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A Letter to my Freshman Year College Roommate

The story of our becoming roommates is convoluted, and like so many things in life, might have ended up quite differently. The summer before my freshman year of college, my mom must have sent my deposit check in late. Room assignments were made upon receipt of the deposit check, and by the time my check was finally mailed, the freshman girl's dorm was already filled to capacity with children of responsible, bill-paying parents. But I didn't know this yet. I received a letter from the school with the names of my two assigned roommates. I immediately sent out two e-mails, to the effect of, "Hi! Wow, I didn't expect to have two roommates, but I'm sure we'll all get along great! So what do you like to do? What music do you like? Are you excited? I'm so excited!!" In response I received two very similar e-mails, only varying in degrees of iciness. These e-mails said, "There has been some confusion. We're going to be seniors in the fall, and we've lived together for the last three years. Because of overcrowding, the school is turning some doubles into triples, and we're really not happy about this. They'll be paying us a small stipend, so let's all just enjoy the extra money while it lasts, and hopefully they'll find you another place and you'll be out of our hair soon." Then I cried. I cried and I sobbed and I threatened not to go. How could I go and live with people who already hated me? How could I have my idealistic college experience now? My father was furious. He threatened to call the school and tell them what's what. I don't know if he did or he didn't, but in any case I soon received a new roommate assignment. You were a sophomore, but at least you didn't already hate me by default. Your roommate had decided at the last minute not to return to school, and so we came to share a small room for the next nine months.

When I entered our room on that first day, your things were there, but you weren't. I tried to form a picture of you from your belongings scattered about; charcoal drawings on the walls, clunky black boots strewn on the floor, jeans with holes in the knees. I was already intimidated; you were obviously cool. What would you think of me? I threw my floral comforter on the bunk above your ripped olive green bedspread, put on a Moloko cd, and hoped for the best. When you came in you said, "Is this Moloko?" and I breathed a small sigh of relief.

We slowly warmed up to each other, and I got used to sharing a room for the first time in my life. We were always ultra-polite to each other, and even at the end we would still say things like, "Do you mind if I put this picture on the wall?" or, "Are you sure the TV's not bothering you?" and the other person would never dream of saying, yes, it is bothering me, even if it was.

You, being a sophomore, already had your own friends, and I, a freshman in a mostly upperclassmen dorm, never really found any friends of my own, except for the three girls I knew from high school who I clung to with increasing desperation, even while my actual like of them decreased by the day.

You and I would end up ordering Papa John's pizza one out of three nights, sometimes, which was good because it saved me the embarassment of eating at the dining hall alone. We'd eat pizza and watch The Simpsons, and I remember that one night when you laughed so hard, you couldn't stop. "Ned, you so craaaaaazy!" And you laughed and laughed, and I laughed too, because how could I not? And every time you'd stop, you'd pause and then start up again, which would get me going again too. It felt so good to laugh like that. We would prank call people, and hang up, hysterical. Sometimes at night, we'd turn off the lights and peek out the window until someone you knew walked by. You'd yell something inappropriate and we'd watch their reaction, then duck down giggling, and then pop up and do it again.

When you told me you were an alcoholic and had started going to AA, I had already pretty much figured it out. I had seen a pamphlet on your desk, and you'd started only returning to the room to sleep, long after I'd gone to bed. It was obvious something was going on. I'll be honest; I didn't believe you were an alcoholic. I knew you didn't keep liquor in the room and you didn't drink alone. I thought you were probably a confused college student who went to parties and drank too much, like most of our small, non-Greek, non-football playing campus. The way I heard it, that's all there was to do. I think AA provided you with something, a higher power, to believe in, and something to belong to. I understood that need, so I said, "Good for you." You went in all the way, going to one or more meetings a day, forming friendships with your group people. They came to your recitals and supported you. They were like family. You started distancing herself from your former friends, and they were understandably confused. I'm sure they probably had the same initial reaction I did--"What? You're not an alcoholic!" You said you were glad I didn't drink, it made things so much easier. I nodded along like I was doing it for you, or even myself, but the truth was, if I had been invited to even one party, I would have done anything, drank anything, eaten or smoked anything, just to fit in.

When you told me you were going to shave your head, I said, "Oh. Cool! I can take before and after shots!" You hesitated a second and then said, too brightly, "Ok!" And I knew that that really meant no, that it was a horrible idea, and you shaving your head wasn't about before and after, it was about something much deeper and much more desperate than I, with my ponytail and my Gap jeans, could ever hope to understand.

