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The Mean Girl Was Me

The summer before I started college, I received a bunch of information from the school, including the names and contact information of my two roommates. I eventually heard from both of them. One was from a suburb of Boston, near school; she was into fantasy books and Celtic lore, which overlapped pretty well with my own interests. The other was from Kalamazoo, MI (for a long time, illogically, I thought this was in Miami, because of the postal abbreviation) and played soccer. Jock, I thought.

But at some point after we arrived in our dorm and parceled ourselves out among the three beds in our two-bedroom apartment, I realized that I did not, in fact, have any affinity with the lover of Celtic lore. If anything, I felt an antipathy unlike any I had felt before or have felt since, and that fueled a nearly yearlong run of cruelty that I still can’t quite reconcile with my sense of self.

Let me just take a moment to describe roommate #2, Phoebe the soccer player. Phoebe was cheerful, energetic, and straightforward. When I picture her, I can see her clean-scrubbed face smiling, her brown hair pulled into a short ponytail. We barely saw her for the first half of the year, when soccer was in season, but I liked her without having to think much about it.

And then there was Alison. Poor awkward Alison, who certainly never did anything to deserve the way I treated her—and that treatment is hard to describe, or even remember. It was made up of so many little things: the damning judgment of eye rolls, poisoned words dropped in at just the right moment, tiny darts that I knew drew tears when she was alone in her room.

Alison was slight, and had shoulder-length, mousy brown hair, not so different from Phoebe’s. But rather than playing a sport, she had played trumpet in her school’s marching band. In fact, she joined our college marching band as well, delighting in the maroon costume brocaded in gold. It was deadly uncool … and yet, I had never been cool myself, so that wasn’t it.

It was more that … when she answered the phone, she’d say, “Yo!” in a way that sounded exactly like a middle-aged person trying to be cool. Her thin lips always looked wet, and when she opened her mouth to speak I thought she looked kind of like a Muppet.

Maybe that Muppet resemblance was because of the way she’d stand, her head cocked, waiting to hear what came next, eager to play along. Why so eager, Alison??

I had come to college after three years in a boarding school that looked pretty much like our college in miniature: brick buildings, white spires, ivy. I had been living without my parents, hanging out in dorms with friends, and illicitly sleeping over with my boyfriend. The only big difference at college was that there was no curfew, and that we were in a major city. I had no patience with all the wide-eyed freshmen who were astonished to find themselves away from home, in boys’ and girls’ rooms that alternated on the same hall.

And yet … that still doesn’t feel like enough to explain ten months of torture that I just could not resist. Where is the answer—is it in her, or is it in me?

Moving to Echo Park

Return of the Rat Pack