Next Friday, Freshman Move-In Day, I will meet my roommate in Williamsburg. We both opted for a computer pairing because neither of us knew anyone going to William and Mary. Based on our residence hall life questionnaires, specifying “a non smoker, no late nights” and despite a preference for “suite bath,” a computer introduced us. She hails from Virginia Beach, I from Chincoteague Island, so we also have the Chesapeake Bay in common. That was about it. She ran track in high school and I was in band. Her father was career Navy; mine passed away the summer after my junior year. In written exchanges, she was exuberant and extroverted. I was reserved and introspective. I was a little worried. How would we get along? How would we live together?
That was August 1978.
Thirty-five years later, almost to the day, Carolyn and I are meeting in Williamsburg again, to help move my daughter and her goddaughter, Katie, into senior year. It also happens to be Freshman Move-In Day.
We’ve been back to campus together many times over the years–for football games, homecomings, reunions. We used to rendezvous in Williamsburg every June at the Liz Claiborne Outlet. But our visits have never coincided with Freshman Move-In.
I’m prepared to see ghosts of ourselves on the sidewalk in front of Botetourt, dragging drying racks and speakers and armfuls of clothes up to the third floor. We make the short walk to the Caf, memories of a 19-meal plan, hand-punched cards and soft-serve ice cream every night, apples snuck into our backpacks, and the ever-present smell of slightly sour milk. We attended freshman mixers in DuPont and dances at William and Mary Hall, floors sticky with beer and littered with plastic cups. We signed the Honor Code. We registered for classes by filling out computer cards and standing in the longest lines we’d ever seen. We begged for overrides to closed sections. We got in. Or we didn’t.
Our room was homey, with matching twin spreads ordered from Sears and the tiniest cube wood-grain laminate refrigerator, posters stuck to our walls with putty, bulletin boards thumbtacked with photos from home, class schedules and syllabi. We dry-erased rude messages from the white board on our door, carefully wiping around ones we liked. Strains of “Hotel California” and Meatloaf pulsed through cinderblock walls, and the hall phone rang constantly and after midnight–mostly for Tracey, rarely for us. Our window fan, even on high, couldn’t mask the noise. There was no studying here. We went to Swem Library for quiet and, despite doing all homework assignments and attending every class, we both failed calculus–the first time we had ever failed anything greater than a quiz. We cried when we left at the end of that first semester, convinced that our GPAs would be so low we’d not be able to return after winter break. One of us might have to find a new roommate. Or we’d both flunk out and our room might be inhabited by two transfer students.
But we did return, and we roomed together for the next semester and the next three years, weathering a room lottery “bump” and living in the fraternity complex. We woke each other up. We argued about bunking our beds and messy rooms and late nights and boyfriends. We hoarded quarters for laundry. We lost our student IDs. We took labs and wrote papers typed first on a manual Royal, then an IBM Selectric. We went to pledge dances and cooked dinners for our dates and rode The Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens and mailed long letters to each other summers in between. Our families treated us to Sunday brunch at The Williamsburg Lodge. We were both intimidated and in awe of our professors and changed majors, finally declaring “English.” We read and read and read and wrote and wrote and wrote. Our bookshelves buckled under similar collections: Norton anthologies, Moby Dick, Dickens, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We fell asleep discussing the symbolism of light and dark in The Scarlet Letter and what Professor Lavach might ask on our Human Growth and Development exam.
We opted to get teaching certificates and finished our career at William and Mary in education and student teaching at Yorktown Middle School. Our GPAs improved. We built resumes. We went “clubbing.” We were first in line when The Go Go’s opened for The Police at William and Mary Hall. We ordered graduation gowns and announcements. We rang the bell in the Wren Building and made the ceremonial senior walk across campus, having so much fun along the way snapping pictures of ourselves and our friends that we didn’t realize how much we were lagging behind. The first half of The Class of 1982 was gone. We got to The Hall only to realize we didn’t know which door to take to get inside. Someone guided us to the rest of the seniors.
We spent another year together as roommates in a Virginia Beach garden apartment, teaching high school and decorating with cheap houseplants and nourished by Kraft macaroni and cheese and school lunches.
We married significant others and moved and lost loved ones. Cared for our families and changed careers. Tailgated at Homecomings. Missed each other in between.
In email exchanges about our rendezvous next Friday, I pointed out that it was coinciding with Freshman Move-In, and Carolyn said, “I hope I don’t bawl my eyes out!” There is that risk. But I think, after a day of dragging drying racks and speakers and armfuls of clothes up to the second floor, it’s more likely that Carolyn and I will sit back and raise our glasses to a life-long friendship–one begun via a brief residence hall life questionnaire and a chance computer selection. Together, we survived noisy dorms, hall baths, beer-sticky floors, tough classes…all that freshman year dished out, and all the years in between. Except for calculus.