29. Duerme con los Angeles

29. Duerme con los Angeles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Duerme con los Angeles

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.

~Helen Keller

All summer, I waited apprehensively for the letter. Through the hot days in June and sticky days in July, I ran out to the mailbox and returned empty-handed and disappointed. After what felt like years, the crisp white envelope sealed with a blue Hofstra University crest finally arrived. No, this wasn’t the letter declaring my acceptance or rejection to the University — that had come ages ago. This letter would reveal the name, address, and telephone number of the girl I’d be stuck with for the first year of my true adult life, and while I was anxious to find out who this stranger would be, I was not thrilled about having to share closer-than-close living quarters with a stranger.

In late July, the letter came. Ana Galdamez was her name, and she hailed from Flushing, Queens. I wasted no time, eager to learn whatever I could about her. I picked up the phone and dialed her number. After three rings, an answering machine clicked on, and a woman’s voice streamed through the receiver.

Hola, no nos encontramos en este momento, porfavor dejenos un mensaje y le devolveremos la llamada lo mas pronto possible....

Spanish? The girl’s answering machine recording was in Spanish? Of all of the horrors I feared (smelly feet, obnoxious habits, ugly bedding...), I never considered the possibility of being paired up with someone who might not even speak English. I slammed the phone down before the beep, my heart racing and my stomach churning. My knowledge of the Spanish language extended only as far as the Taco Bell commercials I had seen on TV. This was going to be worse than I thought.

In the next few weeks, I shopped, primped, and prepared for what I hoped would be the most exciting four years of my life. I stuffed my car with frilly pink bedding, sheer white curtains, sequined pillows, and all sorts of pretty trinkets. The impending stress of choosing a major, taking tests, and buying books wasn’t really a concern; I was more excited to get to school as early as possible to claim the better bed, newer dresser, and bigger closet in my new room before my mystery roommate arrived.

On move-in morning, my family and I arrived before the suggested check-in time of 8:00 A.M., and I was surprised to see a line already forming outside my new dorm building. Despite all my efforts, a girl was already in my room — okay, our room — with some of her belongings unpacked, chatting cheerfully in Spanish with her own mother. She didn’t seem to have a lot of things with her. I assumed they were still in the car.

Ana spoke before I could. “You must be Cassie! I’m so excited to meet you. I’m sorry we didn’t get to talk this summer. I was away for most of it! Oh my gosh, you brought so much stuff! This is my mother. I saved the good furniture and the bigger closet for you; I don’t really need the space!”

So she spoke English after all. Embarrassed about my assumption, I processed her words. She said she had saved the better set of furniture for me, and she wasn’t kidding — I glanced around and noticed the furniture on my empty side of the room was made of polished wood, with a brand new plastic-wrapped mattress resting on top of my bed. Her furniture looked old and shabby, her mattress stained and torn and her closet significantly smaller than mine. A twinge of guilt passed through me.

I took a closer look at her now, feeling more at ease. She was pretty in a wholesome way, dressed in solid-colored clothes with no makeup or nail polish. I noticed a large, heavy-duty camouflage backpack next to her green bed.

“What’s with the army bag?” I inquired.

“Oh, right. That. Well, I’m sort of in ROTC,” she explained. “I wake up at four in the morning a few days a week. It’s not a big deal.”

Four in the morning? My stomach flipped. “Like, army training?” I knew my tone was offensive, but she didn’t seem to notice. She smiled and nodded.

That evening, our parents left us to our own devices in our new half-earth-toned, half-frilled room. It took a great amount of effort for me not to grab my mother’s ankles and beg her to take me back home with her. Sure, the girl seemed nice enough, but I still wasn’t ready for this.

Surprisingly, we got right to talking. She was a hopeless romantic, her family was her life, and she had heaps upon heaps of exciting plans for herself and her future. As she talked, her eyes were bright, and each sentence she spoke rang with contentment and optimism. I had less to say, but was surprised to find myself wanting to learn more about her, even after we turned off the lights to go to sleep. I rested in my new bed, feeling guilty thinking of the time I wasted with my pretentious thoughts about her before we even met. I knew I had a lot to learn.

Duerme con los angeles,” Ana whispered, sounding like she was already half-asleep.

“Huh?” I mumbled.

Duerme con los angeles. It means ‘sleep with the angels,’” Ana explained, and her soothing voice wove itself into my dreams as I slept.

That year, without knowing it, Ana taught me invaluable lessons about patience and caring for others. Her own career and life goals rubbed off on me as I carefully chose a major and studied hard. She taught me to slow down, enjoy the coming years, and appreciate what I learned in my classes. Most importantly, she taught me not to give in to quick judgments as I always had before I met her.

We lived together — by choice — for the next two years. We grew and adjusted to our new home together, every day of college life bringing new challenges to each of us. No matter what changed, however, our nights ended the same way — with a whispered “duerme con los angeles,” followed by a peaceful night’s sleep.

~Cassie Goldberg

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