People are surprised I spend most of my downtime at work in a living room.
“Like with couches and a TV and stuff?”
“Like with reclining chairs, a huge flat screen, and two Wiis stacked on top of each other that nobody ever uses.”
“So what, you just sit around and wait?”
I don’t think they quite understand. Living rooms are where people come together, even at work.
I could tell people this: The recliners are brown, and if you sit on them long enough, your butt will be imprinted into the fabric. The carpet is old, green-colored, I think. There were plans to rip it up and put down hard floor—there are even boxes of flooring somewhere to prove it—but other things take precedence. On the walls, are anatomical drawings of the first blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, and then a man breathing life into the body of a child who’s dangling in his arms for some reason. Besides these outdated illustrations and the shelf of mailboxes, one for each employee, there is nothing else on the walls. Wood panels line the lower half, white paint coats the upper half. There is a black speaker, which is actually our radio, hooked to the ceiling in the dining area, which is really just a dinner table and matching chairs (still in the living room).
Unless someone is walking barefoot, it’s impossible to be snuck up on. Our boots clack on the strip of tile that represents the hallway. Even on carpet, boots are loud. The door leading into the garage has a squeaky hinge. You can hear the washing machine through the wall and any other voice above a whisper.
I could tell people this, but it wouldn’t be the truth. I would have to tell them everything. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Like how the living room is where we have morning meeting, and if Caleb is on shift, that means you’ll smell coffee brewing from the kitchen, coffee he’ll probably forget about and will still be sitting there two days from now. Like how morning meeting only begins once everyone is in the room. If Don is there, then that means he’s sitting in one of the three recliners facing the TV, his arm hanging over the back of it and his eyes skimming an article or book on his phone while he waits for the supervisor to give us the rundown of hospital closures, memo announcements, and daily chores. But if Don really is on shift, then he probably doesn’t hear the part about chores because he knows I’ll just do it for him.
We play musical chairs with the recliners, but everyone knows who sits where. If Culver is on shift, then he’s in the middle chair, the one that has access to the glass coffee table, the extension cord and TV remote that come with it. The TV is probably on then, blasting Live PD or movies he can quote every line of. If Lindsey is on shift, then she’s in what we call the porn chair because it’s in the corner where no one can see what’s on your screen. Lindsey doesn’t watch porn, and I don’t know why she likes sitting in a chair twice her age, the cushions faded and the seams torn from use, but she does. When it’s Christmastime, that chair disappears, and in its place, Bob puts a Christmas tree decorated with chains of stuffed hearts linking arms; and on those red hearts are all the names of the people his employees saved that year. Culver once said, “Think about all the names not on that tree,” and ever since, those hearts don’t seem so special anymore. If no one on shift particularly likes doing laundry, then there is a bundle of wadded pink sheets in the recliner that’s facing the wall of windows. No one really sits in this chair, and the one beside it, because 1) you have to crane your head at an angle to see the TV and 2) anyone walking behind you or checking their mailbox can see your screen. I sit there, on the weekends when no one is really around, and stare out those windows at the porch I never sit on and the lawn Don mows in the summer, and I wonder why we never lock the back door with the brass knob because anyone could come inside.
I was asked to write about a place of personal importance. This is what happened. I don’t think I missed the point of the assignment either, especially since my professor (and the textbook for the creative writing class) is constantly telling me writing is supposed to be organic, an exploration of something unknown that I want to know better. So, when prompted to describe a place of importance to me, I was drawn to the living room at work. It was only when I really started describing it, that the truth came out: It’s not just a living room with five recliners—sometimes six—a huge flat screen, and two Wiis stacked on top of each other that nobody ever uses. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say—It’s the people.