birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Roommate

I had known Lucy in high school the way you know kids when your mothers are friends who get together occasionally. We may have had a class together, but I don't remember having a single serious conversation with her. She was half Japanese like me, with the long, perfectly straight hair I would've preferred to have, and a face without a single flaw-large brown eyes, a model's smile. She could've been a cheerleader or mermaid, with the right outfit. I might never have gotten to know her if we hadn't both been recruited for a summer program for Asian American students at the state college. It was free tuition, room and board, books and an allowance, something they were doing for us, they said, because of our disadvantages as minorities. This was news to me and Lucy and the other 4 or 5 half-Japanese kids in our class who took the university up on its offer. We were mostly at the top of our class, in a military town full of mixed families where we fit in and felt at home, just gauging from the kinds of clubs we were in and the visibility we had. But we knew a deal when we saw one, and we jumped. Lucy and I wound up as roommates.

She was as neat and preppy and upright as I was a slouchy hippie mess, but after a talk about an imaginary line down the middle of our narrow, blue room, our twin beds and desks on either side of it, we tacitly agreed that she would keep her side scrubbed and pristine, and I would drape clothing wherever it fell on my side of the line, and keep my piles from tipping over on her. We didn't sit together in the Asian American studies class we had in common, but would walk out together to compare notes on the TA, Ron, the older brother of a Filipino kid who was also in our class. Ron, big on Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Tse-Tung-thought, wanted us to feel our oppression and protest, but we were new at the lingo and just sat admiring his muscles and butt-length hair. Lucy, as gorgeous as Ron, had a literal following as we walked across the campus back to our room-the Chicano guys who were there for their own lessons in oppression for the summer session. They called her Juicy Lucy and came to sit on her bed and drink Dr. Peppers, her favorite, from the machine down the hall. Prim and terse, she thought she could get rid of them by staying mostly silent, but that only seemed to inspire more longing. They might've been relieved to know that she was sparing them from what she'd say when she did start talking, sometimes late at night when she knew I wasn't sleeping, sometimes as she sat with a towel wrapped around her head on a morning when she should've been off to class. She was the defiant one in the family when her father had taken out his belt to beat her mom and brother, and she had said, "Go ahead, beat me. Leave them alone." Which he did, much of the time. She was still black and blue, full of rage, still so scarred she'd calmly say, I've decided to kill myself myself, and enumerate the times she'd tried. I wasn't smart enough to tell anyone, so I slept lightly that long summer, watching her if I didn't hear her snoring, or taking out my guitar because she was happy when we tried to sing. Later on it struck me that we didn't need classes in the white oppressor and his brutality, or our need to stand together against him. That was something we did every night at home.

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