Wednesday, August 06, 2008

College roommates

I was walking in front of two very young, southern-accented women the other day. They were talking about horrible summer roommates - how messy they were, and how glad they were to go home for a couple weeks. And then they started talking about the impending fall semester.

Fall semester is years and years past for me. But thinking about it still gives me a bad stomach feeling.

I've not written much about my college experience, but those were difficult years. Culture shock and not knowing where I was or who I was or what I was doing. In North Carolina, in the US, in life...

I have so many not-proud moments from college. If I could take it all back, and do it all over, I'd make just about every decision differently.

We moved to the US a month before I started at Chapel Hill. I had two roommates in a tiny dorm room. The next year those same rooms were doubles, and even so, they were small. With no AC.

My one roommate, Leah, showed up wearing a tie-dye T-shirt with dancing bears and Birkenstocks. She was from North Carolina, but had spent the summer working and traveling in California. The last time I saw her, she was living in Germany. We're still friends.

The other, Laura, was a cheerleader from Goldsboro. She looked Leah up and down and wrinkled her nose. Rejected her outright. I, on the other hand, looked normalish. She turned her attention to me.

"So, where are you from?" she asked, with a hair flip and a strong North Carolina accent.

"Well, I went to high school in India."

"India? Now, where is that?"

So I diligently pulled out my world map, and pointed out India.


Clearly not normal enough. Which turned out to be a pretty common reaction, I discovered. India? Oh.

Leah and I hit it off; Laura had nothing to say to either of us. It got awkward fast.

Now, I spent a great deal of time that year crying and eating chocolate, and just generally being lost and miserable. Thanks to those activities, I packed on 30 pounds that year. Which only made me more miserable.

You couldn't truthfully say that I was the perkiest of roommates.

And Leah, well, she very kindly spent a good deal of the time she didn't spend experimenting with drugs and boys babysitting me, if I look back fairly and honestly. And the babysitting often took the form of drinking beer or Purple Jesus (if any of you remember Everclear punch) at frat parties and such. It's not that their weren't fun moments. But they always involved too much alcohol.

So maybe we weren't the easiest pair for a cheerleader from Goldsboro.

She was a control freak, which is hard when there are things beyond your control. She'd fold her laundry damp if it was taking more than the allotted time to dry. I'm not kidding. And who do you know who can buy a packet of M&Ms - one of the small packets - and eat three or four, and leave the rest on her desk?

Laura spent much of the couple months she lived with us sitting in the hall on our phone, fighting with her boyfriend, who was a sophomore at Carolina. She didn't talk to much of anyone, so when people later asked who our roommate had been, we'd say the brunette with the flippy hair who spent all her time on the phone in the hall. The one who had gotten so mad at her boyfriend on the phone that she'd punched the wall that one time. And then they knew.

At some point she stopped speaking to us entirely, and moved out one weekend. We knew she was moving out only because we'd taken to reading her journal. We made sure to be gone all day that day.

She knew we'd been reading her journal, because - and I am not proud of this - we would drop little things she'd written into conversation. Conversation between the two of us, of course. Because she did her best to act like we weren't there, and if she was asked anything directly, she'd respond as tersely as possible.

So we did our best to torture her, in small ways. Like eating the M&Ms she'd leave on the desk. Or moving things, ever so slightly. She never said anything about it.

After she moved out, I'd duck if I saw her on campus. It was a big campus, and so we rarely ran into each other. I was kind of scared of her, honestly.

I ran into her a couple years later. We were waiting in line for the bathroom at a frat party together. She'd had a great deal to drink, and she apologized. I apologized back. We hugged, and that was that.

I wanted to ask why she hated us so much (pre-torture campaign), and if she was still with the boyfriend, and where she'd moved to, but didn't. And truthfully, I was curious in the moment, but didn't actually care in the bigger scheme of things.

It's long enough in the past that I rarely think about it, except when triggered, or when someone pushes a conversation about college, which at this age, doesn't happen that often. About which I am thankful.


  1. I had similar roommate experiences...ah, the college years.

    The stories I could tell about my freshman roommate...I'd love to know how they decide to match people as suitable roommates, because, honestly?

    Wow, were they way off the mark for me!

  2. wow, you ARE devious!

    I love it.

  3. I'm not sure there are things I'd do differently if I had them to do over again, but there are ways I'd act differently, towards people. I think everyone feels that way, the cheerleader too.

  4. I'd drink less, eat less and study more, btw, if I had to do it again.

  5. You know, I was also thrust into a triple my first year of college, and I was definitely the odd roommate out, because the other two were the cheerleaders from Goldsboro (or Connecticut and NoVA).

