Residence — Chapter 2

IMG_0760I’m trying something out of the ordinary. I went out for lunch and brought my computer, so we’ll see how that works. The atmosphere is totally different and I can expect interruptions, which are not as much of a problem when I’m writing at home. This is a fairly new, chain restaurant in town. I’ve been to one in a near-by city and its chef is better. But, it still has a good menu.

When I was driving to university for the first time I entered a type of calm peacefulness. Everything that was important to me, possessions that is, was in the car with me. It is a strange experience to have all of your worldly belongings with you. A simple car accident could have destroyed everything that I held dear to my heart. On the other hand, I felt mobile and self-contained. I was meeting all of my own needs and everything that I wanted was with me.

The drive felt endless, I was soon past the neighbouring city, which was about an hour away and I was onto a major highway that I had seldom driven on. Unlike my hometown, the university town was not right next to the highway. I drove for a very long time down the road into town. I kept expecting signs that would tell me where to go and there were none. I know that they have signs up all over the place each fall when the students come now, so I’m not sure why there were no signs then. Perhaps the signs go up later. That was the first day that the residence was open and maybe the signs did not go up until closer to the first day of school, which was frosh week away at this point.

I had to stop and ask for directions at a gas station. I was humbled to find out that the university was on “College” street. Go figure. My residence was at the back of campus and I arrived to a flurry of activity. Students were volunteering to help all of the residence occupants move in. There were boxes and possessions all over the place. There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers helping the students carry their possessions up to their rooms.

This particular part of this residence was only three floors high so there was no elevator. I was on the third floor, room 311. Elevens play an important roll in my life and occur at a frequency that greatly exceeds random chance. Seeing an eleven usually gives me a feeling like I am in the right place at the right time, or perhaps that I am being taken care of.

What I soon discovered was that the students that were hired to help the new residents get to their rooms were told that the most important people there were the parents. They had been strictly guided to not get side tracked by all of the new students. I guess it is to be expected. The parents are the ones that are paying the bills and the ones that are most likely to complain if they feel that they are not being treated well. Unfortunately for me, I had no adults with me. I was essentially invisible to these attendants.

I had a large hope chest that my most recent, long term, boyfriend had made for me one Christmas. When I was packing up my things it seemed like the perfect thing to pack with my possessions. Not only could I use it as an end table when I moved into my residence room, but I could store things in it. It had never occurred to me that I might have to carry it, by myself, up three floors to my room.

I was about to get a lesson in assertiveness. I stopped one fella and asked him if he could give me a hand. He took one look at my chest (hope chest that is) and declined. He said something about coming back later. I looked around knowing full well that I would not be able to get this trunk up the stairs without some help. There did not seem to be anyone in charge.

I went into the residence and asked the guy at the front desk how things were organized. He said that I should just grab someone to help me. I tried again and I was unable to convince any of the students to help me with my things.

I finally went up to one of the fathers, that was being assisted by a young guy and I said, “Can I borrow this guy? I’m here by myself and it has become clear that these students were told to only help out the parents.” The student looked horrified. I did not have to carry any of my stuff up to my room.

Residence was the ultimate culture shock for me. For as long as I could remember, I had basically been alone. As a preschooler, I watched t.v. and played in the back yard alone. As a preteen I came home and made my own lunch and got myself off to school in the morning, alone. When it was just me and my mom, she was seldom there and in the final bit of high school, I was either at work, at school or asleep which is essentially being alone even though I was usually surrounded by people while awake.

In residence I had a roommate. This was not optional for first year students. They guaranteed a residence room for all first year students, as long as you were in a double. I don’t believe being in a single room was an option, but I could be wrong. When my daughters went to university, they alternatively wanted and did not want roommates but the rules were different at each university and they did not have to have a roommate.

So I went from having no one around to having someone in my bedroom. There was no place that I could go and ensure that I would be totally alone or even have some modicum of privacy. I am embarrassed to admit that I used to take a shelf out of the closet and put it across the sink in one of the washrooms so that I could do homework in relative quiet and privacy.

My roommate was too immature to be in university. She was an American. Her explanation for being there when she was clearly too immature to be on her own was that her father was about to retire. The company that he worked for would pay for his children’s education as long as he was employed, but not after he retired, so she had to go to university before she was ready. She told me stories of private schools, attended with movie stars’ children, and living on campus miles from her parents.

She had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and was not managing well. During her year with me she more than doubled in size. She was not liked by the other girls in our residence and chose not to be in the common areas of our suite.

On a particularly bad evening, when her blood sugar was out of control, she was seen buying rounds and rounds of beer for one of the university sports teams. There was a bar in the bottom of one of the men’s residences that took meal cards. Meal cards were the currency of the on-campus restaurants and dining halls. The idea was that at the beginning of each semester you had to estimate how much you would be eating and buy the appropriate amount from the meal plan. These cards were then to be used for food, except at this bar where they could be used to buy beer.

I was lucky that the residence room I was in was part of an apartment style residence. I did not have to buy a meal plan. Everyone that was living in traditional residence had no choice but to buy a meal plan and eat at the dining halls. Eating meal plan food on the university’s schedule probably would have been the death of me. We had kitchens and I was able to cook for myself.

On this particularly unfortunate winter evening there was about an inch of snow on the ground and it was quite cold out. I got a call in the middle of the night. My roommate had “sobered” up in the middle of a gang bang and had ran out of the room without her coat, her shoes or her purse. The fellas were able to locate her because she had left all of her identification and her room keys when she fled. The fella on the other end of the line asked me to go down to the front of the residence and open the door for her so that she wouldn’t be stuck outside all night in the cold with no shoes.

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