This is an installment of the Daughter of the Patriarchy series that I have been slowly putting together over the past couple of years. Read the rest of it on No Longer Quivering.
A month after my acceptance, I was moving onto campus for my first autumn semester at Rowling College.* Most of my community college credits had transferred, leaving me a semester ahead of that year’s incoming freshmen. The same summer, my mother and I had finally filled out the paperwork to get me a diploma from a Pennsylvania homeschooling agency. I was deeply self-conscious about the 2005 stamp on my diploma; it was an emblem of what I perceived as failure, as my other homeschooled friends liked to boast about graduating early, and I was a year late. I also desperately wanted to be part of a group of people my age, for once, so I aligned myself with the previous year’s incoming class and corrected anyone who tried to fit me into the later one. I had started college when they had, I reasoned, only I’d started out in community college instead of coming right in.
I was anxious about my roommate situation and listened raptly to many warnings about setting boundaries early. I learned that the girl I would room with was named Molly, a year ahead of me, and a straight-A student. I’d requested an all-girls dorm with air conditioning; in retrospect, both excellent decisions. I was in no way prepared to share a dorm with men, even if they did live on opposite floors. Knowing that Rowling was a posh college – and quickly unloading my stuff so we could hide our shabby car from the ranks of brand new BMWs and glaringly clean Lincoln SUVs – I became terrified that Molly would be all the things I was raised to believe about “worldly” girls: shallow, selfish, boy-obsessed, condescending and wasteful.
By sheer chance and maybe just a little overeagerness, I moved in first, and got to pick my side of the room. It was profoundly ugly: a basement room with cinderblock walls painted white and a tacky drop ceiling. Closets were built into the wall with mirrors glued above them. A long wooden shelf reached over the bed. I had to stand on it to get to anything up there.
I pushed the ugly metal bed frame against the wall and spread out my earth-toned comforter set on it. I installed my computer, a custom system I’d built myself for gaming after a year of saving up for parts, in the space behind my bed with my desk. Finally, I arranged my assortment of geekery: a 4×5 Lord of the Rings poster, a crown of flowers I’d bought at a Renaissance faire, several stuffed animals, a leather fan with a filigree design burned into it, and – my pride and joy – a replica crossbow. I’d wanted to bring my sword, but figured it would be against the rules. Then I sat down and waited for Molly.
I had come prepared to defend my “geek” identity and forestall the awkward questions about my religion from a girl who would probably despise not just my wardrobe, but also my gaming and my stuffed pikachu.
I needn’t have worried. Molly was amazing.
She arrived with a bag of stuffed animals so packed that it practically exploded when she set it down. She brought a TV and asked me brightly if I’d ever watched Supernatural. I shook my head, but told her I’d like to see it if she liked it. I offered to help her bring in her stuff, but her friends had already brought all of it in. She set up a fuzzy blue chair and began organizing her anime DVDs. I sat quietly and admired her bellbottom jeans. I wanted a pair of jeans so badly in that moment, a crack appeared in my commitment to skirts that would prove impossible to ignore. Her hair was the color of flax and even longer than mine. She kept it in a perpetual ponytail that comforted me; I knew that she wouldn’t blink at my long hair. One hurdle passed!
Molly unpacked a set of corsets and skirts. I couldn’t help grinning when I saw them, and resolved to show her my own Renaissance faire dress. Meanwhile, we made small talk. I learned that she played Dungeons and Dragons, and asked her to tell me all about it. I was pretty sure the idea that kids who played it actually summoned and worshiped Satan, so I leaped at the chance to learn what really went on. Her description left me even more confused, but I latched on to “roleplaying” and figured it was something like what I did in my MMORPG. Not so scary then, right?
By midnight, we were friends. Molly offhandedly mentioned Final Fantasy, a game series I’d heard of but never played. Was I interested? she asked. She could explain them to me. “Yes!” I said, all curiosity. So, with a warning that she could be notoriously longwinded and that I should stop her if I got bored, she launched into the plot of the first Final Fantasy game. I never stopped her, so she made it through all ten. I have only played a little of one of the games, but I remember the story as she told it even now.
We filled out our “room rules” sheet dropped off by the RA. Most of it was obvious. “Using each other’s stuff,” I read from one column. “Uhh… ask first?” she responded. I wrote it in the box. Then we got to the question that I had most dreaded after sordid tales of college immorality: boys.
“No boys overnight?” I offered, fearful of an argument.
“No boys overnight,” she said.
It was that easy. I knew that I was going to be safe here.**
I wound up my hair for the night in rubber curlers, the way all the Message girls did in my fundamentalist church. It was all you could do with uncut ends. Molly watched me for a moment, laughed, and said, “Better you than me.” I grinned. Not only was I safe here, I was normal here. Curling my hair was just a silly quirk to my roommate, not evidence of my religion. She can’t tell! I thought with glee. I pass!
Then, the alarm sounded. 7:15am. My first college class. The History of Art from Rome to the Renaissance. Here I come, I thought. I put on the geekiest outfit I could find: a ruffled tartan skirt. As Molly slept, I opened the big metal door and slipped out as quietly as I could.
*Not its real name. Yes, it’s a Harry Potter reference.
**Don’t take this the wrong way, guys! I was a skittish little virgin afraid of walking in on roommate sex, that’s all.