It’s hot outside. Classes haven’t started yet but they will soon; another day, maybe two. It’s the middle of August, 2012, and students are slowly trickling back to this downtown campus. I’ve been here since Tuesday, so has The Roommate.
There are other girls here too; carting suitcases and boxes upstairs from waiting minivans, dragging bins out of storage. Moving into a dorm room stripped bare every summer is a long task, but we prop our doors open and the hot Chicago wind blows through the open windows, and there are people arriving, people welcoming, people shouting, downstairs in the Plaza.
The new students have already moved in. Seven of them. August, of course, means new friendships and new faces and new voices in the hall, and it’s funny to think that August has no idea what May will look like. But May looks back and August is hopeful, excited, anticipatory.
The new students are here, and the returning students fill in the empty rooms every day. There are more doors opening and shutting every morning, on the way to and from the shower, meetings, breakfast, New Student Orientation functions. There are more soft, padding steps on the flat hallway carpet. This floor is coming alive.
But not everyone is back. Ellie Rose lives across the hall, three doors down. At the end of last school year, I stayed on campus until the very end, until graduation, and that last night, four of us (Ellie Rose being one), we laid on that dingy hallway carpet, amidst the suitcases and Goodwill and garbage bags. Packing up is a hard thing to do; I don’t understand how everything so expands, grows, accumulates at school. So we laid there at one in the morning, taking a break from all that packing. Then in the morning life began again, and we went to graduation, finished packing, moved out.
But that was last May and now it’s August and Ellie is back. She’s brought Spider Boy with her, after hosting his highness all summer long, and working to unpack in my room, I can hear her voice, hear her music, hear her calling for me (she calls me Nataline) just down the hall.
Mar is back. She’s moved from next door to the end of the hall, just one more door down, and once again, May looks back at August and how could I know that I’d spend so much time in that end cap room? A year spent as neighbors, Mar and I have created memories, and her water-blue eyes and gentle smile feel like coming home.
The Neighbor’s not back, though. The Neighbor, whose real name is Krista. The Neighbor with that blonde hair, long down her back, and blue eyes. We get along, we always say, because we’re the only ones who laugh at each other’s jokes. But I think she’s hilarious, and she builds my self-esteem right up; people roll their eyes sometimes, because they can’t see just how funny we really are.
And she laughs at my humor, sends grinning emoticons on the group message that circulates our phone, but she’s not here yet. We’re not quite whole yet.
She came later. Not the very last one to return, but close. With her arrival, she completed our floor. We were waiting for her, counting down the hours until we knew she’d return. She texted in the morning, at the gate, before take-off, after landing, on the train; we asked her for updates constantly. When will you be here?
I didn’t realize she had arrived. There were loud voices, exclamations, in the bathroom, Mar’s, Ellie’s voices ringing loud off the tiled walls. Elevator dinged up and I stepped off, tucking my keys in my pocket. I could hear the noise from the hallway. Three voices, I recognized them instantly: Ellie. Mar. Krista.
I ran the last two steps to the bathroom, pushed through the swinging door. Two rows of stalls, a sink and the showers at the back, the girls are in the middle, in the center of the room. The Neighbor had her back to me, that white-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail that brushed her back with every swing of her head. I said her name, must have, because she turned around and then those bathroom walls shook with echo because we were screaming and hugging and the other two were yelling, and we were all talking at once, and suddenly, everyone was back.
Everything was just right.
The summer will change things, of course. The upcoming months will grow relationships, stretch them, change us all. And there will be new hearts on the floor this August, new friends, new family. And there will be old friends, too. Returning students, hearts I know, stories I’m familiar with, faces I love. And we’ll count down the hours until everyone’s back, and we’ll yell in the hallways, laughing, talking all at once when another sister steps off the elevator, makes her way down the hall. Things will be different, but they’ll be the same, too. Because these friends are family and these friends are sisters, and everything will be all right.