…a few weeks into the school year a crushing blow: my third roommate’s mom committed suicide. Let me back up.
My first roommate lasted just a tad longer than a fortnight. She lived locally, wasn’t studying, and her parents owned Toys R Us or something like that. She was replaced by my new roommate, a girl I truly loved, who was artistic, funny and smart. Three weeks in to the semester, her mom committed suicide. The college chaplain spent a lot of time in our room, trying to provide counseling; looking back on it now, it was insufficient, inappropriate, and ineffective. It wasn’t anybody’s fault; it’s just the way it was.
My third roommate became an OB/GYN. The thing I remember most about her? She blow-dried her long, luxurious red hair 6 a.m. every day; entertaining quality for a friend, challenging quality for a roommate. After all the roommates coming and going, I slogged thru my sophomore year mainly living with Michael.
I longed for one of the few, coveted single rooms. I was also friendly with the housing coordinator, whose office was down the hall from the campus psychologist. GG was a kind, funny, 50-ish woman who was getting her undergraduate degree. One day she summoned me and presented the old “good news, bad news” scenario.
“The god news is you can have a single room next year if you want it.” There was no bad news that would have any relevancy, my roommate issues were solved!
I spent a happy Junior year in a room roughly the size of a ping pong table. I’ve been in larger Johnny-on-the spots. The pay phone right outside my door and was the single phone for 17 potentially homesick girls. I would overhear phone conversations and write poems about them (by now I had burned thru Early Childhood Education and Psychology and was majoring in Creative Writing). My thought was that I was going to write poems anyway, why not get credit for them?
The aforementioned bad news? My single room was in a freshman dorm. Why anyone would think this was a bad thing I do not know. I enjoyed the privacy, the ability to play guitar if I wanted, the den-mothering I did. I was reading a steady diet of Charles Bukowski, Peter Meinke, Adrienne Rich and e.e. cummings. They threw in some Sylvia Plath, I guess that was to prepare us emotionally in case our roommates’ mom’s were going to do themselves in.
There was a big saying back in the day, “make sure you don’t get out of phase.” I don’t know if people still say it, or even if it was a purely Eckerd thing. It essentially meant that changing majors too often (read: more than once) was a big no-no. I didn’t ever receive that message, but I’m sure someone tried to tell me.
Spring of my magical, single-room Junior year, I applied for the semester abroad to London. My international travels until that point had included a cyclonic tour of “Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 11 days” during one high school spring break, and I almost made it to Spain for another. Due to lack of enrollment that trip got cancelled – a bitter letdown. It didn’t occur to me to even look at course curriculum or other countries or even to see where my friends were going, I was going to London with Molly and Ken.
When it was time to apply for London, my application was rejected. There are theories abound about why this might have been, but the official party line from the “committee” was that if they let me go abroad my senior year, I would be out of phase and unable to graduate on time. I petitioned the registrar, did all the things that everyone told me to do. I sat before a panel that grilled me on my desire to go on this particular semester at this particular time. I remember I was wearing a brown and pink skirt with a bias cut plaid pattern and grown-up shoes, an oddity at a Florida college where most people went barefoot.
Why didn’t you go your junior year?
Because Molly and Ken weren’t going my junior year!
A semester in London wasn’t just my dream (although it was a dream), it wasn’t just a calling (although it certainly was that). Going to London was my destiny. So I did what I had to do: I got on a plane.