After being accepted to college I was surprised to find myself in a weird sort of limbo between two very different worlds. Like, you know in “Stargate,” when they step into the portal and they’re half on Earth and halfway across the galaxy? Yeah, I saw that scene a ton of times, because I had a lot of free time to watch “Stargate.”
I was repeatedly told (very halfheartedly) that the last half of my senior year mattered. But it seemed more like a way to keep students in line rather than a genuine threat. In reality (and this is exactly the sort of bragging I wanted to spare you by keeping details vague), my SAT score and GPA thus far were so high that I could have slept through half the school year without endangering my acceptance to college.
The hardest part of my senior year, I quickly discovered, was finding places to sleep where people wouldn’t bother me.
As far as preparing for college, there was surprisingly little to do. I had to visit the campus on all of two occasions. The first was for an orientation that was useful for the moment they handed me a campus map and then never again in the next six hours.
The second was for course selection. Though, since the order students chose courses was based on the number of credits they had already, it had more of an air of desperation than I expected. Aides went from terrified student to terrified student asking if you’d like to take classes less and less related to their intended major and find that those, too, were already full. It was like being on a nature documentary of the African food chain and arriving after the lions, hyenas, birds, confused zebras and cameramen had already lost interest in the carcass.
In the end, I chose introductory archaeology, philosophy and astronomy. Philosophy, I and the aide agreed, was at least related to an archaeology major. Astronomy, on the other hand, was the only subject left with class space that I found even remotely interesting. I can’t pretend it was related to my intended major (though the aide tried) since, as a rule, there are very few excavations of the night sky.
As irritating as the long drives and visits were, though, the three months without hearing a word from Penn State were far more unnerving.
It wasn’t until the March prior to leaving for college that I received word again in the form of my roommate assignment. Despite all the horror stories I’d heard, I was eager to find out who I’d be spending the semester with. Any number of sitcoms had filled me with equal parts excitement and dread as I tore open the envelope and discovered…my own contact information.
At the bottom of several paragraphs and bullet points on how to cultivate a relationship with my future roommate was my own address, phone number and e-mail. I turned it over to find the back was blank. I shook the empty envelope. But several cliches later, I was out of ideas.
The rest of the letter outlined common roommate issues. It gave a list of necessary room items and suggested coordinating to avoid doubling up on televisions and window fans. It offered ideas for how to find common interests and mediate disagreements. “Wow,” I thought, admiring its thoroughness. “If they’d actually told me who my roommate was, this would have been really helpful.”
It even included a list of good topics to discuss to build friendships. These included hobbies, favorite shows and the sort. Then again, I found the list of things to not discuss much more amusing. It included politics, controversial topics and, wisely, “talking too much about high school memories.”
I remember being very anxious about not knowing anything about the person I’d be sleeping next to all semester. It could be someone I had nothing in common with. It could be a crazy person. Or, worst of all, it might even be someone so incredibly normal that I seemed like the crazy one in comparison.
I called. I wrote. I e-mailed.
Try as I might, though, I never got to the bottom of it. And before I knew it, it was move-in day with onlookers staring at the kid bringing every single thing from the list of necessary large appliances up the stairs.
I walked past doors with name tags. “Dave” and “Tory.” “Raleigh” and “Slocum.” (What?) “Ernst” and “Keith.” And finally, on my room, 106, “Matt” and…”Matt”?
Suddenly, it all made sense. Since I’d been paired with a roommate with my first name, someone had mixed up our roommate assignment letters. It was, I supposed, an honest mistake. I opened the door, ready to chuckle about it with a new friend. Instead, I found two empty beds, each with a welcome letter and free college swag. Both letters, as it turned out, were addressed to identical Matts who had the same major, went to the same high school and even grew up in the same house.
“Same house? How in the world have I not met this guy before?” I wondered.
It was then that the Resident Assistant arrived and, as would quickly discover was the norm, provide no help whatsoever. “You’re…Matt?” he asked, looking down at a small clipboard. I told him I was. His look became puzzled. “Oh. Which one?”
“Boor,” I clarified. Already being a bit ahead of the mystery at this point, I added, “I’m actually both the people in this room.”
“Right…but…hm.” He clearly hadn’t been trained for this over the lunchtime seminar he later revealed was his entire training to be an RA. “It’s going to be hard to tell the two of you apart. Same name. Same last name…wow. Same address?”
I looked at my parents and rubbed my arm nervously. “If you were joking, that would actually be funny.” I suspected he wasn’t, though.
He shook his head. “I mean…wow. Do you two know each other?”
I considered touching on the philosophical debates over whether one can ever truly know oneself. Instead, I explained the situation as best I could. “I think it was all a mistake somewhere in the process. It made me my own roommate,” I concluded.
“I’ll have to let Housing know,” he said, marking something on his clipboard. Then, in the moment before a small amount of respect could trickle into the opening, he continued. “If you’re going to live here alone, it’s going to cost more.” His tone suggested I’d somehow tried to game the system by having a name that could be written twice.
“But…it was Penn State’s mistake. Why should I pay more?” I asked, prior to spending five years doing exactly that. “Couldn’t you just assign me a new roommate?”
This, too, apparently hadn’t been covered in his lunchtime seminar. “I’m not sure. They spend a lot of time putting compatible people together.” It was news to me. From my end, “a lot” seemed like an exaggeration. As did having spent “time” in general.
And if I’m being entirely honest, my roommate seemed like a bit of a dick anyway.
After a little more discussion – eventually bringing someone who actually had the authority to make decisions into the mix – we decided that I’d live alone until they found me a new roommate. “Given the popularity of the school and long waiting list, you’ll probably be hearing from us within the day. And I apologize, but since classes start in two days, they could show up at any time of day or night, without notice.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Since I’m already terrified of starting a new chapter of my life that will decide my entire future and I have trouble sleeping in new places, not knowing when a complete stranger will barge in would be a dream for me.”
With that out of the way, though, everyone slowly dispersed. I hugged my parents and watched as other students tried to hug theirs in private to not seem “uncool.” This, at least, made me feel better. I realized, all at once, that I was surrounded by people who were just as worried and human as I was. Though, I’m only assuming that last part. Seriously. I saw the name “Run” on one of the doors on the way back up. Are humans giving their children these names?
I closed my door and sighed, confronting my newfound isolation and freedom. And sitting on my bed, I turned to the empty space and asked, “So…want to watch Stargate?”
He didn’t object.
“In that case, I’m also taking your swag bag.”