One of the reasons that I love the fall is that it reminds me of going away to college for the first time. When others are mourning the loss of the blooming season of summer, I am celebrating the planting of new bulbs, each one holding a secret to be seen after months of care and nurture under the cold earth.
Like a bulb, planted with careful hands before the frost, I was deposited at college by my parents. They navigated the halls of my co-ed dormitory with me and helped me unpack the bounty of new, college-girl supplies that I required. My mom and I made the twin-sized Murphy bed that unfolded from my “side” of the room as my dad set up the two crates upon which my rabbit-eared (complete with tinfoil for better reception) hand-me-down t.v. would sit.
We were introduced to the R.A. (resident advisor) next door, a girl a year older than me, who informed us that the roommate intended for me wasn’t coming after all. Mindy assured me that I’d have the room to myself and that was fine with me because her room was right next door and I could tell that we’d become friends. I shouldn’t have been so eager to acknowledge my luck, as it was soon to change.
I bid my folks farewell and waved to them out my window from the 2nd story of the dorm, glancing all the while to the high mountains to my left and the white-capped ocean to my right. I breathed in the fresh, salty air and felt like I could conquer the world. And then there was the door, my door, opening. Like in a scary movie, it was all happening in slow motion. The recognizable click of the lock, the turn of the brass handle, the swinging of the heavy wooden door…
There stood a girl, about 5 feet tall (seriously, I don’t have anything against short people, she was tiny), with a big mouth and a squeaky voice. I barely had time to ask her name before she offered it up and explained why she was opening the door to my dorm room. “Hi, I’m 5 foot tall girl from Minot, North Dakota” she said, or something similar. She went on to explain that she was assigned another room, which was not to her liking and once Mindy had informed her that there was a vacancy in my room, she would like to switch (I made a mental note to thank Mindy later).
Our conversation evolved into a little “get to know you” episode as we explained who we were and where we came from. She was a 20 year-old journalism student from North Dakota (I picked up quickly on the fact that she would be turning 21 sometime in the next year, and that might make this pairing actually doable), a former Catholic school girl (a clue that I should be afraid, very afraid) who came to Washington to pursue another educational experience outside of the one she already had at state college.
I was, well we all know what I was, a brand, spanking new freshmen, excited to be beginning a new chapter in my life at a college far enough away from home to “feel” like I was away, but not so far that I had to save my pennies in order to afford the gas it would take to drive home (who are we kidding, I didn’t even have my own car at this point, and as I recall, I had to beg, borrow and steal to get rides to the ferry home). I was going to a school with only 1 other person from my graduating high school class (we both earned the coveted R.A. jobs the next year by the way, says a lot for our alma matter) and I couldn’t be happier about establishing myself, the student, while having a little fun in the meantime (it was college after all). And the prospect of another roommate to replace the phantom one who never showed up didn’t bother me.
So, she moved in (for cruelty’s sake, I cannot use her name – this story is payback enough for what she put me through). She assembled her belongings in her half of the room, unfolding her bed to reveal a double mattress which would make her look like The Princess and the Pea, and I, well Cinderella, sans makeover. Apparently the double mattress was a long-handed down secret in our dorm, and, lucky her, her bed came with this option. I casually dismissed the fact that she had 2 extra layers of comfort beneath her 80’s bedspread because it was no longer that decade and the black, red and white look was definitely “out”. I was surprised that she didn’t hang up a Journey poster to go with her bedspread.
Our first quarter went rather smoothly, she filling in the shoes of the older sister I never had, me reminding her of her little sis back in North Dakota. She would tell me stories of back home in a Fargo-ish accent, if you can imagine this paired with her squeaky voice and small demeanor, add some big hair and you’ve got yourself a mental picture. After watching “Party of Five” in our dorm’s lounge, because those tinfoil rabbit ears didn’t work so well (except for sporting events, which pleased the male friends I’d made) we’d hang out with mutual friends, go for pizza (her 21st birthday wasn’t until February, darn) and terrorize the small town which put up with the influx of new college students graciously year after year. Oh yes, and study (I forgot where I was there for a second, we all know these years were the most successful of my college days so I had to be doing some studying – or taking really easy classes, you be the judge).
