I’m sad that COVID has more kids staying close to and in their homes after they graduated high school because they will be missing out on one of life’s most interesting experiences: The Random Roommate.
Like a lot of kids, I had only ever shared a room with a sibling, and even then, only until Colton was six (and considering he slept solidly from birth to age 5, he was about as perfect a roommate as you’d want). So when it came time to head off to Wesleyan, my options were a) room with Heather Monk or b) get assigned a Random Roommate. Heather and I had previously shared a locker in sixth grade, and she lost her math book in her locker because her half was that messy, so for the sake of both our sanities, we opted to enter the roommate lottery. And that’s how I got Melinda.
Melinda was a twenty-year-old, non-traditional student from Massachusetts. I think Wesleyan, who puts real effort into putting together roommates, thought we’d be a good match because we were Political Science majors, both liked hard rock, and didn’t mind being on a smoking floor. So Melinda and I exchanged a few letters (yeah, I said letters. Like handwritten, in the mail, letters. 2000 was only twenty years ago, kids), laying out a few likes and dislikes, and since I was making the shorter drive, I agreed to bring the mini-fridge and the TV, and she’d bring herself.
So on a hot August day, off to college my family and I went, fridge and TV/VCR combo in tow, where we discovered two things quickly: one, there was no elevator in my dorm, and two, Melinda had moved in two days before and had went ahead and arranged the room furniture to her liking. Now neither of these things was a problem for me because one) the Wesleyan football team was on move-in duty, so they got the fridge up the stairs, and two) I didn’t care how the furniture was arranged as long as I was in the bottom bunk. Melinda graciously accepted my contribution of a fridge, and I noticed that, even though I had dragged a TV to Buckhannon, she’d also brought a TV. But I said nothing, just stored mine in my “closet” (read: seven-foot rectangle box with a clothes hanger bar and some drawers), and prepared to make myself a life-long friend.
I’ll be honest: right up until the moment Melinda kicked me out of the room, I really thought we were cool because we never fought. Did it bother me that Melinda, who had nails so long they curled under, would stay up till 3 a.m. every night, clacking loudly as she typed Instant Messages (remember IM? So much more fun than text messages, because you could set cryptic away messages with “meaningful” song lyrics. You could put your entire friends' list on High Alert with the right quote from Dave Matthews Band), knowing I had an 8 a.m. class? Sure, but I figured she was homesick and all her friends were night-owls, so I said nothing. Did I enjoy that she was always filling up the fridge with her food, leaving no room for mine? It was inconvenient, but ultimately, pretty harmless.
I liked Melinda enough, and she was an okay-enough roommate that going along with what she liked wasn’t really a problem. But I finally had to put my foot down when Melinda decided we HAD to have a three-piece, blow-up set of plastic furniture. Now back in the day, Wesleyan’s dorms were about the size of someone’s really nice bathroom (don’t worry, Class of 2024: they’ve remodeled so you preciouses get your extra square footage), so with the existing furniture, there wasn’t room for a milk crate, let alone a plastic, blow-up love-seat, armchair, and end table. Also, even I have my limits to the level of tacky I’m willing to look at every day. So I kindly pointed out the space issue (I did not tell her plastic furniture was tacky) and told her I didn’t think they’d be a good idea. She agreed, and I thought that was the end of it.
Fast forward a week to when Kristy, our floor Resident Advisor, finds me in the hallway of the dorm and asks me when I want to switch rooms because all room switches have to be done before the end of the semester. And of course, I tell her I wasn’t planning on switching rooms, to which Kristy replies that MELINDA had told her that I said I was moving out, leaving Melinda all alone in Room 310, and me wherever Kristy could stick me.
Yeah, pick your jaws up off the floor everyone. That was either the height of passive-aggressive or the best instance of devious behavior I’d experienced up to that point in my life. And what do you say at that point to your roommate? Do you call a room meeting and ask her why she’d flat out lie like that? Or do you try to get to the bottom of the problem, and maybe reevaluate your stance on plastic furniture?
In the end, I did neither of those things. Instead, I complained about it to one of my hallway friends, who was fast becoming my best friend: Kate Trimbath (side note: I have never met a Kate I didn’t like. Never. All the Kates in my life have either went on to be my favorite people or at the very least, people I look forward to seeing. See also: People Born in July). And Kate, who handles awkward situations better than anyone I know and who also was anti-plastic furniture, said, “My roommate and I aren’t getting along, so lets you and me room together. But I don’t have a television.” And I said, “Well I come with a television that has just sat in my closet all semester and a mini-fridge.” And Kate said, “When can you move?”
So we moved in down the hall together, me, Kate, my television, a fan with no cage (ask to see my scar where I accidentally hit the blades while trying to answer a 2 a.m. “Come get me from this party” call from my other Ripley friends), and my mini-fridge, which we conveniently moved right after Melinda had filled it up with about three huge jugs of Hawaiian Punch. Now, I’d like to tell you that I’m sorry we took Melinda’s Hawaiian Punch, but I’m not, because the first rule of mini-fridges (just like with property ownership) is that you don’t put something on or in property you don’t own because you run a real risk of losing it when the owner stops giving you permission to use it after treating them poorly. Because if you’re going to passive-aggressively kick me out of my room the same week as finals, I’m at least walking away with some cheap fruit juice.
But when I think back on what wasn’t even a top-ten terrible Random Roommate Experience (believe me, I was an RA, and I saw some doozies), I’m glad I went through it. Because if I had lived by myself, I would have never gotten to be such good friends with Kate, who has been my best friend for twenty years. I wouldn’t have ever figured out how to really compromise, or be thoughtful when sharing spaces, and I also wouldn’t have known what my limits as a roommate are. And while “doesn’t like plastic furniture in a small space” is one of the lowest levels of tolerance limits, still, I could have said yes, and had to live miserably with a tacky, totally in the way-furniture set for the rest of freshman year.
So kids who are still going through Random Roommate Selection (or just thinking about moving in with people), take this to heart: you will learn a lot about yourself, and how you deal with conflict with a perfect stranger. You’ll find out what you’re willing to compromise on, and what you’ll draw the line on. And you’ll either come out of the year with a friend and a better attitude on how to deal with new people, OR you’ll come out of it with a better new roommate and a better understanding of what you do and don’t have to tolerate. There’s really no downside to taking a chance on an unknown person because in the end, the person you really get to know is yourself.
And Melinda, wherever you are, I want you to know this: I hope all your dreams came true, that you got a great job, a great family, that you still like Staind, and that you are happy. And I hope that every time you drink a glass of Hawaiian Punch while sitting on a plastic, blow-up love-seat, you think of me. Lord knows I will always remember you.