You can feel that you’re frowning; somehow when you answered the question, What kind of music do you like? With, Oh pretty much everything, You forgot that some people consider Christian rock to be music. You’re sitting in your tiny dorm room, facing your newly introduced roommate, a large redhead, Alex, or some other unisex name; you’ve already deemed her Assface in your mind. Jesus Christ, what are the chances? Why in the world did you opt for the drug-free, co-ed dorm? You’ll have to demand a single room if you’re going to last in this place. You’ve got your tiny fridge, computer monitor and desk arranged so that you can sort of hide in one corner, but that doesn’t do much for the sound. As a subtle passive-aggressive move, you decide to pump your hip-hop up at every opportunity; maybe she’ll leave you. She keeps on, like she can’t read the disgust on your face, My brother and I hold Indiana State records for shot put; we’re both here on track scholarships—he’s in Mason, too, just down the hall. Gross. It’s not difficult for you to imagine her brother—how much different could he look? Her ass is enormous; this whole deal is an absolute train wreck. You get up and walk to the door, I’ll be back…maybe. Why do you already feel obligated to explain yourself to this weird person? This is a fabricated relationship, and it’s not going to last.
You drive one direction until you reach a quarry and park your Chevy. You get out and look down; this is strange—kind of scary. The pool at the bottom seems like an artificial blue/green. People have probably died here. You lean against the car and watch vultures and crows circle about. It’s hot out, obviously, and the Chevy’s air-conditioning isn’t working this week, so you drive with windows down—as far around the quarry as you can go, and then follow a gravel road to a covered bridge, and then another one. You’re sort of lost, but you’re not at all worried: you haven’t gone more than a few miles from campus, maybe 5 or 6. You’ll have to run out here to know for sure. Maybe early tomorrow morning.
When you swipe your ID, the heavy doors unlock for a moment making a loud clicking sound. Mason Hall smells like wet cardboard and you can tell that it’s going to smell like this every time you enter. You take the stairs two-at-a-time to the third floor. There’s an elevator, but you can’t imagine why anyone waits for it: it’s got to be like the first elevator ever made. You can jump the stairs in less time than it takes that thing to open its doors. At the top of the stairwell you nearly slam right into a boy wearing a Hawaiian shirt and carrying a window air conditioning unit on his shoulder. He says nothing as you step back. Ohmygod, totally sorry. He still says nothing, but goddamn if that isn’t the cutest smile you’ve ever seen. Ever. Is this love at first sight?! What in the world is he trying to do with that smile? It’s more of a weapon. You can’t help but smile back, but this is confusing; maybe he’s an international student? Doesn’t speak English? He doesn’t look foreign. Maybe Greek? Italian? What in the world is this Greek/Italian God doing in Indiana?
Dear Dorian Chager,
I’m writing in regards to my living situation; it’s not going to work. I’m very unhappy with my roommate and I’m seriously considering leaving school because of it. I cannot imagine living another day in this current situation. I was told that I’d have a single room, and that was one of the sole reasons that I chose this university. I don’t want another roommate, not even a male. Please get back to me as soon as possible with a remedy for this situation.
Thanks very much
You actually can’t imagine living another day with Assface. You can imagine living with Greek/Italian God, but really, you just want your own room. Why would absolute strangers ever be able to live in a closet together? College is already so weird. You send the e-mail and stay up until you can’t keep your eyes open any longer, IMing friends and listening to the most un-Christian music you can find, with headphones on.
Thanks for contacting me. I’m sorry that you’re unsatisfied with your room assignment. I’m happy to work with you in order to fix the situation. I have an open single room on the second floor of Mason Hall, or one across campus in Hogate, which has two floors of men and two floors of women. Which would you prefer?
That was much easier than you thought it would be. You e-mail Dorian back and let him know that you’ll move downstairs as soon as possible. You’re already packed. What will you tell Assface? Does it matter? It’s nearly 7am and already buzzing with heat. You take a piss, wash your face, put a stick of gum in your mouth and bolt down the stairs. Start your watch. Two or three miles in, you notice a target-practice paper in the grass, with bullet holes; most of them square in the paper person’s chest. This is probably far enough for today. You’re uncomfortably sweaty when the doors click open. As you’re having the thought that this would be a horrible time to run into Greek/Italian God, it happens. Still that grin; you give a “what’s up?” nod and crack a smile yourself.
Grab a box of cereal and a few other things at the under-stocked store in the union; it’s on the way to the residence life office and you don’t feel like eating with anyone. You’ll eat alone, in your single room, naked, if you feel like it. Dorian’s office door is plastered in “BMOC” posters. Big man on campus? You ask, staring at a neon pink poster, Is this a real thing? Dorian motions you in, but now you realize that he’s on his office phone. Hey, c’mon in. Have a seat. You sit in one of three office chairs. This office was probably unpacked and put together less than a week ago. Dorian has probably been on vacation with his family right up until the last second of summer. You look back at the BMOC posters again and it crosses your mind that Dorian is gay. Sorry about that, Dorian hangs up his phone, You all set up on two now? Everything look okay?
Nod, slide the key to 305 back to him, take the key for 214.
So, seriously, big man on campus? Is this 1973?
