Sunday, March 19, 2006

This reminds me of a story...

Our rain gauge is registering almost 5 inches of rain in the past 48 hours. January saw Texas in the throes of a drought and now we're under flood watch. It's been so bad and our dogs have spent so much time in their dog houses that they've taken to sitting out in puddles and staying soaked. Finally, we took them into the garage to eat their dinner, towelled them off and let them hang out in there for awhile with someone's old Teva sandal to chew on.

But the rain--incessant and dark--reminds me of something else. The night my parents took me to college. See...I'm a graduate of Texas A&M...I may have told you that already. However, that's not where I started out. My intention, I guess, was to go to A&M all along--having been raised by a rabid graduate of the old school (my father). School counselors being what they were back then, at least where my high school was concerned, no one started pelting us with collegiate pamphlets and SAT reviews and pep talks about visiting colleges to figure out where we should go (Unlike my own kids whose first experience with the SAT was in 7th grade).

By the time I got around to filling out my applications, it was clear that I didn't have enough math to get into A&M. I had enough to get into other schools...but not A&M...so our hastily-prepared PLAN B was for me to attend UNT (at the time it was North Texas State University) for a semester of college math and 14 other hours of assorted freshman "have-to's" and then transfer. Turns out...I liked Denton and I stayed for the entirety of my freshman year.

But the evening my parents took me to school was an evening just like this. Dark and Stormy...just like the past few days. Depressing. My dad was tense and my mother was emotional. I was the first child to leave in a family that wasn't terribly practiced in the art of "letting go". Nope. That would be another family. Not mine. So that night I was essentially released into the wild... dumb, untried and as inexperienced as Marsha Brady on her first day at Westdale High.

Anyway...we pulled up to the piece of crap building that seemed to be off to the side of the university...away from everything and everyone. West Hall, as it turned out, was the former athletic dorm. Condemned and slated for destruction...yet inexplicably open as our temporary and only half-filled "overflow" dorm. It was to be our home until we could get moved to another place on campus. The top two floors were vacant and only some of the second were occupied, which only added to my parents' already anxious mood. We hauled all my junk in out of the rain, though in retrospect it wasn't really what I needed. I had no stereo. No tv. No typewriter. No bookshelf. What I did have, and God only knows why, was an ironing board. Oh yes...my parents felt that would be indispensible to my college career. I was told that I could peruse the tags taped to the doors on the second floor until I found out one with my name on it.

I found the little yellow tag first and my parents hurried over to witness as I read off the name next to it...that of my first college roommate. I won't say her name here, because I don't know her anymore and I try not to use people's real names unless they tell me that I can or unless they're famous and can't do anything about it. I'll simply refer to her from here on out as Shaneequa...because that's really, really close.

Picture--if you can--my stunned and now grief-stricken mother whose own acceptance of the Civil Rights Movement worked better in theory than in practice. Witness the volumes of unnecessary tears practically shooting out of her eyeholes. Now picture my dad who never said anything about anything to me unless it started with the words, "Now just you listen here..." right before all hell broke loose. Hear my father's silent craving for a cigarette. The prospect of leaving their daughter on a night that seemed ripe for a flood of Biblical proportion paled in comparison to the notion that her first roommate was an unknown girl of another race. And me? My interest in meeting Shaneequa was only exceeded by my wish to see my parents stop unpacking for me and leave, and after practically having to peel my mother's fingers off of me one by one and shooing them out the door, I did meet the new roommate.

She was great. She was smart and from Dallas. She loved to read just like me. Her favorite book was Richard Adams' "Watership Down". She had spent part of her summer before her freshman year taking classes in junior college so that she was ahead of the rest of us. She looked like the character of Shirley on the TVLand sitcom "What's Happening?". In short...a lot bigger than me. We had a college algebra class together, which was mostly populated by athletes. By then I had "walked on" to the track team and it was obvious to me that the instructor treated us like idiots. He treated Shaneequa doubly so, and I assumed it was because he was a racist as well as a guy who hated his job. She ignored it and got him back by getting A's in everything. We got along together just fine, though we both knew other people from high school who were on campus and we usually sought those people out in our moments of homesickness.

Within a month, we had both been placed at another dorm and I was given a roommate from a tiny town in the Texas Panhandle. A short, plump girl who played the French Horn, listened to Country music and who'd never had a boyfriend. A woman who didn't drink beer but who occasionally "tippled" by having a little apricot brandy and wore cotton nightgowns and used terms like "oh my heavens". In short, it was like rooming with someone's maiden Aunt Gertrude. Boring. We shared a small bare room with two beds and one desk and two closets. It was a monastic little cell and the only difference between us and discalced Carmelite nuns was that fact that we were allowed to wear shoes. No matter..by the year's end, I was gone and on my way to College Station.

