This could be No. 1’s room next year. Institutional, yes, but it could be worse. I mean, at least there’s not a steel sink-toilet combo in the corner.
Perhaps you heard my oldest child’s scream last night? I heard seismic activity was reported in Toledo, Ohio. Pretty sure that can be blamed on her.
The reason for No. 1’s dismay: She discovered what will likely be her new home, a dorm that was far from her first choice. I assured her that no dorm is anyone’s top pick, but dorm life is one of those things you go through — and you live to tell. And it makes you learn how to cohabitate with other people and compromise. Mostly, though, it gives you horrifying stories to share with people later.
No. 1 wanted the sparkling new dorm, the one that promised community kitchens on each floor and in-room fridges. Or, at least the dorm that promised a microwave. Instead, she got one of the oldest structures ever built on the west coast, which means probably no indoor plumbing. Apparently you make your requests for a specific place to live, but you also ask for the kind of lifestyle you want — to be lumped in with people who share your major or gamer nerds* or other social media savants who have roughly the same number of followers.
I didn’t pay that much attention to this part of her pending college experience because I’m still a little traumatized by my own dorm days. I know it’s been a lot of years. Still…
I lived at home my freshman year. It sucked. I was determined to get into the dorms my sophomore year, but not just any dorm — I wanted the Ritz Carlton of dorms, which on my campus was an old, cinder-block apartment building called Sun Terrace** that — cue the angels singing and the glow of heavenly light — had a bathroom in every apartment. I got my wish. I was assigned a two bedroom with three other girls, mostly my age. One was in a sorority and spent little time in the apartment, another had a big Southern accent and even bigger, bleached blonde hair. She was sassy, statuesque, wore a lot of eye makeup and I figured she was the one I was least likely to get along with. Interestingly, she turned out to be the best and most level-headed. Those two shared one room.
My roommate was 23, nice and studious and seemed to be more like me — with one big exception. She came with a 40-something, bearded boyfriend who was actually a friend of her parents and had kids her age. In fact, she grew up with them. So weird. But the boyfriend drove a truck for Hostess, which meant we always had a fresh supply of those individually wrapped cinnamon crumb cakes. YUM. So, I was willing to overlook the awkwardness of that situation. What I couldn’t overlook — how often I ended up locked out of my own room. At first, naive little me was confused.
One Friday night, I needed to grab my purse so I could run to the library and study and have enough cash for the vending machine that dispensed M&Ms and Sun Chips, but when I dashed into our darkened, still apartment and grabbed the doorknob of our room, it didn’t turn.
What? How could it be locked? It’s so quiet, no one’s home. Did I accidentally lock it? My mind raced at all the ways this could have happened and then I finally landed on the most obvious one — my roommate was in there with her beau.
My bag was in there!
I knocked gently. “Ummm….” I whispered. “I’m really sorry. I need to grab my purse.”
There was silence, then some shuffling. Then finally, a click.
My roommate stood there, her short dark hair disheveled. She was wearing — I swear to you, I can still picture it perfectly to this day — a floral, sleeveless “Little House on the Prairie” nightgown that had a few buttons at the top and a fat ruffle across the bottom. Her boyfriend was in her twin bed; he gave me a little salute.
“Sorry, sorry, I’m really sorry,” I muttered, pulling my purse off the desk and scooting out of there.
From the get-go, we’d always been four different people who came and went as we pleased and we all were pleasant with each other. Usually I’d only know they had been in the apartment by the stack of dishes next to the sink. This being a third-world apartment complex, it did not have a dishwasher. Often, I would just suck it up and do them because Sun Terrace had a fairly serious cockroach problem.
So fall semester ended positively with no roommate homicides (in our apartment anyway), and we drifted into winter. Then, things got weird. Er.
The girl in the sorority? Well, turns out her boyfriend, who went to a school back home and played baseball, got charged — along with some teammates — with rape. For the rest of the semester, she was completely MIA, preferring to hang at the sorority. She ended up withdrawing from school and going home to support him.
My roommate stopped speaking to me and was outwardly hostile. In writing. She left this scathing note, in angry blue ink, on our kitchen counter — next to a new box of crumb cakes — that basically told me my mother didn’t live here and isn’t going to clean up after me so I needed to pick up after myself and quit being a bitch. It was signed “your roommates.”
Wait, what? I was the one who regularly did the dishes. Well, until I stopped because I was annoyed that I was the only one who did them. It was a little psychological experiment to see how long it would take for someone to cave and just squeeze the Palmolive already. Took way longer than I thought, but someone did. Guess who.
I showed the note to Southern Belle. She was horrified.
“I had nothing to do with that,” she said. “That is not OK. I’m mad that she wrote that and signed it from all us because she sure didn’t talk to me.”
Southern Belle may have worn a lot of blue eyeshadow, but her heart was pure gold. She taught me my first adult lesson in standing up for myself and not taking unjustified crap off anyone — except that she fought my battle for me. She lit into my roommate who eventually stopped even making eye contact. I never did say anything, just let the whole thing drop and luckily, I was able to transfer out of that apartment. I moved into a single (another life lesson: the fewer roommates, the better) and found a nice person to room with, whom I am still friends with to this day even though I had to live with a see-through plastic shower curtain because she developed this weird phobia after watching “Psycho.” We all have our issues.
So, would I have done things differently if I could have a do-over? Of course. I know now that talking openly with those girls early on about a rotating chore list would have been the way to go. Also, I would have slipped a Victoria’s Secret catalog onto my roomie’s desk.
But also, living in a dorm is one thing I would never, ever, ever do over again. Ever.
*I am guessing there will be an entire dorm dedicated to Fortnite
**Nickname given to it by the residents: Scum Terrace