72: Flexibility

72: Flexibility

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles


He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.

~Raymond Hull

In many ways, I was your average eighteen-year-old: I hung out with my friends, was permanently attached to my cell phone, and pretty much lived for Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s. However, in other ways, I was unique. Like clockwork, I dusted and vacuumed my room every other Sunday. My closet was color-coded, my shoeboxes were labeled, and God help the person who de-alphabetized my bookshelf. I didn’t drink. Though I loved nights with my friends, I had also been known to spend Fridays studying. You might say I was somewhat compulsive, as well as an overachiever, a trait that family and friends alike warned me I would not be able to continue at college when living with another person.

Bearing this in mind, I walked into my dorm on orientation day with a smile fixed on my face. Never mind the fact that some clever person had already crossed out “Welcome to Sherrill!” and edited the bulletin board to read “Welcome to hell!” I was going to be laid back and flexible and normal, for once in my life.

Unfortunately, the edited bulletin board was like a prophecy. I quickly realized that Sherrill, for whatever reason, was the designated “party dorm” for the year. But this was college, right? And so I said nothing, and each morning I took my toothbrush and walked down the street to the library where there was a small, infrequently used bathroom that was not covered in vomit. Each night I attempted to get some sleep before my 8 A.M. class, despite the drunken singing pulsing through my wall, gritting my teeth and telling myself I was becoming a better, more tolerant person.

As part of my “be flexible” campaign, I had also sworn to be a good roommate. I would be accommodating, respectful, and an all-around cool girl. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on rooming with Party Girl. She was out until 2 A.M. and slept until ten, sighing irritably as I crept around the room at 7:30 getting ready for my morning classes. Giggling and attempting to whisper, she and her friends would stumble into the room in the wee hours of the morning and ransack the refrigerator. Somehow, it was always my Hot Pockets that got eaten first.

I began spending as much time in the library and as little time in my room as possible. I took to going home every weekend, figuring that if I let my roommate have the place to herself on the weekend, maybe she would be a little less crazy during the week. Finally, it came to a head.

I had just returned to campus after a weekend at home. After unpacking my duffel, I went to our mini-fridge and took out one of my bottles of water. I lifted the bottle to my mouth and took a big gulp. Fire shot down my esophagus. Hacking and gagging, I spit out what I could and looked at my bottle in shock. From her position at her desk, my roommate turned around and looked at me condescendingly.

“You should have smelled it before you drank it. That’s vodka.”

I stared at her in disbelief. Finally, in a high voice, I said, “But it’s my water bottle!”

She shrugged, already turning back to her computer. “I needed a place to store it over the weekend.”

The next day found me in the first year dean’s office; nearly hysterical from another sleepless night and the tension of the past month, I exploded. Sobbing, I babbled about transferring, dropping out, anything to get away from my roommate and my dorm. I figured the dean wouldn’t care, but I had to tell someone, and she seemed kind.

To my great surprise, she reacted with empathy for me, and rage towards my roommate.

“That’s unacceptable. I heard the situation in Sherrill was bad, but I had no idea it was this bad. Please don’t transfer. I’m going to do whatever I can to make this better for you.”

Somewhat mollified, I left, hoping the insanity was at an end. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Part of “making it better” entailed the dean talking to our resident assistant, and eventually my roommate herself about her lifestyle. My roommate cornered me by my wardrobe the next afternoon. Red-faced, she shouted about how I had gotten her in so much trouble, how everybody hated me, and how I was such a freak. Bursting into tears, I grabbed my cell phone and ran out. I called my mom and told her to come get me — I was coming home; I couldn’t make it here.

I had never been so happy to see my mom take control of a situation. She spoke to the dean and the head of housing, supporting my story and providing a calm backdrop to my tearfulness. Eventually, it was decided that the best thing to do would be for me to move dorms and deal with transferring later. I no longer felt safe with my roommate, and so the head of housing handed me the keys to a single room in a nearby dorm.

I can barely remember moving in to my new dorm. I felt like a refugee, moving out over the dinner hour while the rest of my building was at the dining hall. It must have been ninety degrees as we hauled the paraphernalia of my life down two flights of stairs, across the parking lot, and up another four. By the time we were done, I no longer cared if I went home or not. I just wanted to shower and sleep.

And sleep I did, for the first time in a month. And the next night. And the next. My new floor was the polar opposite of my old dorm. The bathroom, though small, was clean, and my room, a corner nook on the fourth floor with a slanted ceiling, was my own. I barely left it, even for meals. After my experience in Sherrill, I felt like I could never get enough time to myself.

Eventually, though, things changed. Secure in the knowledge that I had my own room to return to, I began to go out. The topic of transferring slowly faded from conversation. I made friends and joined clubs. My grades soared, and by May, I had a 3.9 GPA and a firm grasp on my $20,000 per year academic scholarship. I had survived my first year of college.

In hindsight, I see I made the quintessential college-student mistake in August — I tried to become someone I wasn’t. Sure, everyone wants to be a good roommate, and I was extra-concerned with being flexible, knowing my own rigid personality. But the fact remained: I was uncomfortable with my roommate’s drug-and-alcohol lifestyle, and that of my dorm, and it took me a month to realize that that was okay. Becoming more flexible didn’t mean I had to live with something that was unacceptable. I’m confident now that I’m not a freak; I am someone who recognizes her right to feel comfortable and safe in her own space.

Oh, and my ex-roommate? I didn’t see her at any of the honors ceremonies last May, and I never saw her at any of the great school-sponsored events because she was too busy getting hammered. She gained a ton of weight from the drinking, became very unhappy, and finally made the decision to transfer.

~Ashley Mie Yang

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