The Blue Room

Alison Cummins, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center

for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies

Princeton Writes Prize


The ceiling fan is blue. The panels vary in shades, but when the fan whirs, they all blend together to create a big sapphire blob against the white ceiling.

I can’t return to see the blue fan to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure of the details. The funny thing about trying to remember a space that no longer exists is that you’ll never know if you’re doing it right. Nonetheless, I’m very certain the ceiling fan had a different shade of blue on each panel. But I guess I can’t prove that. I like to think if I could create any space, it would be this one: a blue room that has already existed. Maybe I’m not imaginative enough to think of something from scratch, or maybe this is just the plight of getting older.

I call this room The Blue Room because the theme is BLUE. Not baby blue or blue, but BLUE. The sheets are blue, the walls are blue, the carpet is blue. The comforter is white—with blue circles. In this room, I’m nine, ten, eleven years old.

The Blue Room was made comfortable through my own wear and tear. The fur carpet was matted down in the one spot where I sat listening to music on my iPod. I wrote stories in my journals, leaving the white desk littered with swaths of graphite and cheap gel pen. I stared at my body, perplexed as to why, if I had to have breasts, they were not uniform in size. I filmed videos of myself acting out self-written comedy sketches. I cried over boys I wasn’t sure I loved but felt like I should. Every night, I prayed to a God that, ten years later, I would no longer believe in.

When I go to sleep here, I see headlights flash against my wall as cars turn down the street. It smells like summer all the time. I leave the window open when I go to bed because I like the sounds of tires on asphalt and the teenagers next door getting home late at night. I put on CDs for soundtracks of movies that make me laugh and albums my dad says he loves. Maybe everything feels so lovely here because the room is so, so blue. I wonder if I can write a play about The Blue Room so that someone will build a set to mimic it. Perhaps I’ll be able to walk around in some sort of re-creation of my childhood bedroom and feel something new.

I’m sure it’s not all I’m making it out to be. Certainly, there must have been something irritating about it. Did the door stick when you tried to close it? Did I often stub my toe on the desk chair when I stood up? Maybe the walls were too thin, and I could hear my sisters listening to their music while I was trying to listen to mine. I wonder if creating a set of it will help me remember more, or if I’m all out of memories.

My parents sold the house with The Blue Room when I turned twelve. We moved a few towns over; the high school in the neighboring town was better. I didn’t really care about all that. I just wanted my house, my room, back. I suppose I still do.

From the time I was born until I turned eighteen, I had five different bedrooms in four different houses. All these memories shoved into different rooms, and The Blue Room is the one I long for. If I could invent a space, it would be one I have already been to, one I have already lived in passionately: The Blue Room. Perhaps it’s because heartbreak in The Blue Room feels so much less poignant now. The boy I cried over because he switched schools is gay now, and anyways, I would come to stop loving him soon after. The way Rihanna made me feel when she sang through my earphones wasn’t false, but Rihanna was singing of a heartbreak that was only theoretical to me then. I hadn’t experienced enough to know her lyrics truly. Life was an imagining rather than something tangible.

The room of my high school years is easier to imagine than The Blue Room. It’s just less pleasant to do the remembering. In that room, the tears shed over a boy cut much deeper. Feeling stupid for not understanding my math homework is a feeling I can still access as an adult, if slightly duller now. The world seemed so big and so out of my control then, and that is something that I have only experienced more since, never growing accustomed to the whir of life. My parents grow older, my sisters grow taller, my friends grow further, and I bear it all, even now. The high school room is where I learned heartbreak, a sharp crack of the chest. I’m still looking for the room where I learn to sew it all up.

I moved into an apartment with my partner a few months ago. It was my first time setting down roots in the form of a home since I left for college. We painted the walls. Our lease allows it, and I was overdue for some color. Some friends came over and spent the day rolling paint haphazardly around the living room. We splattered a lot on the floor, and I can’t seem to get it out. We ate sushi for dinner. My muscles felt fuzzy and tired.

We didn’t paint the apartment walls BLUE. We didn’t even paint them blue or blue. But they are vibrant: a burnt, dusky orange in the living room and a deep, child-like purple in the hallway. We commissioned a friend to paint a mural across one wall—a sunset. My partner builds a bookshelf for us, and I count all the books we own. I think I feel as close to The Blue Room as I have in a long time. My home is full of color and energy, and my heart, while still being stitched up, feels closer to repair now.

I wonder if I’m wrong about the space I want to create. Maybe The Blue Room doesn’t need to be reborn. I spend evenings in an apartment decorated with my favorite albums, a palm frond growing tall, and patchy colors across the walls. What if the space I want to create is waiting for me now, just off Route 1?

I like to think The Blue Room version of me would love my new home, would love who I’ve become. Realistically, that’s far-fetched. The Blue Room girl I knew would take one look at me and ask, “Why did you cut all your hair off?” or “Why don’t you pray before dinner?” She’d probably keel over when I uttered a curse word so casually. But if I could reach into the essence of the girl in The Blue Room, pushing through all the murk of what she’d been told, I think she would adore the colors of my walls—both in my apartment and inside of me.

Maybe next I’ll paint the ceiling fan blue.