I remember listening to Iggy Pop's "Perfect Day." "I love this song," you sighed. "Yeah, me too," I said. "It's so...happy." "Really?" you said. "You look at it that way?" "Well, yeah." I said. "What other way is there to look at it?" "Oh come on," you said. "It's such a perfect day...I'm glad I spent it with you...You just keep me hanging on...?" The way you heard it, the song was bitter and dripping with sarcasm. "I've never thought about it your way," you said. "I guess it is more...optimistic."

You had broken up with your boyfriend a couple months before. Even though you were the one who ended it, you seemed to be having a hard time recovering. Even months later, you would tell me you had seen Austin talking to some girl. One of my old high school acquaintances, Margaret, had been telling me for weeks now about the cute, goateed guy she had been talking to in the computer lab. "He looks like Trey from that show, Daria!" she said. That finally rang a bell. You and I had talked about how everyone said Austin looked eerily like Trey, as much as a human can resemble a cartoon, anyway. "Wait, is his name Austin?" I asked her, incredulous. "Yeah!" she said. I didn't want to say anything, but unfortunately for her, Austin was way out of her league. I thought it was so hilarious Margaret thought she could compete for your ex-boyfriend, I decided to tell you about it. You didn't find it quite as funny. "Who is she? What does she look like?" you asked, suddenly intense. "No, no," I said. "It's nothing to worry about. It's Margaret! That's why it's so funny...She's so awkward, and spastic. You would have to know her I guess. Don't worry, she's no one to be concerned about." In spite of my reassurance and forced attempts at humor, I could see you withdraw into yourself, and I knew I should never have said anything at all.

In an ultimate twist of irony, I think Margaret did end up getting together with Austin at some later point, if only briefly. Nice, awkward Margaret, with the too-blinky eyes and her habit of talking quickly, with too much saliva, who I had been friends with only peripherally in high school, had made her way "in," while I was doomed to forever be, not even outside, but a particular brand of invisible understood only by those who have experienced it. At the beginning of the school year, when I was still making some attempt at an effort, Margaret told me she was going to a party that night. "Oh," I said, "do you...do you think I could go too?" "Ohhh," she said. "Well, um, I'm kind of tagging along myself, so I don't really think I could have someone tag along with me...ya know." "Oh," I said. "Ok." And I never asked again.

By winter break, I knew I could never stand another year there. I applied desperately for a transfer to what had been my second choice school originally. I had gotten in there a year earlier, but it was a private school, so I went with the cheaper of the two. On paper it wasn't much of a change; I would be going from a small, rural, public liberal arts college in Maryland to a small, rural, private liberal arts college in Maryland. Even the student population was the same; about 1500 students. But I needed a fresh start somewhere else, anywhere else, and at the new school I knew I had no acquaintances from high school to rely on, although that was perhaps more terrifying than it was inspiring. I knew I wanted to get the hell away from that campus and its intellectual elitist, cliquey students, and its (what seemed like) perpetually gray skies. I felt like if I stayed there, I would die.

Though it seemed like May would never come, it had to, and after the studying and exams were finally over, I stood out in the parking lot with you after packing my car. You were wearing a tank top and a bandana over your spiky hair that was starting to grow back. We hugged, and it was the first time we had ever touched like that. I wished I wasn't leaving you, and I wished I didn't have the heavy feeling of knowing you're looking at someone for the last time. You said you might transfer too, next year, although you admitted it was getting a little late for you. You understood why I was doing it, you said. "This place..." you said. You wanted to get out of it too, go somewhere where the art program was better. You said you'd miss me and I said I'd miss you too, and I knew it would be true. We parted, and as I got in my car I watched you hug one of your friends goodbye, just for the summer, and it was like you never wanted to let go. I understood our relationship then for the first time. We weren't friends, exactly. We were thrown together by random forces, and we helped each other through those dark months as best we could, even though we were both weighted down, both dragging our own broken wings.

Even though we only lived 25 minutes from each other, we never did see each other again, though I always looked for you in malls and public places when I was in your hometown. I sent you a letter, and then a card with Homer Simpson on it, hoping you would laugh, even if I couldn't hear it.

I still wonder about you, sometimes. I wonder if you did transfer to another school, if you graduated. I wonder it you still go to meetings, I wonder if you still make art, if your jaw still clicks when you eat. I wonder if you ever wonder about me. I wonder if you know how much I admired you, and how deeply you impacted my life; my tastes, my personality, the music I listen to. I hope you know these things, on some level, although I guess most likely you don't, because I never told you. I'm telling you now, and I hope somehow you hear me. I just wanted to thank you.

Love,
Rachel

NSU - 4efer, 5210 - rulez

NSU - 4efer, 5210 - rulez

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