I’d left high school after three years, through a program
early entrance to college. At 16, too
cool for the dorms, I moved into an apartment building, close to campus, filled
with students. At the end of the hall
lived Camille, in an efficiency apartment.
My roommate and I were in a one-bedroom next door, and the three of us
shared the bathroom in the hall, just opposite our apartment doors. Clearly,
the building used to be configured
so our two tiny apartments were actually space for a decent sized
Unfazed by the space, I was convinced of my superiority living maturely
in pure freedom, compared to those living in dorms.
Next door was Camille, living alone with her cat and lots of
candles. Her room was dark, but warm and smelled like sweet incense. There were
two closets – one for clothes and
one for a kitchenette, which meant a mini-fridge with a burner on top, next to
a sink with cabinets above and below. The cozy compact efficiency impressed me
as perfectly private and beyond cute.
I shared my space with an acquaintance I’d known slightly
summer camp. As we both navigated being college students, I grew anxious around
her, convinced that she was prettier and more at ease than I. On the other
hand, I was in awe of Camille, who was an art student and also a waitress. She
wasn’t gorgeous but she thought highly of herself and that was pleasantly
obvious. That positivity and self-confidence
helped those of us hanging around Camille feel her beauty, as well as our own.
Though at first, I was jealous of Camille—the apartment,
cat, her job, and her boyfriends—soon her energy boosted my morale from envy to
respect. She was always busy with friends, work, or an art project like
watercolors, crocheting, or clay, in a focused yet non-obsessed way.
A month or two later, when put to the test to see if I could be
that kind of clear confident young woman, I failed. One of my parents’
young friends gave me his
brother’s phone number saying, “Since both of you are new to the University,
you should go out.” We contacted each
other, met up, went out to eat, and then came back to my apartment. My roommate
was home, so we all sat in her
room listening to music, smoking, and drinking.
I got up to go to the bathroom or get something to drink and when I
returned, they were kissing. I felt
sick, beyond uncomfortable, and so awkward. I stood there immobile, noting the
time, 2 a.m.
“Come on, hang out with us,” his flirtatious eyes and
smile leered from her to me.
I couldn’t move, so I tried a joke,
“What is this, two-sided affection?”
He answered laughing, “Ah ha, good for my ego.”
A few days later, the guy moves into her room! No apologies, no
negativity directed at me but somehow, I’m forced to be distressed. I
had no idea did they feel I interfered or
did I intrude? I got no feedback. I didn’t know if my roommate hated me or
We’d been having an okay time one evening, when I assumed
heard them talking about me after I left the room. It all seemed to be quite
hostile. I was sure they were saying,
“She’d just like to stay until she can lie in bed with
“What?” I said aloud.
“Are you talking to us?” They called out.
“Yeah,” I was choking, “What’d you say?”
“Nothing,” he said, “just telling a story.”
“Yeah, I know what you’re telling,” I mumbled,
but by then
they’d raised the volume on the stereo.
My presence seemed to only make matters worse. Possibly I’d assumed, but probably that conversation
was about me. With expectations spiraling downward, I couldn’t resist thinking
that uptight me was causing others to feel obligated.
As sophisticated and independent as I tried to be, the apartment
soon became totally uncool. My roommate insisted that everything was fine; we
didn’t ever have to discuss, or get into anything heavy, she appeared to
profess. I realized that I’d never be like her, I didn’t want to repress my
feelings, or pretend to be someone I’m not. It took me decades to be able to assert
myself, but my choice of role models became crystal clear to me.
Before moving out, I got some advice from Camille, who summed up
“To many, sex is a game. That woman’s game is to play
and try to
catch. For some guys, the fun is in the
“Yeah, it’s disgusting but succeed or not, you can’t
it feels shitty, just don’t play the game.”
I gave her a puzzled look, and she continued.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure about this. You gotta
know, soon you’ll
find a good soul. You’ll have true friends who match your nature.”
Camille’s words gave me the
boost to move on and gather true friendships. The following years were filled
with positive social action, pivotal to my leftist identity, and a steadfast
sense of community. I no longer remember the names of the bitchy roommate and
her asshole boyfriend. Looking back at my first apartment, I laugh and give
Camille an enduring embrace.