By Kate Kole
Communal restrooms and a shared cubicle for a bedroom were hardly my favorite part of dorm living in college. I habitually whispered “I’m sorry” to my roommate as I whipped up my morning smoothie before 8 am class. No need for an alarm clock when you have a blender on full speed just feet away from your bunk.
That being said, what I’ve come to retrospectively appreciate, was the inability to fully hide anything.
My friends knew when I had a hard day, because I had to cry somewhere. And unless I chose a dirty bathroom stall, privacy wasn’t really an option. Homesickness, insecurities, and academic struggles were on full display.
Shared with the scent of frozen burritos warmed by the microwave and the forced heat indoors trying to overpower the ice crystals forming outside, I can still vividly remember a random winter evening my sophomore year when my neighbor across the hall broke up with her boyfriend. She threw his things out her doorway as Beyoncé’s voice rang, “You must not know about me, you must not know about me. I could have another you in a minute. Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute.” On repeat. For hours. It was a scene.
College didn’t just give us a front row seat to ugly breakups and bad test grades, it shone a light on everything we’d worked to keep hidden up to that point. Anxiety, depression, toxic relationships, eating disorders. All the things we’d been able to cram behind closed doors of privacy at home.
At the time, it was frustrating. An invasion into what felt like a necessary layer of protection from the outside world. And I suppose, in some ways, it was more intrusive than any of us would have chosen.
But in other ways, it was a lifeline. A way of showing us that we don’t have to go through life alone. That we could be seen for who we really are and loved still.
It’s easy to perceive perfection when our exposure to one another is limited. Scrolling through social media, 15-minute catch up phone calls, a handful of “how’s life?” texts.
I’ll catch myself doing it with even my closest friends. Admitting aloud that their lives seem perfect from the outside looking in. They’ll laugh and quickly correct me. Detailing stories of the guilt they carry, their own brand of shame.
The moms who work outside the home talking about the hours and experiences they miss with their kids. The ones who stay home detailing their loneliness and the feeling that they somehow aren’t doing enough. Those who have remained close to their hometowns wishing they’d had the chance to experience other places and the ones who’ve moved struggling to make new roots. The friends who want time to slow down. The ones who wish it would fast forward. Reminding me, there is no one right way, and instead a lot of different paths. All with beauty. All with pain.
My college roommate and I live cross country from one another now, a far cry from the tiny spaces we cohabited for five years of our lives. We can no longer see when the other is hurting by simply looking in her eyes and we can’t feel heartbreak in shared air when it happens.
We’ve had to interrupt the pauses in small talk with “so…” cueing to the other that there’s something that we need to say. We’ve grown to ask the questions that are sometimes hard to phrase paired with the complex emotions and answers and that are often hard to put into words.
But we’ve done it anyway. Because beyond what we thought we were there to learn, college taught us something. We need each other in the deepest, realest ways. And without the shared spaces connecting us, sometimes we have to find the courage to shine a spotlight into our hearts and say “my life isn’t perfect”, so that we can likely hear a resounding, “mine either”.