A room jammed to the gills with chattering high schoolers, and not one familiar face. Every time I try to step out of somebody’s way, I end up knocking into somebody else, like a bowling ball ricocheting between pins. Somewhere on the edge of my peripheral vision, a girl breezes by me. Maybe it’s her expression, or the dark eyeshadow, or the frankly impossible curls, but she doesn’t make it any easier for me to breathe.
Relax, she’s probably just as terrified as the rest of us.
No, I’m pretty sure I’m the only really terrified one in this room. She’s not scared, she’s scary. So scary, in fact, that I don’t talk to her for the entire week. By the time we’re shuttled home, I’ve forgotten all about her—until the roommate assignment for first years lands in my inbox.
Okay, that name sounds familiar. Wasn’t she in my summer session?
I hunt around for the old list of participants, but I can’t find it. I’m sure now that her name is familiar.
How bad could it actually be? As long as it’s not that girl, I’ll be fine.
We trade emails back and forth. She doesn’t listen to the same music that I do, but beyond that she sounds nice enough. It’s hard to tell from our emails, in which we’re both trying to find out a bit about each other without being obvious about it. In the end, that’s probably a good thing. Had I known any more details, I would have been as terrified as that day in the summer.
So what if she likes modern music? Just don’t play Mozart when she’s around, and you’ll be fine.
But I don’t think too much about it, and mid-August arrives. I’m turning dizzy circles in my new rectangle of a room, trying to pinpoint which box should top the priority unpacking list, and guess who shows up? We give each other that nervous “I’ve just met you but I really hope you’re nice” kind of hug, and try not to step on each other’s toes, literally and metaphorically. Even though I remember her name, I don’t think she registers as the clearly determined girl from summer session.
See? You’re both relieved. It’ll work out, just watch.
Honestly, for the first couple weeks, I’m not so sure. As one of those oddities that goes to bed early, I really do appreciate her efforts not to wake me up at whatever pitch-black hour she finally gets to bed. Most of the time, I wake up anyway, an expert in achieving that not quite asleep stage that’s still convincing enough.
“Did you hear me come in last night?” she’ll ask.
“Not really,” I’ll answer, teetering just on the edge of truth. “I was mostly asleep.”
Gradually, an invisible line draws itself down the middle of our room. The left side is hers, and the right side is mine. I don’t bother her stuff, and she doesn’t bother mine. As much as I’d like to sort and stack the piles of clothes and papers so that our sides will more or less match, I don’t.
One day, she comes in with a bit less of her flair, and I venture a question.
“It’s that exam, isn’t it?” I ask.
“There’s just so much material!” She shakes her head. “It’s going to be tough.”
I glance at the study guide, and it’s so complex that I have to laugh. “Yeah, no kidding.” I pause, but then plunge on, “Why don’t we tackle it together?”
She bounces onto her bed, and I sink down into mine. We toss the stapled sheaf of paper back and forth over the rug between us, with victory fist pumps when we finally aim straight. Concepts, arguments, and definitions fly back and forth, carefully typed notes disappearing under a sea of bright highlighter.
“Hey, I think we’re getting the hang of this,” I announce. “How bad could it be?”
It’s stressful enough that she actually comes to breakfast with me, but neither of us eat much. Half a pastry for her, and maybe a handful of fried potatoes for me. But we jump that hurdle, even if our exams scores aren’t everything we’d hoped.
Something clicks then, the beginning of a mutually beneficial give-and-take. A bit of extra help with mastering academics? That’s me. A laughter-inducing summary of the day’s social drama? That’s her. Somehow, it works. Don’t ask me to explain it, but it does.
And that mess? After a while, it ceases to bother me. Our new-made friends take in the contrast like they don’t believe it, but that invisible line becomes a part of life. If the mess decreases a bit, I know she’s been stress-cleaning.
“The room’s looking cleaner than usual,” I tease, “so what’s up?”
Even her music choices become more normal to me. They’re not Mozart, and never will be, but they’re her songs. We can agree on peppy Irish music for the mornings, when we need that extra nudge of motivation to face the day. She’ll be ready to go in under ten minutes, while I’m taking my own sweet hour, but that’s the morning flurry.
When the day’s over, we return to home base and trade news—school drama, friend drama, whatever drama. If it’s a Friday night, I’ll pull ahead on homework, and she’ll pull out a movie or a TV show. I don’t usually watch, but she convinces me to take a break. After a few minutes, I’m hooked—the first TV show I’ve really gotten into.
“That’s one of my proudest moments,” she says to me, much later, when I’ve finished more of the show than she has. “I actually got you started on a TV show!”
One night, we even stay up past midnight watching a black-and-white action film. She wonders if I want to leave the end for tomorrow, but we’re both too anxious to find out what happens to our masked, sword-wielding hero.
I’m really becoming more like her—and that isn’t bad at all.
Finally, after who knows how long, the pieces finally connect.
“You know, I was scared to death of you, our summer session,” I say, still not sure how she’s going to take it.
“No, really?” she says, with a bit of a laugh.
“Yeah, I don’t think I even talked to you. You had your ‘don’t mess with me’ face on.”
“Oh, really?” We’re both laughing at this point, and I’m pretty sure I’m in the clear.
“You were scared and stressed, but I couldn’t tell that at the time. I guess it takes being roommates!” We have another laugh over it, and she smiles at me.
Yeah, my first impressions were definitely misplaced.