At 17, I packed up my life and moved it 1,000 miles south, to the fabled city of New Orleans. After spending my entire youth in a small, sheltered town on the North Carolina coast, I was ready to escape, and in doing so put as many miles in between myself and my hometown as possible.
The decision to move to the Crescent City was, like many things a 17 year old girl is wont to do, based almost entirely on romance. That year, my (now) alma mater, Tulane University, mailed prospective students a poster of all the cool things there were to do in NOLA. One of the photos was of Vietnamese dragon dancers. The red and orange dragon – long a symbol for me – caught my eye immediately.
I began my application package that night, having never visited the city or even really having thought about it before. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even research my soon-to-be home, but the one thing I was hoping for was radical difference. Adventure is always on my mind; I wanted something big and crazy and just a little messy. Boundaries were about to be obliterated, if my heart had its way. Guess I haven’t changed all that much in the last 15 years, huh?
My parents drove down with me and a small selection of belongings; we arrived the night before move-in day at the dorm, so we had to stay at a Comfort Inn in the CBD. That night, my parents went out for a drink and made me not only lock the door with every lock, but also slide a chair underneath the doorknob for added security. Coming from a town of 2,000 people, for them this place was a harshly lit, cacophonous abomination. They hated it from the moment the city lights broke the horizon. I, on the other hand, was in love.
The next morning we drove uptown to Tulane and unloaded my dad’s truck in the quad in front of my dorm, Monroe Hall (I was to become a Mo 6 girl). Up six flights of stairs, turn to the right, down a long, sterile hall, next room to the end on the left. Cinderblock and brick walls, crappy blue carpeting, each side of the room a mirror image of the other with a closet, bed, cubbyholes, and desk. Well, not an exact mirror image. On the right side of the room sat a six year old girl with chocolate skin and the sweetest expression of stage fright. “You’re not my roommate!” I exclaimed, grinning. The little one (Abby, Trin’s younger sister) giggled shyly, then informed me that she was “holding Trinity’s spot.” I knew that the mysterious Trinity was my roommate, but that was all. We were matched up at random by the Tulane housing department, and had only exchanged one letter over the summer. The brief introduction hadn’t been that revealing, and there was no picture in her envelope.
On my second trip down to get bags and boxes out of my dad’s truck, I took the time to scope out the other freshmen moving in. A decent subset of preppy looking dudes in cargo shorts and polo shirts (mental note to steer clear). Girls in expensive sundresses and leather flip flops, letting their dads do the heavy lifting (also not my target demographic for potential new friends). Some skater dudes (OK), a couple of goth kids (maybe), and surprisingly more kids who looked like me – allegiance as of yet undetermined. We were all looking for something, to be something, to feel something. A lot of us just had no clue what that thing was yet. I passed a tiny, strikingly pretty girl with a head full of wild, untamed curls, walking with her imposing, Rastafarian dad. She was wearing a little green tube dress, no bra – of course, she rocked it – and flip flops. She looked so exotic; I couldn’t recall having ever seen a girl who exuded such self-confidence. I thought to myself, “I’m in college now. This is what I’ll find here. This is who I can be.”
By the time my parents and I got back to the room with the next load of stuff, my new roommate and her family were there. At first, I remember just noting that there seemed to be a ton of people in the suddenly way-too-small room. Then I noticed that one of the parents was a hulking, serious-looking man with long dreads. Only then did it hit me that I was going to be rooming with the girl I’d seen downstairs. This was Trinity. I WAS in college. This WAS who I was going to be. We shyly introduced ourselves and got to setting up our respective sides of the room. Our parents made nervous small talk. My small-town folks were intimidated by her bi-racial, granola parents. Her folks were amused at my countrified, provincial guardians. To everyone’s credit, both sets of parents were trying hard to not make snap judgements (something I truly didn’t expect of my parents…I half expected one of them to go marching down to the housing office to demand a white roommate for me.)
Trin and I were both pretty pleased with the arrangement, though. We obviously weren’t the same – she was a gorgeous, confident skater chick and self-styled hippie, while I was definitely more self-conscious, a geeky semi-goth with a bleached-in Padawan braid and sparkly black JNCOs. But underneath it all, there were similarities; without meaning to coordinate, all of our belongings matched. Our bedspreads were the same colors. Our books and trinkets were similar – down to a teddy bear (Bruno) for her, and a stuffed rabbit (Frank) for me. Even our lava lamps matched – red lava in yellow liquid, with mine having a silver base and hers having a gold one.
Over time, we discovered our personalities to be decidedly complementary. Scorpio and Taurus are opposing signs – exact opposites, both fixed signs, but both brave and loyal, with eyes turned in to inspect spirit. I’m quiet and introverted, always the wallflower (except on special occasions when I lose my mind and sing and dance circles around the competition – it’s been known to happen). She’s always loud and fun, the life of the party, and the big sister who keeps everyone marching to the beat of her drum. We can always count on each other for a good time, but the way we color outside the lines is completely different. I’m happy to spend hours in a one-on-one conversation about books, or to go roaming in the graveyard late at night, while she’s more about sneaking into concerts and finagling her way backstage to hang out with the musicians. Day and night, but both our own kinds of magic.
I didn’t know this that first day, of course. In fact, we weren’t truly “friends” for our entire first year as roommates. We respected each other and lived around each other’s schedules, hanging out when it worked out, but otherwise basically following our noses to figure out where we wanted to be in this brand new hierarchy. For me, this meant boys, music, writing for the school paper – slightly more grown up versions of my old life. Heartaches and drama and almost flunking out and trying new things as often as possible. For her it meant architecture school, parties, pining for her boyfriend back home in Newport, and taking her natural position as mistress of mischief and instigator of all the best parties. She was, is, and will always be the “it” girl that people love to love. I’m more of a quiet sidekick who sees all and is seen by few. Only a few remember me after the party, but they remember that I’m funny and kind, and typically genuinely interested in who they are. I’m cool with that.
At the end of that first tumultuous year, we began talking about living situations for the next year. What would happen? I’d lost my scholarship (and my virginity) and I wasn’t really ready to go back to North Carolina to face the music at home, so I stayed. Since 1999, I’ve only been back home for a week or two at a time, max. My home was here now, and I intended to make the most of it. Somehow, it was decided that Trin and I would room together again the next year, and we’d move into a house with a few more girls from our dorm. To save money, we would be the only two once again sharing a room. It seemed like a good deal. I moved both of our things in over to the new house at the beginning of summer. Life as a New Orleanian started for real for me at a house on Calhoun Street, just off of St. Charles Ave.
It’s a whole other story, but sophomore year was the beginning of what I know now will be a lifelong friendship. You can’t pack two queen-sized beds in a small bedroom without drawing a line in the sand – one side means friends forever, and the other side means that one of you is going to end up dead in a swamp somewhere. Luckily, we both kinda gravitated towards the former option. We lived together for another three years after that, then for another two years after Hurricane Katrina. I’ve only ever had one other female roommate (KT, another of my best friends), and I don’t intend to have any more, ever. I lucked out that day in Monroe Hall, snagging a great living situation and a best friend. I’m not going to be dumb enough to expect a repeat performance.