Moving into my freshman dorm room was one of the most memorable experiences of my college career thus far. No, it wasn’t from the high of a newfound freedom, nor the fact that I was finally gaining a fresh start. It was because when I opened the door, I walked into a giant science experiment and no one could have prepared me for what I found.
As the scene of my living situation unfolded before me, I could barely form complete thoughts. Pictures of dilapidated houses and dirty frat parties raced through my mind as I drew the uncanny parallels between them and my new room. I let my head wander to who exactly this mystery roommate could be, a girl I wouldn’t meet until tomorrow. I spent hours questioning the sanity and personal hygiene of the person I’d been assigned to live with, until I finally settled on my faith in the system. I mean, how could a school that I gave so much time and effort to match me with someone I hate?
The next day, I turned my key and walked into a situation so unexpected, it felt as if I was in an episode of The Twilight Zone. There she was, quietly wiping down the surface of her desk, her family enthusiastically chatting and folding clothes around her. Her mother turned and offered a genuine smile while introducing herself and the two younger children in the room, who quickly stiffened under the glance of a stranger.
When I turned my head to the corner where she stood, she was already staring, sizing me up with wide green eyes partially hidden by her long, unkempt hair. She didn’t say a word, letting her mother speak for her, only nodding to show that she was in fact listening.
On paper, our interaction could have been perceived as mundane—a normal, uncomfortable introduction between two people meeting under the pretense of already being stuck together. But as I focused in on the background, I noticed a makeup bag that lay unzipped on her nightstand, its contents being just two shades of bright orange and white—prescriptions that doubtlessly had to be for something more serious than allergies. Although I couldn’t quite read them, the letters on the bottles stood clean and stark against their labels, just like how her name looked on my computer screen when I first saw it a few months back.
The association made me realize that without context, letters mean nothing. They’re just symbols that, when standing alone, tell a story based on only assumption. As memories of the room in its state the day before flooded back into my head, my eyes stayed glued on the ominous pill bottles. The letters were coming together in a different way than how they were in my head before and they told the real story about my new roommate.
She had a severe form of ADHD that created the perfect cocktail of erratic behaviors to ensure that we would never be able to more than barely function together. Her sleep schedule was inhuman; she constantly wavered in and out of a state of hyperspeed and forgot four times as often as she remembered. I hated her for all of these things, and I hated myself for it.
I tugged and pulled at rationalization of my negative feelings, seeking out friends and family to vent my struggles to and fighting her tooth and nail all the while. In the end, I would always come up with nothing; she wouldn’t change, and I still had to sleep five feet away from her. I decided then that I needed release in some way. I did something crazy and just let go.
I stopped exploding on her like I was a human landmine and began to communicate. I moved with her current instead of against it. Most importantly, I accepted the reality that we would leave each other behind with no ties at the end of the semester.
We were never friends, ever, but we became roommates. Every once in awhile we would stay up late and gossip about the boys on our floor. We would share our snacks and wave hello on campus. Sure, she still would turn on all of the lights at 2 a.m. and leave candy wrappers on our floor, but the more that time passed, the fuzzier our rocky beginning became.
Now, when I let the memories of walking into that room for the first time come to me, the only thing I see is a string of origami birds she made and placed on our window. They were simple, organized and beautiful amongst all of the chaos. Sometimes all it takes is to focus on the smallest thing to give the enemy a name and face. If I had remembered the birds while I was staring at the pill bottles, I wouldn’t have had to hate somebody for a few short letters, and could have liked my roommate for the person that she actually was.
Don’t let a fantasy guide your reaction to who a real person is, especially if that person is your roommate. A good percentage of people would say that they couldn’t be defined by a short questionnaire, so why put so much faith that the person that you’re matched with is? In the end, focus on the fact that we’re all human. If you remember that, it’s easy to find that one little thing to get you through a less-than-perfect living situation.