The untold stories of living in a first-year dorm

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

When I was younger, I dreamed of living in an apartment. I would imagine myself walking through a revolving door into a giant brick building with a forest green awning.

I would ride in the elevator up to my condo on the fourteenth floor, where a fluffy gray cat would brush against my legs and purr with delight. I tried to picture how I would decorate. 

Would I have a sleek, modern apartment? That kind of futuristic style where everything is so white and harsh that one questions if anyone has ever lived there? 

Or maybe my apartment would be quaint, with bookshelf-lined walls overflowing with dog-eared novels and notes in their margins? 

More than anything else, though, I was excited to have my own space. I could fill it with whatever I wanted: blue and white porcelain plates, Halloween decorations, plants, pinball machines, lies, truth or love. 

I could paint the walls a new color every day, and only I would know what colors were beneath the surface. 

My imaginary apartment was freedom, knowledge and power. 

So when I arrived in my first-year dorm, needless to say I was slightly disappointed when there were no bookshelves or cats or revolving doors. 

The room was empty except for the furniture issued by the university, the air conditioning unit and two Command hooks stuck to the wall from the last tenant. 

The walls were beige, the floor was a gray-blue carpet and the door had a fire evacuation plan taped on it. 

It reminded me more of an office or classroom than any home I had ever lived in. I climbed on the desk and hung a plant from one of the Command hooks. From my window, I could see lines of students trailing in with duffle bags and cardboard boxes, all of them taking in their surroundings, just as

I had minutes earlier. These were the people I would live with for the next year. 

That night we had a floor meeting, where we discussed quiet hours (ten to ten) and the prohibition of electric scooters in rooms (they are a fire hazard), as well as any concerns we had moving forward into the year. 

My concerns were more personal, (“what happens if you come back and need to cry, but your roommate is in the room?”), so I kept them to myself. 

Some asked about room checks, others asked about the Wi-Fi password. Although I had no questions, it seemed odd to me that the trials and tribulations of living alone could be summarized in fifteen minutes. Was it really going to be as simple as that?

Turns out, in a lot of ways, it is as simple as that. I did not stop waking up in the morning or brushing my teeth. For the most part, living alone is pretty similar to living with my family. I just have different schedules and routines that do not revolve around the people I live with. 

What I do every day is pretty much up to me.

I can eat cereal for dinner and sleep until noon, or I can eat my veggies and do pilates. I quickly learned that power is freedom, but that freedom is a daunting realm when all I had ever known was codependency. 

However, as the months went on, my world became exponentially smaller. My list of goals went from “make a lifelong friend” to “wash sheets.” 

My mindset changed from “make lifelong memories” just to “live.” So, like everyone who has to make the transition to living alone, I learned a lot.

I learned that it is best to have DayQuil on hand so I do not have to go to CVS while sick. 

I learned that putting too much detergent in the laundry does not make the washer explode, but it will make the clothes in it a bit too soapy. I learned to keep an umbrella in my bag if there is rain in the forecast, and that rain is a lot less glamorous when

I have to walk to class in it. 

I learned that string lights make any room more pleasant, and that the gray-blue carpet is a lot nicer with friends sitting on it. 

Although my dorm is nothing like the beautiful apartments I imagined growing up, the stories told in it are more breathtaking and wonderful than any green awnings or revolving doors. 

From the abandoned Command hooks to the carving in my desk, there are narratives contained in these four walls that I will never know. The ghosts of lessons others have learned as arbiters of their own power, freedom and the knowledge they left with. 

Each chip in the wall and notch in the bed frame is a dog-eared novel that I will never read, but knowing that they existed is enough to calm my fears, which I will scribble in the margins of my own story.