Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Roommate Horror Stories
I’m starting to hear the annual “first semester of college roommate” horror stories. For most freshmen this is a person they have never met and probably don’t have a thing in common. Anybody who lived in a college dorm has a ‘roommate from hell” story. I could tell how they matched me with my first roomie. She was about the only other Presbyterian in the dorm. Other than that, we really didn’t have anything to base a friendship on. But we also didn’t have any conflict to build a horror story. It was all very civilized if a tad boring. Two Presbyterians in the same room tend to be very tidy and studious. She had a boyfriend on campus and mine was in Michigan. We rarely even saw each other. By the second semester we had each made new friends and gone our happy but separate ways.
But the memorable one was assigned to me my second year. This is the thing about roommates—unless you pick one yourself you never know who you will get. After the boring but nice roommate I thought I’d just go for the luck of the draw and that’s when I got the lesbian. Lesbians have never scared me much. As the old saying goes, some of my best friends are lesbians. I had no problem with her being lesbian as much as the fact that she was really messy. She wasn’t at all as tidy as the Presbyterian. (You have to remember this was 40 years ago when anyone out of the mainstream scared people to death. Come to think of it, they still do, don’t they?) But back in 1966, all the girls sat around chattering in alarm at the idea of having a real live lesbian living in their dorm. Then they all said they were locking their doors at night. After a minute I realized if I did this I was locking myself in with her. Not to worry. We weren’t each other’s type anyway. After all, she was messy and I am tidy. There are some differences you just don’t overcome.
Elizabeth’s first roommate provided an education the college didn’t intentionally offer. The first night she watched Roommate line up various medications she took for STDs. Then Roommate and her ugly boyfriend (Elizabeth’s word, not mine. I never saw him.) were always asking Elizabeth to leave the room “for a while.” Elizabeth said it was bad enough that she had ugly people doing “it” in her room on weekends while she was gone, she wasn’t about to go sit outside in her car while they got it on during the week.
We drove Emily to Arkansas to help her move in for her first semester living with a total stranger. We felt pretty good about this since University of the Ozarks is a Presbyterian college. Emily entered a room that was bare to the walls and within an hour we left for lunch with it decorated to suit her personality, which at that point in her life looked slightly (how shall I put this?) “edgey.” As I remember it she was about to enter her Kurt Cobain phase. She put up posters of frightening rock stars: Nirvana, Jimmi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. REM and Michael Stipe decorated the other wall.
We left the room with her half totally decorated to look like someone recently released from a home for disturbed youth. We returned to find her roommate had moved in while we were gone and immediately left. I wasn’t surprised she left quickly. This girl had a tidy blue gingham bedspread with a matching rug on her half of the floor. A collection of fairly serious books lined up neatly on the shelf. And her wall sported only one picture: a calm and serene looking Jesus Christ. It looked like Emily might as well have drawn a nun for a roommate. I stood there looking first at the picture of Jesus and then at Emily’s side of the room. This looked like a pretty interesting combination of personalities. I wondered how they would adjust to each other.
The next time Emily came home she went immediately to the back of her closet where we keep our picture of Jesus. “Aha!,” she held it aloft in victory, “My Jesus is bigger than her Jesus!”
We’ve had this picture of Jesus for years. My daughters, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, stole this picture from our very own church during the move from the old sanctuary to the new one. Jesus had lived in the basement of our old sanctuary for years and years. As a result, he had gotten very tattered and slightly mildewed. The girls insisted that nobody would miss him. Once home, we couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the picture after the novelty wore off. I mean, just how do you get rid of a picture of Jesus?? It’s like the flag, only worse. At least the VFW will tell you how to get rid of an old flag that’s past it’s prime. Not so pictures of Jesus. You certainly couldn’t burn Jesus like you would a flag. And you don’t just throw it in the trash. I can only imagine how it would look to see Jesus poking out of our trash can. I figure people who do that go straight to hell without any negotiating.
So the two girls each had a picture of Jesus in their room for that semester. I’m not sure where Emily put hers—in between Jimmi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain maybe. The two girls ended up great friends. At the end of the semester it was time to redecorate and Jesus came home to live with us again.
We’ve recently moved but in all our packing we never found Jesus. For the life of me, I can’t remember what we did with him.