too close for comfort

the 5(+1) people we met in our freshmen dorms

1) The Alarm Clock

Every day exactly at 8:01 p.m., the boy would pass the common room lounge as he went to see his girlfriend. It became so routine that we would refer to him as the “Alarm Clock.” In fact, I no longer needed to check my cell phone for the time. Every Tuesday, as I finished my calculus homework, at 8:01 p.m. on the dot, I would hear footsteps passing the lounge and a familiar, slightly nasally voice calling out the name of his girlfriend who lived at the end of the hallway. “The Alarm Clock has arrived,” my friend would say. It was a clock that never stopped ticking, unfortunately. He always took my seat in the lounge and left his banana peels on the table. Oh, I’m not bitter. Three years later, I saw him and the very same girlfriend at Jo’s on a Friday night. Instinctively, I checked the time. It was 8:02 p.m.— I guess some things do change.

2) The Lounge Dweller

One day at 4 a.m., in my sleep-deprived state, I realized I had left a book in the lounge. Half-squinting as I entered the common room, I saw a large pile of blankets underneath the table. “Strange,” I thought to myself. As I reached for my chemistry textbook, I felt a breeze near my feet. Something in the blankets was stirring. “Mice,” I thought to myself and screamed as I jumped back from the table. To my surprise, it was not a mouse, but rather, two very red human eyes that stared out at me. The girl under the desk shook her head and receded beneath the covers, but not before I caught a glimpse of Sesame Street porn on her laptop. When I woke up the next morning, I thought I had dreamed it, but alas, no one could dream up what I saw on Sesame Street.

3) The Orange Virgin

I met a boy from upstate New York during my third night at Brown. He came from one of those families you read about in fairy tales, where four generations live close together in the woods in houses with rhubarb patches. In high school, he dated a girl from a dairy farm. For him, coming to Brown meant being exposed to a particularly wide set of new experiences. His first Ratty orange was also his first real-life orange—all the fruit he’d eaten growing up came in slices in plastic pouches or off of upstate New York’s famed apple trees. I taught him to peel that first orange, gave him his first mooncake, poured him his first alcoholic beverage.

That last experience took a little too well. A month later, he crashed his bike into the Van Wickle gates and woke up to find his first-readings copy of Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World torn in two equal halves, right down the spine. Two months later, he had to be pulled out of the EmWool hallway ceiling on a Friday night. Three months later, he was found in a corner of a party playing with stripped electrical wires and owl-patterned earmuffs. We spent most of the rest of that year either fighting or not speaking as he went to CAPS sessions and rebuilt his life. Now, he saves his drinking for Thursday nights with his varsity sports team (where he is known for being a sensibly moderate drinker and respecting people’s personal space) and spends his Friday nights reading post- with yours truly.

4) The (Business)man with a Plan

One of the first friends I made at Brown received an email introduction from his freshman year roommate in mid-August. He read me snippets of the three-page treatise one night during orientation—his roommate had spared no details, whether about his home (Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, a real concrete jungle!) or his approach to learning (to take courses only in BEO so as to avoid being a jack of all trades and master of none).

A few days later, I met the roommate in the flesh—to avoid seeming like a creepy stalker, I asked him the usual introductory questions. He enthusiastically told me about Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, a real concrete jungle; about BEO, and his resolve to take courses only in BEO to avoid becoming a jack of all trades and master of none. I also learned that he was fond of Coca-Cola and Donald Trump. As the year went on, I saw less and less of him, and when we bumped into each other for the first time in over a year during sophomore spring, I discovered that he had become a frequent cyclist at the Nelson, and now studies Econ among other things. He seemed mellow. I speculated about whether he had shed his penchant for soft drinks and conservative politics, and still wonder who he hangs out with now, and if they see any trace of his freshman self.

5) The Harping Anglophile

Picture the scene. A wardrobe entirely composed of bonnets and princess gloves. A “miniature” wooden model of a tea clipper in the corner that, in truth, takes up about half of a tiny dorm room. Tea strewn under the bed. An accent that would drive Henry Higgins crazy.

And, as if speaking fluent Latin and writing three peer-reviewed treatises on Chaucer by age 18 wasn’t enough, imposter syndrome had her learning her fourth instrument in the early hours of the morning. The only thing more annoying than hearing scales at five in the morning is hearing slightly-off scales at that hour, especially after a late night at the Herald. Often, I attempted to deduce which of the 50 states she could be from while waiting for the noise to stop and made mental notes to watch some British comedy on YouTube with her to try to break the ice.

+1) The Roommate You Forgot Existed

I saw her on the first day, with her Brown lanyard and dazed expression. The only evidence of her presence after that was the half-eaten food and mismatched socks that so often dotted our living space. She only ever wanted to get meals at weird hours and constantly told me how little time she had. Once in a blue moon, while on my way to the bathroom at 4 a.m., I would see her furiously working in the lounge and eating a cookie pizza.