I wasn’t too sure about her in the beginning. We met through CHARMS, its shadowy algorithm connecting us amidst a sea of freshmen girls who counted Parks and Recreation among their favorite TV shows. After some tentative, anonymous chatting, we graduated to Facebook, our social media lives ripe for stalking. When I showed my parents her profile picture my dad said, earnestly, “She looks fun!” I remained dubious—she texted in all caps a lot—but eventually, after much feet-dragging on my part, we agreed to make it official. With the click of a button, Grace and I were bound together for our first year of quasi-adulthood.
We first met in real life on move-in day, possibly the worst setting for a formal introduction. She burst from her car for our agreed upon hug—we had discussed the proper greeting over text so no one was caught off guard—and walked to our shoebox-sized VCW dorm room while I tried to judge who was taller. We were both sticky and over-stimulated, trying to supervise our equally sticky and emotionally fragile parents as we hung photographs and adjusted bed heights. I eyed her watchfully as words tumbled out of her mouth, her trademark curly hair bobbing up and down the room in a bustle of anxious activity. To claim that I knew we would be good roommates from the very start would be to lie.
But relationships between freshman year roommates obey unique laws alien to other modes of friendship. Instead of meeting each other in a class or through a friend, we were thrust together in the sleep-deprived chaos of a rapidly-developing social network and left to hash out what qualifies as oversharing. And when the living space is as claustrophobic—or as “cozy,” to use Grace’s euphemism—as 903X, the process is only accelerated.
This means that our inseparability was guaranteed during those giddy periods between putting on pajamas and passing out from the exhaustion that came after days of snickering through information sessions, devouring GUGS burgers, and yukking it up during capture the flag. On the first night I, so used to my standard goodnight routine from home, accidentally said “love you” as we settled into bed. On the second night, we discovered that we both grew up on show tunes, arguably the bedrock of our roommate relationship and a harbinger of what was in store for our long-suffering neighbors.
That first year, we went nearly everywhere together, inspiring good-natured incredulity (and probably pity) in our acquaintances. We coordinated late-night laundry runs and Leo’s dinners. We worked our way through D.C.’s hottest study spots and crossed the city in search of new restaurants. We climbed Old Rag Mountain at 3 a.m. and survived a metro fire on our way to the Strathmore. For a fabled couple of months, we attended Zumba classes together.
But it is our time in the room that I remember best. It was side-by-side at our cramped desks that we ignored our homework for hours, instead electing to watch our favorite SNL clip for the hundredth time, howling on cue. Perched in precarious positions on those decrepit chairs, we asked each other probing questions: How would you characterize your childhood? Have you ever been in love? What is your greatest fear?
After crafting a complicated structure on which we could prop a laptop so that it was visible from both sides of the room, it was from our separate beds that we metaphorically wept our way through our transformative first viewings of Lemonade and When Harry Met Sally… And it was across the small strip of uncovered floor that we first performed our pseudo-waltz to “Shall We Dance?,” bounding from the door to our desks until the mortified ghosts of Rodgers and Hammerstein bade us to stop.
In that room, we swapped accounts of our workloads and deconstructed an unbroken string of current events, mutual friends, and emotional crises (mostly hers). We perfected intricate, ridiculous bits that no one outside of ourselves would find remotely amusing, adding to our joint mythology with every well-timed quip. But by the end of the year, I was happy to leave that room behind. I needed more shelf space and a bigger desk; any clutter—not to mention extra bodies—seemed to thicken the air.
Grace and I talk about everything, but perhaps our favorite topic is the nature of relationships, especially our own. Secure in the knowledge that we are going to room together all four years of college—a decision reached within the first week of knowing each other—we sometimes wonder aloud if we would have clicked so naturally in any other context. It’s likely that her unguarded extroversion and my bad habit of aloofness would have spelled doom for our friendship, or at least one as profound as we are used to now. Close quarters helped our close bond thrive.
Our sophomore year room—Reynolds 611—feels like it’s double the size of 903X. “It’s not homey,” Grace said, long after we had rearranged our desks so that they were side-by-side, and I discovered how tempting it is to leave a bed unmade when it doesn’t take up 50 percent of your living space. I got defensive of the room; I liked how we could invite friends over and eat takeout on the floor without worrying about grease stains on my comforter.
But there’s some truth in her statement, though I don’t think it’s the room’s fault. We’ve still spent hours lip syncing Barbra Streisand and debating the finer points of Cate Blanchett performances, but other friends and activities have kept us busy and out of the room, despite the added square footage for our The King and I reenactment. The bulk of my most memorable experiences from this year are still with Grace, but even they have migrated outside our four common walls.
Our worlds expanded, just as our shared living space did.
We won’t be living together again for a while. This summer, I’ll be in D.C. while Grace lives in Baltimore; in the fall, I’ll be in Stockholm while Grace is in Mexico City. When we return to campus after studying abroad, we will hopefully be sharing an apartment with two of our close friends who also have an affinity for show tunes.
There is a good chance we will never have a space just for the two of us ever again. We mention this fact wistfully every so often; already, we are nostalgic for that bygone era of new experiences and wide-eyed wonder. Leaving what has become familiar is intimidating, but we need to inch our way into full-blown adulthood at some point, however reluctantly. We will grow and learn and meet new people and live wholly apart from our shared reference points and inside jokes. When we reunite, we will want to recount every part of our experience so the other will really understand—an impossible task. But I’m not worried. Wherever we are, Grace and I will always be able to return to the way we were in that tiny room from freshman year, so long as there is enough room for us to dance.
Amy is a sophomore in the College.
Image Credits: Emma Francois