Golden Girls

We are well into the bucket of moving Zoe out. Oh wait, no we aren’t. Yes. Nope, we’re out again. Back in. And out. Okay. This is how it’s going.

In a continuation of the ‘getting Zoe to college in the hardest way possible’ sagas, we have reached the point of the process where we land on where she will be living. As with everything in the last seven months (or 14, depending on when she was actually supposed to start this), it is difficult, yet again. The breath of fresh air is that most of this piece is completely out of her control. We don’t have (and will not have for some time) a gauge on whether or not her school will be opening its dorms in the fall. Because of that, we can’t toss the sorting hat on her head and hope for the best – best roommate, best school provided furniture, best distance from her classes, the cafeteria or bus stops. Instead, the gig is back in our hands. Well, her hands.

It makes me a little sad as I had a wonderful dorm experience – and perhaps because of her very near dorm-move-in, I’ve been having flashbacks to Schmidt Hall (West Chester U) and some of the characters I met during my first year away from home. Characters who I still keep in touch with and who are still very much characters. When I went to college (oh good grief…yes…up hill, both ways, with warmed lunch potatoes in my pockets to keep my hands warm), it was a chain of events that went something like this:

  • Apply to maybe two schools (by hand…yes, handwritten)
  • Get an acceptance letter in the mail (we didn’t have stretch schools…it was just ‘apply’)
  • Decide which one you should go to and tell them in the form of a return letter.
  • Get another letter three months later with the name, phone number and address of your roommate.
  • Wait another month and show up prepared to carry all of your belonging up 8 flights of stairs.

Your roommate was your roommate, likely for the entire first year, unless some crazy extenuating circumstance came into play. For instance, if she came in as a Pre-Med student and sat at her desk for 16 hours a day with eyes on an open biology book, ears on the phone with her long distance boyfriend and a perhaps the quickest fail out in school history. Not so quick though that she could express her discontent for, say, my alleged lack of studying en route to the Dean’s List. For instance.

I honestly can’t remember if my first roommate lasted the whole year or just the first semester. All I can remember is her name was Chris, her boyfriend Jer-Jer and that she was confused on our first phone call meeting that I didn’t have a color plan for my side of our dorm room. Hers was mauve and the ruffled curtains really spruced up our cement block walled room. What I do remember is quickly gravitating to basically any room around me – the one across the hall where three girls were stuffed into a double waiting for an space to open, the one next door and the one next to that…all from which my first college click was built (Cheri, Debi, Darci, Amy and Beth…I’m talking to you). Yes, it was handy that we were all a bit baffled by my actual roommate – sometimes the best bond is a common confusion about someone else.

Once Chris failed out, the door was open for Cheri and I to bunk up – creating a row of rooms on the 8th floor that became a perfect combination of studying, goofing off, pretending we were grown ups while leaning on each other when we really just didn’t want to be. These relationships were built out of total luck of the roommate draw and placement by the admissions office. We had no choice but to get along, learn each others’ quirks and grow closer each day.

Watching Zoe try to figure out her next living situation….well, it’s just another piece of that ‘kids today!’ method that I would like to throw out the window. Today, there is 72 different platforms to investigate potential roommates thru, enabling Pickyness Activation. 35 years ago, there was no Insta or Snap or TikTok. There was no Facebook. There was no internet. No way to research, study or find out any dark hidden secrets about anyone who you might cross paths with as a freshman. Oh, yes, we were freshman. Now, I believe they are ‘first year’ students. There is so much information overload now that there is no chance for someone to ‘learn about you’ or for someone to ‘start over’ in college. Everyone arrives pre-learned and pre-evaluated and pre-judged. It’s opened a garage door of assumptions about each other before they even find out each others’ middle names. There are no clarifications or explanations – it’s pretty much a straight ‘welp, this is what I overheard/read/interpreted, so here we are.’

For the love of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Part of me wonders if it matters – kids today (arghhhhh!) are so enveloped in their devices and themselves that maybe it really doesn’t make a difference who they live with. Bored with your roommate? Hop onto Instagram. Tired of the kid next door? Do some Netflixing. Don’t want to engage? Open your laptop/phone/Switch/360. Miss your friends? Uber it is. There are outs all over the place. So maybe the relationships are just not important anymore.

We had none of that.

Schmidt Hall, 1989: What? We have phones in every room? We can call all over campus for free? Are. You. Kidding? I can’t tell you enough about the life changing moment when we discovered three way calling and started our own 8th Floor Dorm Show called Spontaneous Connections. Dial one room, click the hanger-upper, dial another room, click the hanger-upper…both rooms are ringing? Perfect! Sit back and listen while the two rooms tried to figure out why the other called while trying not to breathe too loud. “You called me?, No, you called me?” Advanced? Yes – remember we had no mute buttons or speaker options. We’d sit ear to phone to ear listening to the hilarity. There was also no such thing as Caller ID – so the gig was basically untraceable.

