Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Roommates



It’s time for the college kids to head out for school. This will lead to the freshmen “roommate horror stories.” For a lot of college freshmen, this is a person they have never met before and may not have a thing in common with. Anybody who ever lived in a college dorm has a “roommate from hell” story.

My first roommate was nothing special. I could tell how they matched us. I think she and I were the only Presbyterians around. Other than that, we really didn’t have much in common. She had a boyfriend on campus and mine was in Michigan. We rarely ever saw each other. It was all very civilized if a tad boring. Two Presbyterians in the same room tend to be very tidy with all that “decent and orderly” background. By the second semester we had gone our happy but separate ways.

When the next year rolled around I decided that I had such great luck with the first roommate I would just trust the luck of the draw for my next one and that is how I ended up with the lesbian.

Lesbians have never scared me much. Some of my best friends are lesbians. I had no problem with her being a lesbian as much as the fact that she was really messy. She wasn’t at all as tidy as the Presbyterian. We eventually drew an imaginary line down the room and I took the side by the door so she could leave everything she owned on the floor and I wouldn’t have to walk over it to get to my stuff.

Back in 1966 Lesbians were a relatively new issue on college campuses. I sat in a group of girls twittering about this new danger. When they all decided they would lock their doors at night I realized this would lock me in with her. And this was in the day when “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was more than a political phrase. She ended up getting kicked out of the dorm and I had the room to myself. And I kept the room very tidy. There are some differences you just can’t overcome.

Our oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was in for her own awakening when she watched her first roommate line up the various medications she took for STDs. That didn’t last past one semester mostly because roommate started asking Elizabeth to leave the room “for a while” and Elizabeth wouldn’t buy into the program. I doubt that roommate was Presbyterian either.

When it came time for the younger daughter, Emily, to check into her dorm room we felt pretty good for her chances since the University of the Ozarks is a Presbyterian college. We entered a bare room. Obviously new roommate wasn’t on campus yet. Within an hour Emily had the room decorated to suit her personality, which at that point in her life was—how shall I put this?— slightly “edgy.” She was still mourning Kurt Cobain and immediately put his picture on the wall along with Janis Joplin, REM. Michael Stipe and Jimmi Hendrix. When we left for lunch, her half of the room appeared to have been decorated by someone recently released from a home for disturbed youth.

When we got back from lunch we found new roommate had moved in and immediately left. I wasn’t surprised new roommate left so quickly. I’ve never seen a room decorated so differently. This girl had a tidy blue gingham bedspread with a matching rug on her half of the floor. A collection of fairly serious biology textbooks were lined up neatly on the shelf. And her wall sported only one picture: a calm but serene looking Jesus Christ. It looked like Emily might just as well have drawn a nun for a roommate. 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 kept our picture of Jesus. “Aha!,” she held it aloft in victory, “My Jesus is bigger than her Jesus!”

I have to admit with slight embarrassment that my daughters stole this picture from our old church sanctuary when we were moving everything to the new one. Jesus had lived in the basement of the old sanctuary for years. As a result, he had gotten very tattered and slightly mildewed. The girls insisted that no one would miss him. Once home, we couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the picture once 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 dispose of an old flag. But there doesn’t seem to be any rules for a picture of Jesus. You certainly can’t burn it like you would a flag. And you don’t just throw it out in the trash, do you? I could only imagine how it would look to see Jesus peeking out of our trashcan at the curb. I figure people who do that go straight to hell without any negotiating.

So, Emily took Jesus back to college with her. I’m not sure exactly where she hung it—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 in the closet again.

We’ve moved twice since that time and for the life of me I can’t remember what we did with Jesus.

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