the ceiling, worrying about Abbi. “She blamed me today because she got a parking ticket. She wanted to know why I didn’t stop the guy from writing it. But I didn’t see him do it, I only talked to him after. And once he wrote the ticket there was nothing I could do.”
“Oh, that’s rude,” Regan said. “She is grumpy lately. But I think it’s just because the weather’s nice.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Regan turned her phone screen off and rolled on her side to look at me.
“Like when the weather’s nice you can’t worry about the weather being bad,” she explained. “So you have to worry about other things. That’s why I like rainy days. Because you can be upset about the weather and happy about everything else.”
I was unconvinced. “Someone said Mercury is in retrograde,” I said.
“What does that mean?” Regan asked.
“I have literally no idea,” I said. Regan unlocked her phone and rolled over onto her back again.
When Mercury is retrograde, I read in an article on mindbodygreen.com that night, it appears to move backwards across the night sky as it passes Earth in its orbit. Because Mercury is Gemini’s ruling planet, this affects them the most.
“You definitely seem affected,” I told Abbi the next morning. “It’s supposed to be retrograde until June third.”
“Great,” she said sarcastically. We were in the bathroom. I was brushing my teeth at the sink, she was sitting on the counter keeping me company. She pulled locks of her hair through her fingers and inspected the frazzled ends. “What a great way to end my senior year.”
“Hey,” I spit, then waved my toothbrush at her. “Don’t sabotage yourself.”
“I’m not sabotaging myself,” she said. “The stars are fucking me over. Are you gonna get your hair cut before graduation?”
“I was thinking about it,” I said. “But I don’t trust any hair stylists here. Are you upset at all about the weather?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard they’re really bad at cutting hair here,” she dropped her hair and folded her arms over her chest, leaning back against the mirror. “Why would I be upset about the weather?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, rinsing my toothbrush off. “You know, it’s getting really hot out and everything.”
“Yeah,” Abbi nodded and stared out the window. “I just don’t even know what to wear when it gets like this.”
“Don’t you feel like that ever? Everyone looks so cute in their, like, tennis skirts and shit, I just want to wear a sweatshirt and baggy jeans.”
“No, I feel that,” I leaned against the counter next to her. “I have, like, one pair of shorts because I hate my legs.”
“Exactly!” Abbi smiled at me. “I don’t have to think about my body when it’s cold out. But in the summer it’s all I can think about.”
We looked back out the window together.
“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” I asked. She pressed her lips together. I waited. After a moment, she slid off the counter and made to leave the bathroom.
“I think I’m just gonna think about it a little bit longer if that’s okay,” she said from the door. She held it open for me. I looked at her for a bit before leaving.
Since writing this piece, I have received a text from Arjun: “I have a thought about the trees across the street.” As I read his message, I heard his footsteps down the hallway. I opened my bedroom door and called his name. He was on his way out, carrying a lawn chair under his arm. When he heard me, he turned around and gave me a giddy looking smile. He’d been sober for a couple days leading up to a big presentation that morning, so that afternoon the high was hitting him extra hard.
“What’s your thought about the trees?” I asked, leaning against the doorframe.
“Okay, so,” Arjun leaned against the wall outside of my room. “You know how sometimes people don’t like immigrants?”
I threw my head back and laughed, I tried to close the door in his face, he blocked it with his arm.
“No no no, listen, listen,” he said. “I feel like my anger has been misdirected. Like, I was mad at the trees for appearing as if they didn’t belong there. But I think I’m actually mad because what if the trees didn’t want to be planted there?”
“Across the street?”
“Yeah, like what if the trees were happy where they were and someone uprooted them and planted them across the street.”
“Because trees talk to each other, right? So what if they miss their forest?”
“Yeah, exactly!” Arjun clapped his hands together. “They communicate with each other, and we can’t understand them. I just want the tree to be happy… wherever it is.”
It took me a second to think of which side he meant when Dave Jenks called and asked me to meet him on the West side of Baker Tower. We both arrived early, on the side that faces Frat Row, or the Thayer building, or the river. Dave wanted to check the roof of the library. It rained all weekend, but then quickly beca...