a room with my middle sister prepared me for the basic unfairness
of life. She listened to my telephone calls and repeated my side
of the conversation to our mother. She borrowed my clothes without
asking and bent the spines of my books. She hissed, Shut up!
when I talked myself to sleep and rolled her eyes every time I sang
or whistled. She pinched things from my drawers, doodled on my notebook
covers, and kicked a hole in the door when I didnt lend her
a record. I imagined that life with my volatile sister was good
practice for dormitory living, which, at that point, was only about
1,000 days and nights in the future. I was ready for anyone I might
be paired with in college.
I certainly didnt expect to be matched with someone so perfectly,
well, nice. My college roommate was what I now coach my own children
to bea good sharer. She brought curtains and bedspreads for
our roomand made sure I had the better of the two spreads.
She taught me how to apply eyeliner. She introduced me to Van Halen
and Led Zeppelin and never complained when I talked myself to sleep.
She gave me privacy when my boyfriend visited and space when my
dad died. She waited for hours with me when a bad fall landed me
in the hospital. She even lent me her favorite pair of shoes. In
the annals of dormitory history, I dont think there has ever
been or ever will be a nicer roommate.
All of her kindness, however, didnt curb my yen for a room
of my own. So, for the rest of my college years, I lived in a single,
first in Laurel Hall and then in Evergreen Hall.
Technically, I actually did have my own room until I was 15. But
my space was never inviolablethe door didnt even lock.
Half of my closet rack was hung with the familys winter coats,
and boxes of outgrown clothes lined the shelf and floor. For reasons
still inexplicable to me, the ironing board, which was only sporadically
and grudgingly used, could be found parked at the foot of my bed
so regularly that I often stacked my school books on it.
Then my folks moved to a new home, whichnow riddle me thishad
the same number of bedrooms as their old home. Suddenly, my infant
sister had her own room, and my middle sister and I were sharing
a room roughly the same size as the rooms each of us had just left
behind. The one good thing? The ironing board didnt fit in
our cramped quarters.
Now you understand the glee I felt about my single. The door locked!
The portable ironing board fit under my bed! And the closet was
mine, all mine! When I was out, no one wore my favorite sweater,
cracked the spine of my new novel, or read my journal. And the single
turned out to be my best defense against burnout from a maniacally
busy schedule of classes, activities, and part-time jobs. So, what
most students looked on with pity (A single? Arent you
lonely?), I cherished. A room of my own!
Its been a little more than 14 years since I lived alone.
I shared an apartment with three other girls for the few months
between my final semester as an undergrad and my wedding. Since
then, Ive been sharing rooms with the guy I dated all through
college. Not that I mind sharing with him. He is, like my college
roommate, a good sharer. But every once in a whilewhen my
daughters rummage through my closet for costumes, or my son leaves
one of my books face down on the couch, or my husband picks up the
other extension while Im gossiping with a friend I wish
I were a college sophomore again, standing in front of my very own
room, holding the only key.
Melissa Sherman, her husband,
and their three roommates live in Chicago, where Melissa
is a writer and editor.