One of my many roommates from over the years, Nat, recently asked me, “How old do you feel in your head?”
It didn’t take long for me to answer, “Seventeen.” Pretty easy really.
I was still skateboarding. I was listening to hardcore and I was angry at all the things wrong in the world. A lot. I don’t know if that was the dawning of my real awareness of politics, or the onset of those fun teenaged hormones. I always had a bee in my bonnet when I felt people weren’t treated right. Just drove me mad. So, add the teen stuff and I imagine I may have been a little hard to stomach at times. Okay, maybe most of the time.
At 17, I was roommates with Timika. Let me tell you a little about Timika. She is smarter than all get out. Handily winning a four-year ride to UNC and a year at Oxford University scholarship, she was often annoyingly brilliant. Oh, and she was a great athlete as well. And, naturally, a beauty to really round things out.
I was slated to room with another girl at the beginning of my junior year. She pooped out on me, bigtime. I am not quite sure what transpired over the summer, but come that first day back at Culver, my counselor wanted a word with me.
“Leigh, the girl you were going to room with is not going to live in this dorm,” said my counselor. “I need to talk to you about your new roommate who will arrive tomorrow with the other new students.”
Gah! Oh man. I was sweating. When you roll the dice with roommates it can get pretty scary. Was she some spoiled brat who came equipped with bodygaurds? Did she have some horrible disfigurement that I was supposed to not mention? Was it a genetic problem with flatulence and I would just have to bear with it?
With that attitude in mind, I tenderly knocked on the counselor’s door and entered. She shuffled things around on her desk. She asked me about my summer. The small talk was killing me.
“So, just what’s wrong with my new roommate, anyway?” I asked.
“Well nothing, really. I just need you to know she’s black.”
Bwahahaha I burst out laughing. Oh for the love of PETE. Did she really just hem and haw around that? Relief flooded her face and she started laughing, too.
Poor Timika didn’t get a discussion about HER new roommate. “She’s awkward and angry and listens to music you never would,” I can imagine my counselor explaining to her. “Please try to be kind to her as she struggles through this phase in her life.”
We never did end up never seeing eye to eye on the music thing. In a time before ipods, this was kind of a big deal. So, I got an education on urban contemporary music of the ’80s. And, Timika almost developed an appreciation for Minor Threat. Almost.
She would just roll her eyes at some of my music and many of my outfits. In my 40s now, I find myself rolling my eyes at the teen Leigh as well.
Anyway, I was 17, it was the middle of the year. Our room was right near the smoking area, or butt room. There was plenty of smoking at Culver at that point in history. Spend a winter in an isolated part of Indiana on a lake and the things to do get narrowed pretty quickly. Smoking was a way for a loooooot of my classmates to pass the time. There were always a lot of people out there chatting to stave off boredom and get a nic fix.
Timika and I were in our room studying. We did that a lot. Both she and I were “academia macademias” as my friend Madeline once said.
Wafts of conversation and eau de Marlboro rolled into our room. Study, study, study. I was on the bottom bunk, Timika on the top one.
Study, study, study. You couldn’t really make out the words of the conversations very well. Then.
The bed shook. Timika bolted into a sitting position shaking the bed. Then thump. She jumped down. Our door flew open and slammed into the wall.
Oh lord. I can’t remember the exact tirade that ensued. I could not stop laughing. The dressing down that girl got! I think Timika made her cry. Boohoo.
Luckily, for Timika’s sake, she only had two years of rooming with the perpetually 17-year-old me. Two years with the real teen Leigh was martyrdom enough.
It continues to surprise my 17-year-old self inside the 40-something body that other people make issues of stupid things like race or sexual orientation.
What happened to that Minor Threat t-shirt anyway?