Two years ago, when my university applications were being processed, I got invited to something called the Interdisciplinary Honors Program at the University of Jeromeville. This was a program for around seventy high-achieving freshmen; among other things, we all lived in the same building, and we had to take one class every quarter specifically for IHP students, which counted toward general education requirements. I was particularly attracted to the idea of being part of a relatively small group of students. Jeromeville was a huge university, with around 25,000 students on a main campus that took up a square mile, adjacent to several more square miles of farmland used for research. I found my high school of 1400 already far too big to know everyone, so a school this big seemed intimidating. Being part of a small group of students who knew each other seemed attractive to me, and this was part of the reason I chose Jeromeville over Central Tech and Bidwell State.
Despite those numbers, however, UJ was starting to feel much smaller now that I had been around for a while. I encountered people I knew more and more often around campus and around town. In addition to my friends from the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, I had friends from classes, church, Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, the Math Club, people I knew through mutual friends, and people who I just saw around enough that I started to recognize them and say hi for no other reason.
As I got on the bus that morning, I wondered if I would see Tiffany Rollins. Tiffany was a civil engineering major, and we had been in a few of the same mathematics and physics classes in the past. We had finished all of the classes that her major had in common with my mathematics major, though, so we would probably be seeing less of each other as time went on, but last week I saw her on the bus both Tuesday and Thursday morning. She lived in an apartment complex just down Alvarez Avenue from mine, at the bus stop just before my stop. I boarded the bus, showed my ID card to the driver, and spotted Tiffany sitting near the back of the bus.
“Hey, Greg,” Tiffany said as I approached her and sat next to her.
“Hey,” I replied. “How are you?”
“Not bad. One of my classes is really hard already. I was up late last night studying.”
“Yeah. Mine aren’t too bad yet. I’m just starting to stress over not knowing where I’m going to live next year.”
“You aren’t keeping your studio apartment?”
“I didn’t renew. I was hoping to find friends to live with. I almost had a plan, but it fell through.”
“I hope you find something!”
“Me too. I’ve been asking around.”
“I can let you know if anyone I know is looking for a guy.”
“That would be nice,” I said, although I was really hoping not to have to do that. I wanted to live with people I knew who would be fun to be around, not some strangers who happened to know Tiffany. Granted, those strangers could end up becoming friends, but they could also end up being my worst nightmare.
I was still thinking about this all through weight training class. Yesterday, when I got home from campus, I had a note in my mailbox at the apartment saying that I had a package to pick up. When I went into the office to get my package, the woman at the desk had asked me how I was doing, and I explained that I was worried about not having a place to live for next year.
“I have a note here from the other front desk person that someone came in here earlier looking for a roommate,” she said. She wrote “Alex Davidson” and a phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “I guess Alex renewed his lease but his roommate is moving out, so maybe you should give Alex a call.”
I gave some kind of noncommittal answer and returned to my apartment. I would not be giving Alex a call. Because Jeromeville was a small world and I knew a lot of people, I was familiar with the name Alex Davidson. The front desk person had not spoken to Alex directly, so she did not realize that Alex was a girl. I did not know her well, but she was in my Chemistry 2B class a year ago; I remembered seeing her write her name on something, and her name stood out to me because most people named Alex I knew were male. I did not feel comfortable with a female roommate. It would just feel weird, and also I ran with circles that would question the nature of the relationship of a single male and a single female living together. Sure, Heather Escamilla from church lived with her boyfriend, but I also knew people that had the same judgmental attitude toward that arrangement. I did not find Alex Davidson particularly attractive, though, so if somehow we did end up living together, we probably would not develop any kind of awkward sexual tension.
After weight training class, I walked across campus toward the Memorial Union. I had been coughing and sniffling off and on for the last few weeks, not enough to feel sick and stay home from classes but enough to notice. As I approached the Memorial Union, I saw a quiet short-haired girl sitting quietly on a bench reading. It was Skeeter, a friend from the IHP who lived upstairs from me last year. Just as I was about to say hi, I coughed, and Skeeter heard me and looked up. “Hey, Greg,” she said.
“Hi. How’s it going?”
“It’s funny. I recognized your cough.”
“I heard a cough, and I thought, ‘That sounds like Greg.’”
“Really,” I said. “I didn’t know I had a distinct-sounding cough.”
