This summer I had a series of incredibly strange and uncomfortable relationships with people I've never met.
They were all with people who rented out my home on AirBnB.
The relationships start out awkward right at the doorway. That's because my three-season porch is less of a watch-the-clouds-go-by spot than it is a storage area for bikes and shovels and private mouse parties that begin the first cool day of every fall. When strangers come to my house after renting it out on AirBnB, it's the first thing they notice. The clutter-filled doorway to my life.
The strange relationship becomes more intimate when people come inside and begin scanning the room for evidence. I suppose not all of them notice the cremated cat and dog wrapped in dusty blue velvet boxes that sit forever untouched on top of the book case. But they probably notice the paw prints in plaster dotting the top of the dining room buffet. Their eyes probably scan the book shelves, filled with telltale "Manage Your Money and Your Life!" titles that stand out like articles of goth clothing.
Their eyes probably land on Sammy, the pet rock I've had since first grade, a smug jerk revealed in aged limestone. And they probably notice the strange artwork, six hand-painted plates by artist Andy Sturdevant that depict the faces of corporate CEOs, my own subversive comment on homeownership and bills.
In most cases, we never meet. But we can create dramatic readings of each other's lives based on tiny bios and the things we leave behind.
Here are some of the private things people have left behind for me, creating an exchange of deep, uneasy intimacy without ever meeting.
1. Stranger cake: Two pieces were gone from this left-behind made-from-scratch buttercream cake, so it was less a gift than a planning accident. Officially known as "The Stranger Cake," I shared the leftovers with friends in honor of our newfound trust in strangers.
3. Kids' drawings: For two weeks after one family left, random pen drawings of alien-like creatures with electric-tower arms revealed themselves like foreign currency notes.
3. "I love you" ballon: Part of a gift to a daughter for graduation, this helium ballon stayed tied to the back of a chair for two months, dancing around in the open window and creating new strange stories for the next rental family to interpret.
4. Lots of Amazon boxes, with my address on them: For a post-wedding party of close family members, a random stranger apparently had a huge moment in my house that will live with them forever. They even had the joy of having presents to delivered to their door, my door. When I returned home from visiting my family, I ordered a pizza. It also came in a box with my name on it.
5. Half-empty wine bottles: LIke the stranger cake, this is also less of gift than a case of poor planning. But that didn't stop me from drinking the leftovers and toasting our new, awkward stranger exchange.
6. Tofu: This was a part of an actual gift, based on someone's interpretation of what I would like to eat, which they gleaned from the uneaten hippie leftovers in my fridge. (There's a reason I didn't finish that organic tempeh.)
7. Flowers. Lots and lots of flowers: Given as gifts to one of the renters, the flowers were too much to be carried across state. That meant that six giant, glorious bouquets were left behind on my birthday, a purely accidental yet serendipitous present from a stranger.
8. Men's XL button-down shirt (stained), left by two small women: Maybe one of them had an overnight guest. Or maybe movies and catalogs aren't giant liars and and some women really do wear oversized men's shirts to bed. I like to think of it as another gift: Three brand-new dust cloths, used to prepare for the next guest.
9. A train-themed baby blanket: Decorated with stains and tiny, smiling trains, this miniature blanket held real meaning for someone, I was sure. But when I emailed the former renter about it, they told me to "go ahead and keep it."
What do these things left behind say about us? About our relationships? About sharing a home with strangers? While AirBnB is a smart way to make extra money on my under-water home when I am traveling, I still haven't quite reached a comfort level with sharing Sammy the jerk rock and a liftetime of too-talkative junk with strangers.