38: Less than Perfect Strangers

38: Less than Perfect Strangers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Less than Perfect Strangers

How far we travel in life matters far less than who we meet along the way.


Moving away from home and settling into my residence hall at an Ivy League college was exciting, but now I was anxious to meet my roommate — the girl I would live with during my first year at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. A clatter of trunks and suitcases and electrical appliances and sound equipment exploded through the door and landed at my feet. LuAnne had arrived.

Like everything from Texas, LuAnne was larger than life. I don’t mean that she was overweight. She was petite and pretty enough to lasso the interest of campus cowboys. It was more like she filled up all the available psychological space in our small room. Every nook and cranny of the room reverberated with her energy. Even the ivy-covered walls of the sedate university halls seemed to tremble as LuAnne walked across campus.

One wall of our room now sported LuAnne’s large confederate flag. Her high-powered amp blasted waves of rock music down the hall. And though first year students were not supposed to have vehicles on campus, LuAnne managed to smuggle her chrome motorbike up the back elevator and store it in our room. In a few months, we would also have an energetic black Labrador sharing our space. No, pets were not allowed either, but what could our resident advisor say when she kept a floppy-eared rabbit in her own room?

LuAnne quickly settled into her own unique nine-day cycle. For three days she would party with friends. They gathered in our room and formed a rock band. Rehearsals ended with a trip to a local bar. The next three days were quiet as LuAnne slept off the effects of her wild parties. When her headache abated, she would suddenly realize that she had missed six days of classes, and thus the last three days of the cycle were devoted to all-night study sessions as she caught up on all her class assignments. And when she caught up? Well, the cycle began again.

During those first weeks I was in a state of shock. After all, I came from a home full of books and quiet board games. My family might turn on the stereo to listen to classical music or Broadway tunes. Chores and homework were priorities. Had LuAnne moved into our home, she would likely have needed a defibrillator to recover from the contrast to her own lifestyle.

It wasn’t that the university hadn’t tried to match up roommates with care. My guess is that they figured with me being from California and LuAnne being from Texas, we would both be far from home. We’d share a love for wide-open spaces and all things western. We were both listed as attending the same church denomination too, though I never saw LuAnne step inside a church during our time together. Too bad the university staff didn’t know I was originally from Massachusetts and descended from dry, austere, old New England stock.

Gradually, LuAnne and I adjusted to living in close proximity. She couldn’t understand my routine any more than I could understand hers, but she came to accept my studious habits. I would never live a wild life like LuAnne, but I began to take steps beyond my comfort zone. When a friend invited me to go skydiving, I went along and jumped out of a plane.

Some months later, several agricultural students tossed a greased piglet in the elevator of our residence hall. They pushed a random button on the control panel, and the elevator doors confined the panicked pig in a few square feet. When the doors opened on our floor, the pig escaped and its squeals rivaled any smoke alarm.

Soon girls all over the floor were squealing too. “A pig! A pig! Get it out of here!”

Girls in underwear climbed up on their desks. One hid in her closet. The more people that joined in the chase, the more frantic the creature became. It ran up and down the halls searching for an escape.

Suddenly the noise stopped. As quickly as the chaos began, it died down.

LuAnne walked in the door of our room holding a squirming piglet under the crook of her arm. She grinned. “Did I ever tell you that I won greased pig contests in Texas?”

LuAnne and I began as less than perfect strangers, but, as roommates, together we were learning a lot more about life than what was taught in our college textbooks.

~Emily Parke Chase

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