“I’ve never thought about it before. It’s really weird.”
“Yeah. I would not have thought of that,” I said. Have a good rest of the day!”
Last night, I went grocery shopping, and I had to use my credit card to pay because I did not have enough cash and I forgot to bring my checkbook. My bank had an ATM on the far side of the Memorial Union building, so I went there next. After I withdrew cash, I turned toward the east entrance of the building near the campus store. A guy at a table was enticing students to sign up for credit cards with free gifts. I recognized Autumn, a freshman girl who went to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, filling out an application on a clipboard. I met Autumn a few months ago when I did a car rally with JCF; she got put in my group, and we failed miserably that night.
“Hey, Autumn,” I said.
Autumn looked up at me. “Greg!” she said. “How are you?”
“I’m good,” she said. She finished filling out the application and handed it to the guy. He gave her a baseball cap. “Do you like my hat?” Autumn asked me.
“Yeah,” I said. The cap was black, with the logo of one of the credit card companies that this man represented subtly stitched into the side. No other writing or decoration was on the cap.
Autumn put on the cap, with her hair coming out of the hole in the back just above the strap to adjust the size; she tied her hair into a ponytail. “I’ve never had a hat like this!” she said. “I’m excited!”
“It looks good,” I said. “I like it.”
“Free gifts!” the guy running the table called out to people walking by. “This guy got two free gifts yesterday!” he said, pointing at me.
“You signed up for two credit cards yesterday?” Autumn asked. “What free gifts did you get?
“The pen and the mug,” I said. After I filled out those two applications yesterday, I wondered why I had done it. I was never the type to spend money I did not own, so I did not need a credit card, although it would have been useful for an emergency, or for making large purchases without carrying around cash or a checkbook. I had a credit card through my bank, the same one I had used at the grocery store last night, but it had a very small limit. I had signed up for two more yesterday, but I stopped when the man with the applications, the same one who was here today, put a third application in my face. The new cards would have much higher credit limits than the one from my bank. In a fit of simplifying and downsizing, I canceled one of the cards about five years later, but I still have the other one, a Discover Card, today, and I use it as my primary credit card. Also, I still pay it off every month; I know too much math to carry a balance and burden myself with impossibly high interest rates.
“So how are things?” I asked Autumn when she finished the credit card applications.
“Good,” she said. “I like my schedule this quarter. How about you?”
“I’m doing okay. I’m kind of stressing over not having plans for where to live next year.”
“What are your roommates this year doing?” Autumn asked.
“I live alone. I don’t want to live alone again. I want to live with people. Having roommates seems fun. And it’s a lot less expensive.”
“Yeah. Have you asked around JCF?”
“Yeah, but I haven’t heard anything for sure. Pete Green and Charlie Watson were looking for a third person, but Mike Knepper got that spot before I told them for sure.”
“Bummer,” Autumn replied. “Well, if I hear of any guys looking for a roommate, I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it. Do you know where you’re living next year?”
“Yeah. I’ll be in south Jeromeville with Leah and two other girls she knows.”
“That’ll be nice.”
“I need to go, but it was good running into you. I’ll see you Friday at JCF?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Bye!”
I walked into the Memorial Union building, going all the way across it to the Coffee House on the other side. I was done for the day, weight training was my only class on Tuesdays, but I usually stayed on campus until around lunch time, to get work done. This was a busy time of day, when finding a place to sit in the Coffee House could be difficult. But today, I just kept running into people I knew everywhere I went, and this would provide me with a place to sit. I saw a dark-haired girl named Lizzie sitting by herself at a table of four, putting a notebook away in her backpack.
“Hi,” I said. “May I sit with you?”
“Hey!” Lizzie replied. “How are you?”
I met Lizzie in the fall through a mutual friend, a math major my year named Jack who had gone to the same high school as Lizzie. She had a class in the same classroom as our class an hour before, and Jack would always say hi to Lizzie as she was leaving class. She became a familiar enough face that I had started saying hi to her around campus.
“I’m good,” I said. “I’m done for the day, I only have one class on Tuesdays, but I’m going to hang out here and work on stuff for a while.”
“That sounds good. I actually was just getting up to leave. But you can have my table.”
“Thanks. Have a good rest of the day!”
