The day I moved into my dorm room in Randall Hall was hot and humid. Mom and I pulled the car up to a door that turned out to be an entry to the basement. I was on the second floor, so we were walking two sets of stairs. My mother groaned.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come home with me?” she asked, only half joking.
I didn’t answer her question directly because I wasn’t sure of anything. Instead, I took out my dorm assignment sheet and read it, as if Eva and I hadn’t said the room number a thousand times over the summer.
Randall 214. Randall was an all-girls dorm. We’d requested this on my father’s insistence. I would not be allowed to live in a co-ed dorm.
Mom and I made our way up the stairs and down the mint green and beige hall. I noticed the paint was dirty. Depressing. The floors were freshly polished black and white tiles. We found 214. There were two white sheets of paper hanging on the wall beside the door of the room. One said “Eva Verdano.” Below it, the other said “Rowan Thomson.”
Mom drew in her breath.
“I called them and asked them not to post Eva’s name.” She sounded apologetic.
“It’s okay, Mom. There are a lot of students coming. It probably just got overlooked in the shuffle.”
But my eyes and throat were burning.
We entered the room, where I was surprised to find my new roommate had already arrived and claimed the bed, bureau, and desk she preferred. Gretchen had blonde hair that was cut into a frizzy bob. She had a dour expression and didn’t shake my hand when I extended it to introduce myself. Retrieving my rejected hand, I looked around. Her bedspread was a green and blue plaid that matched her neatly arranged desk and bureau. Her pencils were already unpacked into a pencil cup and she had filled the closet of her choice with neat, preppy style clothes.
My mother looked dubious.
We left the room to bring in some more of my things from the car. On the way, we stopped to inspect the bathrooms. The walls were the same mint green and beige as the hallway, but the floors were tiled green and blue. There was a bank of sinks on one side of the bathroom that faced a bank of toilets. A wall separated the second half of the bathroom, where there was another bank of sinks and a row of showers opposite. Each shower had a plain white plastic curtain for privacy, and that was all.
“Still sure you don’t want to come home with me?” This time she wasn’t joking.
I took a deep breath. It was true, Gretchen was apparently inconsiderate. But I wasn’t turning back now.
“Thanks, Mom,” I smiled. “But, no. I’m going to do this. It’ll be okay,” I said, using Marc’s words.
After we finished unloading the car Mom suggested lunch. We left my bed stacked high with crates full of my paraphernalia. Gretchen’s sour expression when we left the room conveyed her disapproval of the mess.
“She’s going to be a real gem,” Mom said as we crossed the street, heading for a pizza place in Durham center.
I agreed, but didn’t answer. She was only a roommate after all. We didn’t have to be friends.
Later that afternoon, having made my bed and fussed profusely over arranging my room for me, Mom left me with money and a big hug. She was crying.
“Oh, Mom, don’t cry,” I said
“You’re my oldest. It’s going to be so strange at the house without you. Are you sure you’ll be okay? Are you sure you have enough money? And everything you need?”
“I’m sure,” I answered, starting to cry myself.
Seeing this, Mom gave me a squeeze and got into the car. I closed her door and stood there waving as she drove away. I turned and went up the stairs, thinking that I should be excited, or exhilarated, or at least nervous. I felt none of those things. I just felt sad. Randall 214 should have been our room, Eva’s and mine. But I didn’t even feel welcome as I walked into it. Instead of Eva’s beach scene bedspread, we had blue and green plaid.
I realized that Gretchen had already left for the dining hall, leaving me to find it for myself and eat alone. I heaved a great, heavy sigh. Upperclassmen would be arriving in a couple of days, and with them, Marc.
Things would be better then.
The next morning I took a bucket filled with shampoo, conditioner, soap, a razor, and my toothpaste and toothbrush to the bathrooms for a shower. I noticed that was how everyone conveyed toiletries to and from the shower farm and had fallen in with the rest. Pulling the curtain closed, I tried to relax. I found the lack of privacy difficult. I was used to going into our bathroom at home and shutting the door. The curtain did not cover the whole shower door, leaving me exposed on either end. I shifted the curtain back and forth as I moved around in the shower, looking for footholds to shave my legs and places to put my razor and shampoo.
After drying off and wrapping myself in the big comfy pink bath towel Mom had bought for me, I squished barefoot back toward room 214. I turned the doorknob, which didn’t move. I jiggled. Nope. The door was locked. I banged on the door. No answer. I banged again.
I fumed. She had seen me leave the room for the shower with my bucket and towel. Not exactly dressed to go out.
I considered our locked door, cursing Gretchen under my breath. And then another thought occurred to me. After dinner the night before, we had all been herded into a large community room in a neighboring dorm for freshman orientation. The speaker said that there was a Resident Assistant on the first floor of Randall Hall. The office was supposed to handle administration issues for Randall and the other dorms in “the quad,” which were nearby. Maybe they would have a key.
I left my bucket beside the door, promising myself that when I next saw the dour, sour Gretchen I would have at least a few choice words for her.
But the office on Randall one was closed. A note on the door said “For Housing Issues: Housing Office, 100 Main St. Have a nice day.”
My heart sunk. I would have to walk in my towel all the way across the center quad area to Main Street.
One more try: I went to a nearby phone and looked to see if there was a campus directory. Water running from my wet hair down my back, legs, and onto the floor, I squished toward the phone.
No. Nothing. Just a few things scribbled on the wall in black ink. They looked like names and dorm numbers, mostly. Shit.
Squaring my shoulders, I told myself this could not be the first time a student was locked out of their dorm room. It couldn’t be. True, it was the second day of freshman orientation, I thought as I walked barefoot out onto the sidewalk. True as well that I was in a towel and had water running in a stream from my hair down my back and legs. But at least one other person must’ve experienced this since the university had been founded.
At least one.
I lowered my head, hoping not to see anyone who would recognize me.
I wondered if any student had ever killed a roommate at UNH? As I plodded across campus miserably I fumed, mentally rehearsing a gleeful scene in which I bludgeoned Gretchen over the head with my ten-pound astronomy textbook.
There was one small consolation: upperclassmen weren’t here yet, and campus was quiet. There were a few people walking around, but they were surprisingly indifferent to my compromised state. That was a relief.
Maybe this did happen all the time.
No, probably not, I thought, my anger with Gretchen resurging.
I trudged across campus, found the office, and went in. My feet were slippery on the black and white tile floor, which was dirty. A young woman sat at a desk reading. She looked up, a grin spreading across her face at the sight of a wet girl with nothing but a bath towel on. She looked perky and efficient.
“Can I help you?”
Worse than looking perky and efficient, she sounded cheerful, too. Someone slovenly and dull would have been preferable. Someone like that might have been better able to understand how I was feeling. This girl did not look like she had ever been locked out of her room while wearing a towel.
It was hard to keep my sense of humor, but I tried.
“I hope so.”
“You look like you could use it.”
“Yeah.” My voice caustic, I said, “My lovely roommate, who I am anxious to thank, was thoughtful enough to lock me out of my room while I was showering this morning. The office in Randall, where I live, was closed. A note on the door said to come here.”
“Ah. Might I suggest bringing your key to the shower in future?”
“You might. Though one wouldn’t expect to need their room key in the shower, would they?” I smiled sweetly.
“If your roommate didn’t know where you were…?”
“She knew,” I fairly spat the words. The last thing I wanted to hear was the slightest suggestion of a defense for Gretchen.
“Here you are. We need it back within 24 hours. Hope your day improves.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking the key gratefully.