“Albino Roommate”

I had an albino college roommate in the 1980s in New Brunswick, NJ, when the city was dirty, dingy and Johnson and Johnson was revitalizing, but you dared not walk in New Brunswick by yourself too late if you were white because the city was black and Hispanic and the white people, who were us, told us not to mingle.

You mainly stayed on your campus, particularly if you were a girl, because women were raped and the administration kept rape and that you were raped extremely quiet, though therapists were available.

While watching out for “minorities” in the inner city, you also had to beware of testosterone beings who punctuated the collegiate world. You prayed they wouldn’t remove your chastity belt, but if they did, there was the cafeteria, where conversations about last night’s activities, and whether you were still a virgin, prevailed.

I spent much time in my dorm, sophomore year, where my roommate was a short girl who got lost in the senior citizens section of Macy’s. She wore polyester red and blue skirts and had Southern bows in her hair.  She smelled like Campbell’s soup, though she wasn’t from Camden, NJ, where this company is.

I thought of my albino roommate this morning because I felt alone and it was snowing out and generally white.

 

The year before we were roommates—1981—I wrote college opinion pieces that turned the campus on its ass. Frat boys and feminists alike disparaged me in letters to the editor. A little vivisection for 17,000 readers.

Everyone knew me, so when I needed a roommate, I was even less popular than this albino pre-med afro hair girl, who was also a devout Catholic. The elderly Dean of Students, who was intrigued but not impressed by me, thought it’d be “neat” to put us together.

Linda, the albino roommate, had been a bitchy freshman and scared the mice, cockroaches and closeted lesbians in her dorm. (Note: Closeted lesbians were equally furious when I posted a Playgirl centerfold of a black man on the wall in our residence hall. It wasn’t clear what was most disturbing—that he was black or had a large penis.)

 

Linda had a bland face like my Aunt Ruth who served warm tea in English bone china in Belleville, NJ. Linda also had elegantly designed fingernails, and an adroit seriousness for all things organic chemistry.

Linda despised me, though she never said, “fuck you.” No, it was the disdainful way she rolled her eyes when I came home. The shortness of breath that preceded her silence.  The way she nosedived into carbon atoms and algorithms to ensure her salary, as a physician, would be higher than my future secretarial income.

Linda was not verbal about her contempt for my inability to keep the room clean. She did not say “good morning”; was unappreciative that my clutter comprised the entire canon of Western literature; and never, not once, introduced me to her boyfriend, who’d not have assisted me even if he and I had been the only survivors in The Poseidon Adventure.

 

Linda was more Catholic/hetero than her boyfriend, who was serious and studious but nonetheless had a rather Irish pigmentation, not bordering on albino. Like her, he was reticent; you knew they had brimming anger, and you could sometimes see sparks, particularly hers, under the skin.

We exchanged words rarely—if there were too many roaches crawling among her Lucky Charms, or how I made her bed resemble Afghanistan after the Americans invaded it.

 

One night a friend and I brought home two guys and snorted cocaine on Linda’s bed.

We met them in the Douglass Pub, the college bar, where amiable males pursued female ducklings desperate for companionship.

I was checking out a woman who might have a “crush” on me. I’d stare at them, they’d stare at me, and then I’d envision they’d leave their boyfriends. Perhaps they glared because I looked obviously and it was not all that mysterious, though it did tug at my heart.

 

While stalking a cherry blonde in leotards, my friend and I were approached.

“Howdy.”

“Hi,” I replied.

“Can we buy you a drink?” I always said yes to beer on tap, though the Douglass Pub had the lame selection of Budweiser and Rheingold.

These dudes, perusing us from not so are afar, were adversely referred to as “townies,” because they lived locally but didn’t go to the college.

Still, on a glacial Wednesday night, meeting beautiful boys, bringing them back to your dorm, was quite exhilarating at a women’s college in the 1980s.

 

We were mesmerized by the albino roommate’s snow calendar—photos of skiers with masks, which matched the white stuff protruding from our fingers and noses.

Several white crystals fell on Linda’s bed, and I planned to remind her about an organic chemistry experiment she did the night before.

“Would you like to kiss?” one of the dude-townies asked me.

“No,” I replied, “I’m tired but really appreciate your cocaine.”

“You’re welcome.” Men often expect sex for cocaine, which I learned after snorting several bushels in the East Village one summer. Luckily, I had a male friend who’d volunteer to give the drug dealers blowjobs.

“Well, you can see yourselves out,” I remarked. My friend was disappointed, but I figured she could bring them to her room.

 

“Excuse me,” Linda woke me the next morning, her boyfriend staring like a Supreme Court Justice, “why is my bed cover rumpled?”

“Rumpelstiltskin?”

“You know it’s illegal to sleep on your roommate’s bed and you can get kicked out of school for—?”

“Well, if I didn’t make your bed, I’m really sorry.”

Her boyfriend grunted.

“I would also appreciate your not using my phonograph,” she continued. It was like those movie scenes where mutes talk for the first time.

I said nothing, because I was rather mortified, as this meant I could no longer play Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Paradise would not be a parking lot in my dorm room.

 

Linda went to the dean to complain.

I was CC’ed on her “rumpling bed” letter, which said, “This scandalous woman also snores. It’s quite possible that she has sleep apnea. This, however, is not my responsibility, and it disturbs my REM and ability to get straight As. I realize this is the middle of the semester, but my grades will suffer. Oh, she has stolen my cereal and repeatedly misuses my phonograph—plays whiny rock music at extraordinarily loud levels.”
Linda and her boyfriend whispered loudly. I also heard them giggling under the covers.

I’d come in, they’d go out. I’d go out, they’d come in.

“How are you?”

“We’re fine,” she’d say. He was studying geophysics and its impact on pharmaceutical companies.

“Want a slice of pizza?” I extended a box that had been on my bed since the previous evening.

“No,” which was more than she’d say if I didn’t offer.

 

Eventually, I received a letter from the Dean “expressing her sincere remorse” that Linda would be transferring to another room next semester. “This means you will have your own room. I sincerely hope this works out.”

 

For the remainder of the semester, Linda and her future spouse appeared less frequently, and I did not have the gumption to use the space on her side.

There was one evening, however, when I stole her Lucky Charms; the weather in New Brunswick was a Siberian landscape.

“Mom,” I said on the phone, “I’d rather risk the albino’s fury than get pneumonia.”

“You’re skating on thin ice,” my mother replied, “what if they kick you out?”

“They’re not going to kick me out. No one likes her either.”

 

Linda and I were, respectively, like two floating organs in formaldehyde. By December, she’d close the door abruptly if I came in and I’d drunkenly fall on my bed at 2 am.  No words or tears crisscrossed our souls. Indeed, a cool winter breeze remained our loudest talking point.

About Eleanor Levine

Eleanor Levine's writing has appeared in Hobart, Fiction, Evergreen Review, Fiction Southeast, Monkeybicycle, Barely South Review, The Denver Quarterly, Pank, The Toronto Quarterly, Barrelhouse, Intima, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Kentucky Review, Juked, The Stockholm Review of Literature, Crack the SpineThrice Fiction and more than 50 publications.  Eleanor's poetry collection, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, was released on February 29, 2016, by Unsolicited Press.



  • Gay Degani

    An era caught in words!!

  • Steve Peacock

    Another great piece by the amazing Eleanor!