I got out my textbook for Linear Algebra Applications with the intent of working on homework, but that did not happen right away. I had a feeling I was not going to like this class. The professor for this class seemed a little odd. In addition to so far just repeating things out of the book instead of actually teaching, she had told us that the entire grade would be based on unannounced quizzes. No midterm, no final, and homework was not graded. Something about that did not seem right, although I felt pretty confident about how I did on the first such quiz yesterday.
I then made the classic overthinker move of replaying all of this morning’s conversations in my head. I noticed that I had not mentioned my roommate search to Skeeter or Lizzie. I did not know Lizzie well, and I did not know anything about the guys she would know, so if my goal was not to live with strangers, I would have had no reason to tell her about that. And, although Skeeter’s nonconformity was part of why we were friends last year in Building C, I doubted that I would want to live with the kind of crowd she ran with. Granted, one of her roommates this year was Danielle, who had been a close friend since our first week in Building C, but Danielle had told me some stories about Skeeter as a roommate that made me wary of associating too much with her crowd.
The rest of my day went smoothly without any surprises. I came home in the early afternoon, took a nap, and wasted time on the computer chatting on IRC and reading Usenet groups. I went to Bible study that night, and Lillian, one of the leaders, asked at the end if people wanted to share prayer requests.
“I still haven’t found roommates or a place to live yet,” I said.
“We can pray for that,” Lillian replied. “Anyone else?”
The others shared their prayer requests: difficult classes, an upcoming summer mission trip to Mexico, a sick friend, a friend going through a difficult time. We went around in a circle, each person praying for the prayer request of whomever was on the left. After that, the group would normally end, and people would either leave or stick around for a while and socialize. This week, while people were socializing, the other leader, Shawn, approached me. “Hey, Greg?” he said. “I might have an answer to your prayer.”
“I’m graduating, but I’m staying in Jeromeville next year for the teacher training program. I didn’t make housing plans either, because I was waiting for some of my roommates to decide what they were doing next year. My roommate Brian applied to medical school, but he didn’t get in anywhere, and there is only one place he hasn’t heard from yet. He’s heard that school usually sends acceptances early, so he thinks he probably didn’t get in. He’s now planning to stay in Jeromeville next year, applying again and working part time on staff with JCF.”
“Okay,” I said.
“And Abby has a boyfriend who is moving to Jeromeville. You know Abby Bartlett?”
“Well, her boyfriend, his name is Josh McGraw, and he commutes to Jeromeville from his parents’ house in Oak Heights. He wants to move to Jeromeville and not have that long drive. I want to save money, but Josh and Brian want their own rooms, so we were thinking if we got a three-bedroom place with a master bedroom, then I could share the big room with someone. Are you interested?”
“Sure,” I said. “Keep me posted.”
“Definitely! We will! It’s hard to get all four of us able to meet in the same place at the same time, Josh has a really weird schedule, but I’ll try to get a meeting set up in the next week or two so we can work out the details.”
“Sounds good. Thanks!”
“I was going to ask you about this tonight, I remember you asking for prayer about that last week, but I didn’t get a chance yet. Then you prayed about it again. It’s cool how God works like that.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It is.”
“Just so you know, there’s still an outside chance that Brian will get accepted to that one med school, so if that happens we might have to find someone at the last minute.”
“Right. That’s okay.”
Sharing a bedroom did not feel like an ideal situation, but most people had to endure doing that with a complete stranger during freshman year, and I had had the good fortune to avoid that. I thought I could handle it, though, especially with someone I already knew. Shawn seemed like a decent guy. I did not know Brian well, but he seemed very involved with JCF socially, and if he was going to be paid to work with the group next year, living with him sounded like a promising opportunity to make more social connections within JCF. Josh was a bit of a wild card, I had never met him, and although his girlfriend Abby seemed nice, I did not know her well. At this point, though, I would just have to take what I could get, and this situation seemed good enough.
I drove home a little later feeling much more at peace. I still did not have a place to live, but I had roommates, and to me that meant that the hardest part was over. This new plan was taking shape. I was no longer alone in my search for housing. I was not the most social or popular student in my circles of friends. I have a history of being a bit of an outcast and a loner. But I was starting to open up, to make friends from many different walks of life, and that finally appeared to open a door to a new home for next year that would be much more fun than this lonely studio apartment.