    I had some really uncharitable thoughts about them, and maybe said some pretty mean things to my friends. But really, they probably just didn't know what to do with me - and I didn't do anything to help. I think a lot of people deal with that their first year of college, honestly.

    But it's pretty cool that you're still friendly with Leah. And does no one else find it odd that this story involves three two-syllable first names beginning with the letter "L"? Mayhaps that was the big logic used by your school's Sorting Hat.

    What a stupid hat. :o)

  6. Brown Eyed Girlie - It's so random and sometimes good and so often bad. You're dealig with everything new...and having to adjust to strangers in your living space. Very hard.

    Slightly Disorganized - A little devious, a little unkind. And those are probably good rules for living generally, now that you lay out what you'd have done differently!

    Maiden Metallurgist - Yes, good point. The acting differently is a big one.

    Dagny - Ls! I never realized that, but that IS weird. Their Sorting Hat sucked. Yes, ma'am, it really did. Three is such a difficult number, and there's inevitable pairing up, I think. And most of us who came from any kind of not exactly the same situation as the other people didn't know what to do with each other. If that makes sense. I'm not sure it does, but don't know how else to say it.

  7. Oh, dear... another bitchy Laura giving the rest of us a bad name. Dismay! Guess I'll have to be extra nice to try to balance it out. AGAIN. (hee!)

    On my first day in the dorms, the people who were helping my roommate to move in pulled me aside to tell me to hide the razor blades because she might kill herself at any moment. She didn't, of course, and those "friends" of hers didn't do her any favors freaking me out like that.

  8. i wish my college roommates had been that fun. one of them just sat there quietly trying to act like she didn't hear me and the other one violently arguing with each other. i really do believe i was roomed with the devil and an angel (an angel with enormous boobs and some serious naivety to boot).

  9. I had a similar freshmen roommate. I found my voicemail password on a post it note on her desk one day. Never confronted her about it. Freshmen year, god. That was a bad year. I try to forget most of it. Except that I met my husband and some of my very best friends that year. Those are the highlights :-)

  10. I was also at Chapel Hill - didn't room there, though - married and back in school after a few years of work, instead. But I recall being appalled at the homogeneity of the "sorority Susies" as we refer to them. My gypsy/hippie/hip-hop/progressive/liberal sixteen year old daughter didn't give CH a second thought, largely due to this immense and stupid pressure to conform. She can't believe so many people can all look and think the same. We live in Hillsborough, and are in Chapel Hill often enough for her to have a good idea what it's like.

    First year of college - that was rough. I was at East Carolina and I could hardly have made a worse choice, in many ways. I quit school after a year and a half and got married. That's been the right thing.

  11. Shoot...I think I lived w/that girl, too. HAHA. Are you sure her name wasn't Dani?? ;-)

  12. ah college roommates. my freshman year, the system converted double occupancy rooms into triples. lucky me got stuck in a triple. one of the girls had a bf already who lived in our dorm. on our floor. but they both insisted on sleeping together in our room every night. so, the room originally built for 2 people had 4 students in it. yay!

    my second year, I had roommates who brought guys back for sexy time. that was fun! =( still, looking back, i don't think i handled the situations the best way. but you live and learn. when you're 18 and have never been away from home before, you don't really have the experience to react the best way all the time.

    and unlike slightly disorganized, if i had it all to do over i'd drink more and study less. =)

  13. A.S. - No, no - the other Laura on my blog is awesome! This is the first bad Laura! So mainly, you're in very cool company! As for your roommate's "friends" - who does that? It's not funny, just weird and unkind. Ugh.

    notsojenny - Yikes. That sounds truly terrible. At least I had one roommate whose personality I really clicked with.

    MrsMac - That's horrendous! But meeting your husband and best friends definitely makes the choice worthwhile!

    Steve Emery - If I'd had any sense of what college would be like, and differences between schools, I'd never, ever have chosen UNC. Personally, I wish I'd dropped out, gotten my shit together, and switched schools. It's good that your daughter has enough of a sense of who she is to choose wisely.

    Ryane - Hahaha - could have been. There are lots of cheerleaders from Goldsboro in the world. :)

    H - Ugh ugh ugh. I had forgotten about the bringing home of boys to too-small rooms with other people. No, when you're 18 and dealing with this crap for the first time, you don't necessarily know the most constructive way to handle it.

  14. Ah, Chapel Thrill... those were the good old days. I was supposed to go down this weekend to reunite with some old friends who are back in town, but the train was sold out. In truth, I'm kind of relieved... I felt old there when I was a senior at 22, nevermind now...


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