I’ve never really gotten along with other girls my age. Considering that I grew up as the only girl in my family until I was about 10, this doesn’t really surprise me. The prospect of having to live with other girls never really came to mind until I stepped into my Unit 1 triple freshman year.
Fortunately for me, though, I had a bit of time before the panic fully set in since I was the first to move in and unpacking my two suitcases was relatively easy. That first night, the nerves began to kick in and different scenarios kept creeping into my mind: What if they didn’t like me? What if they thought I was weird? What if they got along better with each other than they did with me? I mean, they had roomed together for three months over the summer, so how could I ever fit in?
By the time morning came around, the nerves had turned into fear — this would be the first time that I lived with other girls and it would be completely different than what I was used to. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of sharing a room, I was afraid of sharing a room with other girls.
Growing up, sharing a room with my brothers was normal and I never really minded it much because it was incredibly fun. One of my favorite memories is of us in our room, passing around our shared Game Boy Advance trying to obliterate each other while pretending to be asleep. I was usually the first one to lose (or to fall asleep), but it was always fun to share a bit of time together that didn’t involve doing some type of crazy chore. Having two older brothers meant that I was always left behind if I didn’t continually push against the constant reminder of the “girls are different than boys” mentality that was forced onto us by tradition.
Sharing a room with my brothers, however, had also made me an extremely private individual. There were certain parts of myself that never saw the light of day because I didn’t want to be seen as a “girly-girl.” Things like preferring dolls over action figures meant that I couldn’t go to my uncle’s house to watch wrestling matches with my brothers. Crying after falling down and scraping my knee meant I couldn’t help my brothers with yardwork and, instead, did housework.
There were things that I really couldn’t talk to them about either. My first crush, my first boyfriend, losing my virginity, the lingering feelings of hatred after my mother’s abandonment, college applications, the fear that came with being undocumented — the things that made me who I was were the same things I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone. While the three of us shared some of these experiences, the way that we experienced them was different. So, there was an unspoken understanding that we kept our personal lives to ourselves. Everything was easier and much less complicated this way. It was something that I didn’t really have anywhere else, so I became comfortable in my own solitude.
Nearing my 14th birthday, my grandma surprised me and said she had finally saved enough to turn one of the rooms in our house into two rooms. I knew immediately that one of those rooms would be mine. Seeing my room being built and helping with the process was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had, but it is something I’d never change. The room was small and had no door (it still doesn’t), but I finally had a place to call my own and I embraced it. Having my own room, however, didn’t really change how much I valued privacy. In fact, it only made it a bigger problem.
Reality came rushing down like a bucket of cold water when the girls moved in that afternoon. It was incredibly chaotic. The first thought that entered my head was inevitable — it would have definitely been easier to dorm with guys.
I thought that the parade of boxes coming in would never end and I was overwhelmed, to say the least. The empty Freeborn triple from hours before would never be the same once they both moved in. It was obvious that they had already bonded with each other and I felt that I was already sidelined as the “other roommate.” Their personalities also didn’t mesh well with mine. Their openness and sociability scared the s— out of me. With how different it was compared to living with my brothers, the only way that I could cope was to retreat deep into the comfortable space that my bottom bunk offered me.
They didn’t really let me do that, though.
I’m glad they didn’t.
Little by little, both of them reached into the cave that I had learned to call “privacy” and began to pull me out of it. They taught me to get out of bed on Saturdays, even if it was to pretend to study in the lounge. They taught me that having some sort of social life, however small, was important for my mental health. Opening up to them was one of the most difficult things I’ve done since coming to college, but it was rewarding.
Yes, it would have definitely been easier to room with guys. It would have been comfortable, but I never would have grown. It was through living with these two girls that I was finally able to open up and become a butterfly that finally left its cocoon.