I wrote this post about my 90s dorm room three years ago for a book project that never came to fruition (I know, I’m still totally bummed, too). I tucked this story deep into the recesses of my hard drive and pretty much forgot about it until a month ago when we dropped Fruit Loop #1 off at college. This post has been on my mind ever since and I’m excited to share with you a slight departure in my writing. Be kind, m’kay?
I remember the hot August day she came to me in the early 90s.
She showed up with her suitcases, favorite pillows and the quilt she hoped said, “I’m cool and you should be friends with me.” She had everything the college suggested she bring: cleaning supplies, flip flops for the shower and the extra long sheets for the only beds in existence that needed them. She also brought things not on the list: Disney movies, beloved stuffed animals and her CDs.
She came with an entourage: nervous parents, The Boyfriend From Home, and two rambunctious brothers who refused to be helpful.
She tried her best to tolerate her dad asking where he should put everything he carried in and watched as he plopped her life into the middle of the chaos.
She tried desperately not to snap when her mom said, “Well, this is a nice room!” in a high pitched “Good Lord, for what we are paying to send you here, your room should be nicer” tone.
She chastised her brothers for making fart jokes and off color comments and begged The Boyfriend from Home with her eyes to help her figure it all out.
Finally, like so many before her, she announced that she was ready for her life to begin and sent everyone on their way. She hugged her parents, cried in her boyfriend’s arms and punched one of her brothers.
She walked them down the hall and put them on the elevator, watching the door close on her mom’s tear filled eyes and her dad’s rueful grin. Her Boyfriend from Home gave a small wave and her brother flipped her the bird. The doors closed.
And then she was alone.
I was bare and stark that day: just a cement walled room with two beds, dressers and desks all empty and devoid of any personality. I had very little closet space to offer her and the tile in the adjoining bathroom was a shade of yellow that made previous tenants nauseous when hung-over.
My windows creaked and had to be propped but at least my linoleum floor was freshly polished. No matter how hard I tried to smell otherwise, the scent of patchouli, sweat and popcorn permeated the air.
I wasn’t much, but she decided to stay.
She decided to stay even though her roommate spoke Korean and didn’t understand a word of English.
She decided to stay even after those first nights where she cried silently to herself in my less than homey space; worried she’d made the wrong decision.
She decided to stay despite the fact that she missed her family, her friends and her high school identity. She missed her Boyfriend from Home and she wanted to go home.
But she didn’t. And I was glad to have her.
Over the next few weeks, she decorated me with Disney posters, pictures of her friends and little touches from home. She figured out how to fit thirty pairs of shoes into the closet and how to stack fifteen sweaters under her bed.
She learned how to find her way around campus and how to park her car in places without getting tickets. She would come back to me at the end of the day, flushed, exhausted and convinced she’d never remember everything.
She cried into the phone to her parents that nursing school was harder than she’d expected and, after she’d hang up with them, she’d lay on her bed, staring at my ceiling, listening to Pearl Jam and missing home.
Somewhere along the way, though, she made friends.
At first, she befriended a girl from her nursing classes who shared the same snarky sense of humor and complete irreverence for Catholic school. Then, the art major across the hall, who one day wandered through my door to complain about her ditzy roommate, made them a trio. A fourth studious girl joined their ranks and they were a quartet. Or a gang. Always together, always laughing.
By October, she almost never cried herself to sleep anymore and I often listened to her mother’s voice on the answering machine wishing her a good week. She rarely saw the Boyfriend from Home. High school memories were pushed aside for newer, fresher, more exciting adventures. Her life became filled with classes, friends and parties and she settled into the routine of being her on her own.
I became her home.
My walls reverberated with “Dancing Queen” as The Quartet would shout to each other as they got ready to go dancing. My threshold welcomed them as they shared clothing, shoes, pranks and test guides.
Evenings would find the sounds of Nirvana, The Lemonheads and Hootie and the Blowfish echoing in the halls. And, because she had some Southern in her, she subjected her friends to the likes of Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks, much to their chagrin and constant eye rolling.
On a rainy November night just before her birthday, The Boyfriend From Home broke up with her. My walls listened as they argued about changes, distance and broken promises. As he closed my door to walk out forever, my carpet caught her tears as she lay on my floor, heartbroken and lovesick.
Her friends knocked on my door, begging her to come out with them but instead, she chose to roll over, face my walls and sulk. I became her refuge, her safe place to dive into her studies and block out the pain of a broken heart.
As she put her heart back together over the coming weeks, my floor hosted cram sessions where the stress of passing an anatomy exam would reduce her and her fellow nursing compadres to peals of hysterical giddiness and frustrated tears.
There were pajama clad gatherings for favorite television shows as the smell of popcorn wafted down the hall (it’s no wonder I can’t rid myself of that smell). The Quartet held late night existential conversations over gummy bears and cheese fries about where life would go, what twists and turns would present themselves and what dreams would come to fruition.
And there was laughter. So much laughter.
I waited steadfastly for her on those late nights she’d been out testing limits and age restrictions. As she stumbled home and collapsed onto her bed, I’d let out a sigh of relief that she had made good enough choices to get home safely. And, as she slept long into many a Saturday morning, I’d wait patiently for my space to come alive with her friends and the stories they’d recount of their escapades.
My walls played host to Christmas lights, cheesy Valentine’s Day decorations and St. Patrick’s Day blarney. The cement wall outside my door became a canvas as The Quartet together painted an elaborate, Disney character-filled mural in hopes of leaving their mark behind. My door held a dry erase board that often kept messages of parties, study groups and coffee dates with new suitors.
When spring arrived, my windows were flung open and propped with a box fan. I’d hear excited chatter about summer plans, trips to visit new friends and dates with a new guy. I listened as she gushed the words “The One” and “I think I’m falling in love” into the phone to her girlfriends. I watched her blow through her finals like a pro and I grew sad, knowing she’d be leaving in a few short weeks.
I had come to love her and I would miss her.
The last day of school arrived and was a blur of boxes, milk crates, garbage bags and utterances of “When did you get so many shoes?” from her father. I watched as she tried not to be annoyed at her father as he asked her what he should pack next.
I stood by as she did her best not to snap when her mother said, “Well, now, it’ll be good to come home!” because “home” had a different definition now.
She hugged her friends and cried on their shoulders, wishing she could stay just one more day.
Then, with one last look at my empty walls, eyes brimming with tears, she closed my door.
Then I was the one alone.
But it was okay.
Because I knew she’d be back. To reminisce. To revisit. To remember who she was before she got here and who she became by the time she left.
And I was happy to hold those memories for her until she did.
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