Memories from room 301

My freshman year in college must have been a banner year for my alma mater. They had more people enroll than they really had housing for. The result was lots of “forced triples”, meaning three students sharing a dorm room meant for two.

My roommates were Lynn (not her real name) and another woman, S, who shared my first name. We lived in Room 301, a corner room on the top floor of the women-only freshman dorm. It had the somewhat unfortunate name Virginia Hall, often referred to on campus as The Virgin Vault.

That dorm was very old fashioned. It may have been the early 1990’s but the place had changed little since the 1920’s. We had high ceilings, large windows, and transoms over our doors. There was no air conditioning and big ugly old radiators provided the heat. The walls in the hallways were a beige with dark woodwork and tile floors. Each room had hardwood flooring, two ancient and funny shaped closets, and a sink. No telephones, bathrooms, or internet access in the rooms. (What internet? It barely existed then). Freshmen women bonded quickly, as they had for generations, by sharing bathrooms and showers down the hall and by taking phone messages for each other at the two phones by the staircase. It was the kind of dorm where you borrowed each other’s clothes and shoes, walked around in just a towel without thinking twice about it, and all got your periods at the same time.

My roommate Lynn was unlike anyone I had ever spent time with. She had the body of a model, thin and shapely and on the taller side. She had long, straight brown hair and an accent that clearly said “I am from Richmond.” The day we moved in (perhaps the hottest day of August EVER) she wore cute little sandals, a blue and white striped halter top, and a pair of short shorts. I felt like a slob in a tank top, knit shorts, and little white sneakers. I had come prepared to lift and carry in the sweltering Virginia heat. She came with what seemed like a van full of young men to help her move. The did the heavy lifting while she supervised and fanned herself.

Our respective fathers and brothers spent hours in the hot sun building wooden loft beds to give us the room we needed to fit three 18 year old women in one room. Lynn covered her loft with photos of herself and her high school friends at parties, at cheerleading practice, at the beach, celebrating her win as homecoming queen, etc., etc. My loft had meaningful quotes, photos of my home state of New Jersey and pictures of my family and my dog.

Living with Lynn gave me an acute case of culture shock every time she walked in the room. She laughed at my accent, asking me to talk for her friends. They were all in love with any and all movies about the American South, and could recite the lines from Steel Magnolias and Somersby by heart. She joined Show Choir; I had never heard of Show Choir before. She was a Miss Virginia pageant contestant and was often at photo shoots and other events. One day I came home and found her crying like someone had died. It turned out that another pageant contestant had purchased the same miracle bra bathing suit for the upcoming pageant. Lynn was devastated. I was confused.

Lynn didn’t handle anything earthy or bodily particularly well. She was scandalized by conversations about sex. Before the end of our first year I became a peer educator, teaching workshops on disease prevention and contraception. It freaked her out that my materials, including lots of condoms, lived in our room. She brought her own can of air freshener into the bathroom with her. She never let me wear my riding boots into our room, even if I insisted I really didn’t make a habit of stepping in manure. That poor pair of riding boots lived in the hallway outside our door for a year.

The third person in this dynamic, who I’ll call S., was unlike either of us. While I was short and tiny with strong hands, arms, and lower legs from horseback riding, and Lynn was shaped like a model, S was really tall. She was about 6 feet, and a pretty normal weight, which made her tower over me. She had dark hair that was usually back in a pony tail (or sometimes, if she was feeling especially quirky, pigtails), a big smile, and expressive eyes. S. was from a rural area in western Maryland, which showed in her simple, polite, unpretentious nature. She was the “granola” roommate. Her bed was in the space under Lynn’s loft, and most of her belongings fit in a wardrobe and a couple of dresser drawers. She didn’t wear make up and seemed to own a lot of flannel. She was smart and funny in a very off-beat way. She was generally unconcerned about being like her two very different but high maintenance roommates. S., for her part, was what I would now call a non-anxious presence. She never made me feel awkward and ugly just by being around like Lynn did. She wasn’t in Show Choir, was thinking about a double major, and spent as much time actually doing her work as I did (well, okay, more time than I did.) She didn’t care what I did with my muddy riding boots. She quickly proved that she was very down to earth when she started joking around with me about wringing her bra out in the sink. It was that hot in the beginning of our first semester.

Eventually winter arrived, and with it the end of those early weeks of freshman year, the weeks that I remember as so scary I felt queasy all the time. Lynn and S and I moved in different circles of friends, but we formed a bond that was special. We were roommates, and we believed that with that bond came responsibilities. We had a rule that nobody could stay over somebody else’s dorm or apartment without the other roommates being informed about it by 2 AM. You could, after all, be in a ditch, and nobody would know! We took care of each other when someone got sick, we had a curfew after which friends had to leave the room each night, and we covered for each other if needed when parents called.

Lynn dropped out at the end of freshman year, and S. and I moved to different dorms at different ends of the campus. We remained friends through the rest of our undergraduate years. I kept in touch with S for a while after college, but at some point we lost track of each other.

Yesterday I learned that S. died last July. I was scanning my alma mater’s alumni publication and her name jumped out at me in the “in memory” section. I found her obituary online after quite a lot of searching. She was a bright woman with a lot of interests who finished a master’s degree just months before she died. She was dedicated especially to working with the immigrant community and was teaching English to non-native speakers here in NYC. I do not know what happened to her, only that her death was sudden and unexpected.


~ by Sophia on February 27, 2008.

4 Responses to “Memories from room 301”

  1. A beautiful memorial.I’m sorry you needed to write it.

  2. I am still close to my college roomies, too, and we also lost track of each other for a while.I am sorry for your loss.

  3. beautifully written.

  4. I’m so sorry.

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