Did I mention there was no Caller ID? Did I mention how this honed our psychic powers of who was calling? As I type this, I can’t believe we used to hear the phone ring, look at one another and actually start a ‘who do you think it is?’ conversation before answering. My Gawd…why didn’t we just pick up the dang phone?? Awkward dates were followed by awkward phone-ringing moments…riiiiiing (reaches for the phone, jumps back like it’s lava), “Oh, I think it’s Fran! Don’t answer!” Thankfully, there was also no answering machines – just an open-ended awkward quad encounter of ‘oh, hey, Fran, yeah, no…I haven’t been in my room a lot…sorry I keep missing your call.’

Circa 2020: There are no phones in the rooms. Right? Everyone just brings their own? And you always know exactly who is calling? And you can call places that are off campus?

1989: Every day was a lengthy game of Whisper Down The Lane. Our school method of communication was the bulletin boards in the lobby of each dorm floor. It hung between the elevators but since they rarely worked, we often missed the information. Instead, we’d hear tidbits working their way down the two wings (male side vs female side, nary should you cross into the other…). The first week started out strong with an RA announcing ice cream socials or frisbee in the quad, but once those obligations were fulfilled it all went to whether or not someone remembered to staple a flyer on the board. Living on the 8th floor, the answer was often no. Questionable elevators meant that the first four floors got most of the news before the message petered out with tired legs. We planned our days in a pack – where would we walk to, when we would eat, library or not, dare we skitter past the boundaries of campus on Friday night? We traveled as one – glued together by the excitement of having a girl gang and figuring out our roles in that gang.

2020: I’m pretty sure Zoe’s school has already posted every activity for the entire year on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and sent it via email, text and a VCU Student downloadable calendar. They can likely rsvp anonymously without ever working through the compromises of weekend planning with the other kids in the hall. A simple click here or clack there and bam! it’s done, back to Minecraft.

You want to know how we really got to know each other? Like, reeaaallllly? We got sick or had an emergency. My first real college illness was a doozy. I was unaware of how many different holes I had in my body until fluids were shooting out of each one. It happened three seconds after I woke up on our first snowy day – and as I realized what was happening, the ‘what the shit, my mom’s not here?’ panic hit. The most I could do – and it took every ounce of strength I could find – was dial the room next door (the one sardined with three people). “Hi, it’s Jyl, the girl next door – I just shat myself, puked every where and I’m pretty sure one of my eyeballs is embedded in the bulletin board. Any chance you’re free?” And dear lawd, Cheri….she was either desperate for some breathing room or prepping for a career as Florence Nightengale…because she came running. This still-a-girl who would instantly become my best friend over a garbage can, wet rags and an eventual slumped walk to the health center is now the supreme leader of nurses in the state of Arkansas. I take full credit.

Will Zoe have that same experience (I mean, I hope not, it was awful)? But is there a chance for those bonds with today’s instant access to internet diagnoses, an open line to mom and, I imagine, a continuation of tele-medicine? Will a pack of roommates have to figure out what’s wrong with zero guidance and an ‘oh, man, that doesn’t look great…’ That same year, one of my dorm neighbors began seizing completely out of the blue – of course, in the middle of the night. Again, we had no idea what to do – other than completely panic. Nobody thought to pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 (or we did, but were also told that the phones only dialed on-campus, so maybe it didn’t make sense at 3am). One was sent running for the RA while the others guessed at what to do. She went off in an ambulance – leaving us with no way to monitor what was going on, whether her parents were called or find out if she had on clean underwear. We sort of all just sat there until morning trying to figure out what had just happened. Clearly, I would rather have had instant access to the medical and parental help that the 2020’er’s would have in a similar situation – but will they build the same ‘okay, that was our first real test’ bond? She’s fine, by the way – distant runner, teacher, wife of an amazing musician (we all witnessed the start of that, as well).

It turns out finding an apartment willing to take in a freshman first-year is harder than we thought it would be. We never took into account that a) 99% of the incoming students will not be opting for an apartment instead of a maybe-opening-dorm, b) many students who already have apartments also already have roommates, and c) if they don’t, they are likely a few years Zoe’s senior and not really interested in having practically-a-minor living with them. It makes sense, now that we’ve thought about it. On the very basic “I just turned 21 but I have an 18 year old living here!” level alone. We stand by our insistence that Zoe live with someone new – after listening for years about her desire to get as far away from her high school mates as possible. Every time we think it’s getting wrapped up, another wrench – often not her fault. I’m assuming the further we go, the more she’ll be willing to compromise on the list of requirements for her roommates. Did I say assume? I mean to say pah-raying. I tape my fingers together nightly so that I don’t get involved and start shooting out texts or posts to the parents’ groups, thus destroying the sacred plain of ‘I’m doing this myself…’

Though I have toyed with the idea of figuring out how to three way text random parties, thus pairing her with another suite seeker also too afraid to reach out.


Spontaneous Text-nections. It could be a thing.

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