The Fishbowl, we called it. It was supposed to be a study room. Just a conference table and a whiteboard, enclosed by a glass wall. Hardly anyone used it during the day, though there were always textbooks and papers strewn across the table. (Or the floor.) But at night, two, four, six, sometimes a dozen of us would jam in, mouths full of dirty jokes and vending machine snacks. Unlike the lounges, the Fishbowl had a door, so you could keep the noise in, not disturb those who had gone to bed. After all, you know how loud studying can be.
I got the letter on Valentine’s Day. “Thank you for your interest, but…” I had to move. The next year, I would not be allowed to live in the dorm that I thought of as my home. Numb, I walked into my room, looked around, dropped my backpack, and left again. I couldn’t stay there. Not as a sophomore, and not for the next few hours. So I walked. Out the door. Down the icy street. Up a steep hill of broken sidewalks. For half an hour, I wandered, weeping openly, with Avril Lavigne blasting through my iPod. My nose ran. My ears turned pink from the cold. I was homeless. I was heartbroken. I was the queen of melodrama.
Every Sunday night, six of us gathered from all corners of campus and met at the intersection of Morewood and Forbes. These were my closest friends, people I’d met on the first day of college, and would hug goodbye on the last. A lot of things had changed between us over the years, but this had not. This was a ritual. This was our thing.
It was a 15 minute walk down to Fuel and Fuddle for half-price food, past the museums and the Pitt gift shop. It was a 30-40 minute wait to get seated, standing outside with the frat boys and the smokers. Then it was 60 minutes of drinks and conversation, reliving the best and worst of our college careers.
After the bill was paid, it was another 15 minutes back to the dorms, 5 minutes of lingering and chatting on the street, and then 2 minutes to get upstairs to the fifth floor, where I often found my freshman residents creating their own bests and worsts. Usually I would sit with them for a while, before finally showering and going to bed. With their voices filtering through my door, I closed my eyes and fell asleep, smiling.