By COLLEEN LEDDY
It’s been some time now that David and I assumed ownership of Ben’s former room. I think Ben must have been in college at least a couple years when we realized it was pretty silly for his room to stand empty while Rozee and Maddie shared a room.
We moved our bed and dressers in there without moving much more than Ben’s bed and dresser out. It’s a small room; the only other things in there are another dresser, a bookshelf David made long ago when we lived in the apartment above the Observer, and a couple of night stands.
The room is filled with Ben’s memorabilia; we can’t ever seem to get rid of his stuff. Ben’s not motivated either. Whenever he’s home, it’s just for a short time and there’s always something better to do than sort through old CD cases or books about Japan.
I was rubbing David’s feet the other night while he read in bed. I gazed around the room, taking stock of the line of trophies atop the door moldings, maps on the wall, a scary mask and skinny man sculpture made in art class, books and photos albums, cigar boxes of stamps—and the other dresser.
I knew that dresser was full of stuff. I’d tried to clean it out once before, but it’s too much for me. Two drawers contain dismantled radios, “D” batteries taped together, wires and whatnot—it brings to mind the old days of Odyssey of the Mind (OM) at Morenci Elementary School.
And then there are all the disappointing untouched Christmas and birthday gifts from over the years—a sand painting kit, Art Deck Game, Weird and Wonderful Wildlife postcards, journals and little notebooks—when all he ever really wanted was a bow or a BB gun.
It’s easier to just let it be.
“I was going to take the maps of Japan and Brazil down, but it was taking the paint off the walls so I stopped,” I said to David as I rubbed his feet.
“It’s time to take the bear tape off,” he said.
“Oh, you mean the bear danger sign?” I asked. Ben bought a sign on our trip to Alaska back in 1997 which he hung on his door some years ago:
”Well, I haven’t seen any bears since we’ve been in here, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any,” David said.
But David had been talking about a length of tape—like police “keep out” tape—Ben had also hung across his door. It wasn’t bear related at all; it was something he brought back from a trip he took to Germany when he was in high school.
The tape broke several months ago and flaps in the breeze—a noise that can startle a person on a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom.
“It flaps whenever you walk out of the room,” David claims.
I get more alarmed by the glow-in-the-dark acrobatic alien than the police tape. It sits on the bookshelf across from our bed and glows eerily, the alien suspended in mid-air on one of those little gizmos that flips the alien when you squeeze a couple buttons.
But I took a closer look at the “police” tape and looked up the words—betreten verboten lebensgefahr holzfallung—on babblefish.com: entered forbade mortal danger wood falling.
Sheesh! What was my son doing over there in Germany nearly a decade ago? I emailed Ben asking about it.
“I didn't bring it back for any reason except that it had German words on it.”
“Was it extra tape hanging or did you endanger some poor souls who wouldn't know wood would be falling?” I probed further.
“I really don't know where I saw it or what it was being used for.”
I’m always a little surprised at ourselves when I think back on Ben arranging that trip the summer after his junior year of high school. He booked a seat on a bus which he boarded at Detroit Metro. The bus took him to Toronto where he caught a cheap flight to Frankfurt where his friend Tilman’s family met him.
Tilman Schmoll was an exchange student in Morenci during Ben’s sophomore year in high school, along with Sergio Filho who Ben visited in Brazil the summer before visiting Tilman.
I worried every step of the way during both those trips just as my mother worried about me traveling during high school summers. Big difference in scale, though. I was only going by bus from Port Authority terminal in New York City to upstate New York—Groton and Albion—and then a longer stretch to Gardiner, Maine the next summer.
As Ben takes off for Abu Dhabi, I suspect I’ll have an even harder time removing the boxes of rocks from those dresser drawers, the Brazilian Guarana soda bottles from the bookshelf, the New York license plate from the doorway....