Later on I spoke with someone from my old dorm who told me that Shaneequa had run into some kind of trouble, though I can't recall what it was and it didn't really register with me at the time as being all that important. I didn't see her again....until about 7 years later. I was at the UTA bookstore (another city and university entirely)...browsing and wondering why I hadn't just stayed in college to get a masters degree so that my teacher's income would actually cover my rent/car/food. I picked up a couple of paperbacks that interested me and went to the register. The cashier looked just a little familiar. Her nametag said, "Shaneequa". That was before EVERYONE started giving their daughters this name, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw that she was my cashier.

She caught me staring and said, "Uh...can I help you?". I told her that I thought she used to be my first college roommate in Denton and I told her my name. Her suspicious look turned into a huge smile and she said..."yeah....skinny blonde!" I told her I was teaching in the city and asked her what she was doing. She told me that she had been asked to leave NTSU after a series of incidents involving roommates. "Yeah...I just could never get along with anyone and so I had to leave and come here" I guess I looked puzzled about how not getting along with anyone could get such a smart girl kicked out of college. She handed me my books and receipt and said, "You know? You were my favorite roommate out of the six that I had....(and she leaned in close for the the next part)...and you were the only one I didn't beat up."

Maybe she thought I was just so dull it wasn't worth the energy to slug me. I'm betting it was the ironing board that tipped her off.

19 Comments:

Blogger Catherine said...

What an ego booster to be the only roommate that Shaneequah didn't beat up. But she should feel pretty special, too! That was a great story you shared.

9:10 PM  
Blogger CISSY said...

That was a great story. Saw the news tonight about your neck of the woods being somewhat soaked. Hope all is well, and you and the pups are dry.

10:36 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

So, you ain't worth beating up? That's why I didn't stop by this weekend. Glad I got out on Saturday though!! That was a real Toad Choker!

4:22 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

You have the best stories.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Mignon said...

*stands up pointing at the screen* Girl's got her groove back, yo!!! Seriously? That last line made my head tingle a little. That was perfection, wordgirl.

(I've never read a line I wanted to plagiarize more than this one: "Hear my father's silent crave for a cigarette.")

9:37 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

Hope you guys aren't pulling out the canoes down there.

I swear you and I have so much in common. My first college roomate was black. Her name was Patty and I'm almost positive she wanted to beat me up.

I love the way you tell stories.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Oh my God - that was just freakin' classic! Loved it!

10:19 AM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Reminds me of Miss Congeniality II

I'm such an intellectual...you can tell by my choice in movies.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Rock said...

You know - it's those chicks with three sylables in their name...

3:36 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I actually had some pretty whacky roommates in university, including one who plastered every inch of our cinderblock walls with itty bitty posters, ads from magazines and smurf memorabilia. Another who was bipolar, and, if it weren't for the lock on my door might've beat me up.

And I'm not sure where you live in Texas but I saw news footage and DUDE that's lots of rain. Hope you're staying dry!

6:54 PM  
Blogger mrtl said...

I love your writing.

7:54 PM  
Blogger The Queen Mama said...

I HAVE a maiden Aunt Gertrude! Except she's actually kind of the brazen black sheep of my dad's family. A real hoot...

I bet you could've given Shaneequa a run for her money. Or at least gotten a good belt in with the ironing board before you made a run for it.

8:02 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

I love your writing so, so much. I feel like I say that all the time, but you are just AWESOME.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Sarcomical said...

wow - i did NOT expect that ending. ;) great story

10:41 PM  
Blogger theyellowwallpaper said...

Well good for you for getting along with those you cross paths with...I hope the weather calms down for you guys soon. It seems to be swinging from one extreme to the other.

I had an interesting roommate in college as well. Let's just say her love of beer was only surpassed by her love of men. She was funny though and laid back. So, we got a long great even though she made my boyfriend and parents cringe.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

LOL! That is NOT the ending I envisioned. Great story. I'm sending some sunshine your way.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

Roommates can be difficult to get along with. I'm glad your first experience was a good one!

I hope the rain lets up soon. :)

5:52 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

My eyes almost popped out at what happened with the other roommates. Good story; good method. It reminded me of the movie Wait Until Dark with audrey Hepburn.

Send the dogs north. Roxy loves company.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous sarcastic journalist said...

Wow. That was a great story. I love to hear other's experiences.

8:00 PM  

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