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I Remembered a Thing: Temporary, Black, Lesbian College Roommates

From Flickr User shlala

My first roommate ever was a boy.

I can’t imagine now what my parents must’ve thought, but I knew what I was doing back then, and wouldn’t be dissuaded.  Plus, I got to move to New England.  HUGE bonus.  It had been a dream since I read Cynthia Voigt (I think it was her, anyway) in grade school.

There was no need for my parents to worry, but now that I’m a parent, I’m sure they did.  Lots.  Probably they lost sleep over my antics.  They don’t read this blog, so they’ll probably never know I’ve acknowledged it.  Ah, well.  Their loss.

I’ve had pretty good taste in some friends along the way (pretty bad taste in others), and my first roommate, Steve, is definitely good people. We were best friends from high school, kindred spirits, and he was a student at Quinnipiac College (now Quinnipiac University) in Hamden, CT.  Quinnipiac is like New Jersey North.  It’s a campus full of high-end SUVs and boys with carefully manicured facial hair.  Or at least it was back in 2001.  Now they’ve probably got Priuses and boys with artfully shaggy bangs.

Here’s what I mean about Steve being good people:

I had a job at The Olive Garden in Orange, CT (incredible money, seriously).  I loved it.  And I worked with some interesting people.  One such interesting person was a black lesbian named Tina.

She had a son who was five at the time, and who wasn’t in her custody.  She was from Reading, PA.

She had a partner, named Donna, who was the daughter of a preacher man.

These two managed to find themselves without a place to stay. Their homelessness had something to do with Donna’s parents catching her and Tina doing it.  So I invited them to stay with us temporarily.  Probably without consulting Steve.  I don’t know that for sure, but I know myself, and I can imagine myself at 20 being more concerned with the well-being of casual acquaintances than peace in my domestic arrangement.

But Steve was on board.  I reckon he’s still about as laid back as they come.

We set Tina & Donna up on the couch cushions in our living room, and I learned some stuff:

1.  What “ashy” means with regard to dry skin.  I used this term once, many years later, about my own skin in front of a black person.  I wasn’t even thinking of it, just that ashy was a precise adjective.  My audience adopted the same air of bemusement my black ex boyfriend did when he discovered that I use a washcloth to clean myself.  Like, “White people aren’t allowed to do that.”  Good times.

2.  Hair Extensions.  This bumpkin had no clue.  I swear to you, I was shocked.  Like I was about plucking eyebrows.  I came home one day and Tina and Donna were sitting there on the floor, half of Donna’s hair was in her lap.  After I realized that it hadn’t fallen out, I was deeply curious.  Both Tina and Donna were amused by and patient about my naivete.

3.  Arbor Mist isn’t really alcohol.  Here’s awesome about Tina.  She was pregnant.  Yup, pregnant.  From cheating on Donna with a boy from high school.  ?!  I know.  She was the cautionary tale for the phrase, “It only takes one.”  Donna wanted to help her raise the baby.  Tina didn’t have too much qualms about imbibing Arbor Mist.  Here’s another awesome thing about Tina: she had just gotten out of jail.  Yes, jail.  For what?  I honestly don’t know.  I don’t know if I ever did.

But I will say this: in New Haven, I don’t think I ever saw a white person being pulled over.  Pretty sure the cops there throw anybody not white into jail indiscriminately.  Sure, Tina was probably doing something she ought not have been doing, but who hasn’t?  Feel free to be all hoity toity in the comments if you’ve never done anything that you would’ve gone to jail for if you got caught.  Some of us are lucky on two counts: being born white, and not getting caught.

And before you freak out because I said it’s lucky to be white: I’m saying that it with a heart-squeezing dose of guilt.  I don’t think it’s right, good, or fair; and it’s insane especially because it’s 2012–it’s supposed to be the future, isn’t it?

I liked Tina.  I still wonder about her.  She was funny and calm and had great teeth and a cool speaking voice.  I never got to know Donna as well, but she was nice, too.

Here are other things that I remember from our brief cohabitation with Donna and Tina:

1.  I had my first experience getting felt up by a dude at a gay bar. I am reasonably sure I was underage.

2.  I came home from work a few times to find Donna, Tina, and Steve on the couch in front of the evening news studying their Powerball tickets with something like reverence and suspended enthusiasm.

3.  Proper dreadlocks are high maintenance and require some pretty unpleasant smelling product.

4.  Tina was the easiest-to-be-around pregnant person I’ve ever met.

5.  I’m pretty sure that I did not tell my parents that I had a pair of temporary roommates who were both black and lesbians.  I don’t know how that would’ve gone.

6.  Looking back, I can’t believe how incredibly cool Steve was about the whole thing.  I think if the shoe were on the other foot, I would’ve been hopping mad.  Maybe not, though.  I prize privacy and caution a lot more these days than I once did.

Anyway, after they moved out, Tina wasn’t working at the Olive Garden anymore, and I have no clue where the two of them wound up.  But I still wonder about them.  And since the names in this post (except for Steve’s, but I used his proper name with permission) have been changed to protect the innocent, I don’t know if I’ll ever find out what happened to them.

How about you?  What’s your best (or best material) roommate story?

5 comments on “I Remembered a Thing: Temporary, Black, Lesbian College Roommates

  1. Love this post. Love the line ” I can imagine myself at 20 being more concerned with the well-being of casual acquaintances than peace in my domestic arrangement.” :)

    And I’m sorry your parents don’t read your blog. What a treat they are missing! If mine were alive :( I’d badger them every day a post came out. Didja? Huh? Of course, my beloved sis doesn’t read mine, nor does her daughter (who is a wordsmith herself, and should), which hurts my feelings, so I do know how you feel. :(

    • Thanks, JC. I’m glad you like it.

      It’s okay about my folks. It’s kind of liberating to know they don’t read it. I think it would make them worry (for my soul). At least for my dad, it’s a fear-of-technology thing. My mom doesn’t get it. She said, “I do facebook, but I don’t do all your other stuff, April.” I think she thinks my blog is like facebook. I don’t think she understands what a blog is. And she is utterly uninterested in learning. :-) Both of them were totally full of shock when I told them I have a website. To them, websites are the commercial monoliths of the internet.

      I’m sorry about your sister and niece! I agree that they should read, especially your wordsmith niece. She’ll discover it one day and see you in a whole new light. It will be wonderful. One of my sisters reads my blog regularly. So does her fiance. My brother said he’d listen if I did a podcast, but I don’t think he reads my blog. I don’t know about my other sister.

  2. Funny, informative and heartwarming. Especially heartwarming. You could probably spin this beauty into a pretty powerful short story, April. Thanks for this gem.

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