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The Things They Left Behind

The things they left behind were largely disgusting,
a year’s worth of accumulated refuse: dust bunnies the size of dinosaur
eggs, emptied tins of potted meat, q-tips clean and soiled, and, in one
room, enough body hair to have been shed by a Yeti. Some of the trash made
for a laugh-a Bud Light sombrero, a faux-cigarette hash pipe-but most left
me cursing Homo sapiens yalensis, obviously the filthiest subspecies of

Yet scraps found here and there in a junk heap told personal stories. As
you move in, remember that when you move out, you don’t do so anonymously.
Some fellow students stick around at year’s end working Custodial. We know
who you are when we see what you leave, and we have to start drinking at
lunch just to cope.

Like most of us, much of our trash is either dorky or dirty. There were
dart guns, toy dinosaurs (I took those), rubber snakes. In one desk drawer,
a pen with pink ink, a Backstreet Boys album, bubblegum, and nothing more.
Under one couch, a cache of dildos. There was animé porn (a friend
took it before I could); half-empty cans of stale beer; and in a category
halfway between childish and adult, an illicit handle of Smirnoff, rolled
up in a rug.

Then there are the things that only we can afford to throw away. These
include stereos and televisions, refrigerators, canvas camp chairs, torchière
lamps, futon frames, a discman, leather jackets, printers, dress shoes on
their shoe trees, and a hip Japanese rain jacket that folds up to become
its own bag. Most of it is hoarded by student clean-up crews, mad with finders-keepers
frenzy. What can’t be reused or resold on the September black market is
tossed into ubiquitous blue dumpsters, where it is inevitably picked over
again. One day I swept up thirteen dollars in coins before ten am, only
to have a co-worker boast that he’d once found $185 in change in a single
jar. Old course books were as good as cash at the bookstore’s buy-back counter.

At times, the litter or lack of it composed biographical vignettes that
made for stark comparisons. On the windowsill of one room littered with
designer clothes and pricey personal electronics sat a plastic cup from
Lehman Brothers brimming with golf tees, perhaps an extra signing bonus
for some new banker. The next room over was swept absolutely bare, nothing
left behind.

But no narrative was as encapsulating as the one contained in a forgotten
cardboard box I cleared from an overcrowded storage room, its owner long
since graduated. Among the tighty-whities, plastic bookends, pillowcases,
and Dave Matthews cds was the turbulent story of a Yalie in love. There
were prom pictures in a white cardboard frame, then farther down, snapshots
of a different girl, smiling and prettier than the first. Among the old
toothpaste and crusted deodorant sticks, a packet of birth control pills.
Next to a book by John Gaddis, a copy of 1001 Sex Secrets Every Man Should
Know Written by Women Who Already Know. Inside, proceeding methodically
up to Secret #218, a rigorous system of checks and Xs rated each of the
suggested techniques. It remains unclear whether she wrote the annotations
before she gave him the book or he compiled them as a collection of post-coital
notes-to-self. Regardless, someone enjoys champagne in bed, slow dancing
in the nude, a show of vulnerability from her man, gentle use of the tongue,
hair stroking, sensitivity, and sex where both partners are "careful."
Deemed unacceptable are blindfolds, kinky motels, private polaroids, oral
sex, peanut butter, lemon meringue anywhere outside of a pie, candle wax,
sex toys, homemade pornos, bare-bottom spanking, and feathers. And last,
at the bottom of the box, an emblem of the worst sort of loneliness: shoved
inside a sock and wrapped up in a button-down shirt, a home testing kit
for hiv-a relic of the lowest point, that day spent trying to smile while
thinking alone over and over: Oh please God no, not me, not now, not this.

Matthew Underwood, a senior in Davenport College, is
managing editor for TNJ.

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