Before Christmas, she cemented a crush she’d had on a fellow journalism student into a “relationship”. They’d hang out together late into the night, developing film for the school newspaper or painting or whatever. I had a large circle of friends and wasn’t lacking in entertainment, so her absence didn’t really bother me. One day she asked if her boyfriend could “crash” in our room for the night with her and I said that I didn’t care (insert naive 18 year-old here). This happened a few times a week, they’d usually stumble in at 1 or 2 in the morning, I’d wake briefly and fall immediately back to sleep (because flannel was my night wardrobe of choice, modesty or the chance he’d see me naked wasn’t an issue for me).
The holidays came and went. I went home for Christmas; she went back to North Dakota briefly, spending most of her vacation in our dorm room with her boyfriend. Now I know that the snowy landscape and our remote location can justify a little cabin fever for some, but there is no excuse for what she did to me next.
To put it mildly (because I told myself I’d keep it clean here and I do not want to offend anyone), I found “evidence” that she and he had done the wild thing in our trashcan. I found the fresh evidence the day after one of his “sleepovers”. I shook with anger and disgust at the thought of what I slept through as my head pounded with the need to shake her 5-foot frame. I practiced the dialogue in my head and reminded myself not to jump to conclusions (naive 18 year-old again) before I let her answer for herself.
She returned from class to find me, her gutless roommate, with something to say.
“Um, you know if you and HE ever need any time, er, alone, I could always spend the night next door with Mindy (by now she and I were close friends).”
How is that for confrontational?
“Oh no, don’t worry about that Carrie” she answered. She went on to explain that they didn’t have that type of relationship and I had nothing to worry about.
And so, I went to bed that night, cozy in my flannel underneath my still new-smelling comforter and fell asleep.
What I woke up to should and will be left to the imagination (we are all adults, lets just leave it at that) but I will affirm that it was not the sound of frisky cats outside my dorm room window. It was coming from her bed.
I lay there for what seemed like eternity (2 seconds), frozen in time like a mammoth in ice, trying to figure out what to do. Do I scream? Do I throw pillows at them? Do I turn on the lights and demand that they both leave?
I gripped the edges of my comforter, I dug my fingernails into the down of my pillow. I peered, focused on the sliver of light coming from underneath the door next to my bed and I bolted. Next door to Mindy’s room, I fled. I pounded my fists loud and hard to wake her up (and so they could hear me), I ran into her room, my comforter and pillow in tow and began screaming about what a (insert all the dirty names for sluts you can think of here) she, my roommate, was. I went on and on because I knew that although the walls weren’t thin enough for the R.A. next door to know that a boy was sleeping in our room on a regular basis, they were thin enough to hear a hysterical girl in the middle of the night who was just woken up by her 5 foot tall roommate and her patchouli scented boyfriend.
I cried and I cried and I cried (now I know where Katie gets her emotional roller coasters), I cried that awful type of crying where you can’t breathe and you are drinking as many tears as are running from your eyes. Mindy calmed me down and assured me that she would handle this in the morning. Finally, I went to sleep, curled up in the fetal position on Mindy’s spare mattress (she, sneaky one, had 4!).
In the morning, of course she and he had left the room. The next time I saw her, she fumbled out some crappy apology about how she was sorry that they woke me up. Woke me up? I wanted to scream at her. You’re sorry you woke me up? How about you are sorry that you were doing that with me in the room in the first place? How about you were stupid not to take me up on my kind offer to sleep next door, leaving you to do as you please without a sleeping roommate (naive 18 year-old) in the next bed? Sorry you woke me up just will not cut it (and I don’t care if you will be 21 in a few weeks, it’s not worth it). And so, that was the end of that. I got my room back, all to myself (with 3 mattresses, two of which I kept folded up in the wall so as not to revisit any traumatic events in my young mind).
Good thing too, because my boyfriend was coming to visit!
Note: If you made it this far, thank you. Some memories swirl around in my brain until I can get them out onto paper (in this case, into my computer). In no way, would I want the identity of my roommate to be known, although I feel that writing about things aids in closing the book on them and this is no exception. So, I’ve closed the book on that incident, that person, from my past and I can look back on it with humor now and give myself a little chuckle. Hopefully she went on to have a happy life and I will always remember her for the character that she was.