Dorian looks at his door, No actually it’s pretty popular—it’s really only stayed alive because of the guys.
Definitely gay! This is great! You feel like you actually know Dorian now—like when you see a professor’s Facebook page for the first time, and find out that they used to have long hair and hang out with a guy who drove a motorcycle.
I guess it is kind of dated, but the students make the rules—they still have a summer-wear component and a formal wear component.
Your eyebrows go up, What?! Summer wear…as in, swimsuits? You actually can’t believe this.
Well, but it is for the ZTA charity. This means nothing to you. Dorian might as well have said, Well, but it is for puppy cancer research. Just another reason to be confused by this place.
It’s tonight—the juniors vote at the end of the spring semester and then, as incoming seniors they have the competition. That way the BMOC gets to flaunt it all year.
Now your eyes have narrowed; did he actually say BMOC?
This place is kind of a bubble: we have to entertain ourselves.
You think about the paper, shot up in the field. Nod again and take off with your groceries.
Campus is beginning to get crowded: vans and pick-ups have filled the lots and people are starting to park on the street and in the turn-around. You wish you hadn’t opted to arrive early, but then you think you might have been stuck with Assface if you hadn’t. You slip between parents carrying clothes and cheap furniture and leap up three flights of stairs, then remember, second floor, and jump back down one flight. Now you’re kind of hoping you see Greek/Italian God again, since you’re showered and rather bored. No luck. Open the door to your tiny room and leave it just an inch or two open. It’s possible that someone might come looking for you. Isn’t it?
You can’t help but feel like you’re at summer camp with a batch of overgrown children. College is seeming more and more backwards. But it’s a nice night: breezy and warm, just getting dark. Did you skip dinner? Not that you’re keeping meal times. Stroll over to the union in sweatpants and t-shirt—this can’t take long, there probably isn’t anything worth eating over there anyway. Especially not with the way people are pouring into the building. Everyone skipped dinner? Oh. Right. Big Man On Campus. But you’re starving. Poke your head in the door. It’s just what you imagined. Go downstairs, grab a bag of pretzels and a Coke; return to the show. There’s nothing else to do. Lean against the doorway at the back. The room is totally packed, mostly with girls wearing tiny shorts and flip-flops. After a few minutes you think you’ve seen enough, and then, Greek/Italian God catches your eye. Both eyes. A little embarrassingly, you find a seat. The line of men has just filed in: some have already stripped down to swimming trunks and nothing else. Others take turns stripping layers off; one guy goes all the way down to a yellow Speedo. Everyone can see everything. It’s not pretty, but you can feel your pulse. Greek/Italian God is wearing just about the same thing you are; he starts to lift his t-shirt off with his eyes locked on the front row of girls, but then he stops. The whole room stops. He leaves his shirt on and sort of wags his finger at the girls, as if to say, naughty, naughty. They look at each other and giggle a bit, and then clap, like they’re on a golf course. You smirk yourself. You kind of wish he’d just take it off. Who are you? The men file out. Think about leaving—this really is ridiculous—but decide to give it another 10 minutes or so. You’re in the bubble.
The men file back in, all wearing suits and formal wear. Greek/Italian God is in a tux—by far the most dressed-up of them all. Maybe he’s gay; you scan the crowd for Dorian—he must be here somewhere to “oversee” things. An emcee in the corner asks each guy some stupid question, like, “What do you value most about the liberal arts education?” Your mind wanders. If you painted your room some color other than white, how long would it take residence life to notice? Soon it’s Greek/Italian God’s turn. He steps forward and the emcee asks, “What does responsibility mean to you?” Roll your eyes. No one on this campus knows what responsibility is. Greek/Italian God doesn’t say anything but instead adjusts the cuff of his shirt under his jacket. The shirt cuff and sleeve come loose: he’s holding his left sleeve in his right hand. Oh. Yes. This is planned. This is his plan. He does the same with his other sleeve. He looks surprised. The girls have caught on; he gives them a nod, takes off the jacket and the cut-off front of his dress shirt, leaving him bare from the waist up, with just his little white collar and bow-tie on. The place fucking explodes. You can’t believe how full of pride you are. He is a God. He’s your God. You’re part of this moment and it’s the most amazing feeling you’ve ever had. Ever. The crowd quiets enough for him to answer his question. I really have no idea; I’m here to learn. It’s a stupid answer to a stupid question, but the question is a formality at this point. The rest of the guys smile; no one in the room can deny the greatness witnessed—no one in the room can turn away.
The next morning you take a piss, wash your face, stick of gum, as usual. You’re going through the motions: one of those runs that you can’t quite be sure which way you’ll turn next, but you end up passing the paper target again, and edging around the quarry. As you approach the second covered bridge, you feel like you’ve run this gravel hundreds of times; you notice “FUCK FC” awkwardly spray-painted in black at the top of the arc. Somehow you can’t remember seeing this before, but it doesn’t look new—not at all. It’s probably several years old. You feel a little sick—a little angry, and you pick up your pace; you push yourself to a sprint.
Micah Ling teaches in the English Department at Franklin College and in the MFA program at Butler University. Her third collection of poetry, Settlement, was recently released from Sunnyoutside Press (Buffalo, NY).