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An Only Child Gets an Education

March 04, 2000|ALEXIS NICOLE WHITE | Alexis Nicole White is beginning her junior year at UCLA

I have never had to share a room. Like most only children, I live a rather quiet life. My mother, father and I have a sweet, relaxed household. I can retreat to my room at any time, just to be alone. I never imagined that my way of life would be so altered by dorm life, the official beginning of roommate life.

Most college freshmen don't meet their roommates before school starts, and that's how it was for me. I remember worrying that my roommate would be a psycho. What if she was an alcoholic, an ex-con, a crackhead? I was terrified of sharing a room the size of my foot with a complete stranger.

When I moved to school I settled into a tiny abode with my new roommate, and everything was quite awkward. I didn't know her, and she didn't know me. Of course, I wasn't the only one; it was that way for everybody. But as an only child, I have never had to compromise the way kids with siblings do. It was much harder for me to adjust. To my parents' chagrin, I came home every weekend. I was unhappy.

Well, how bad was my new companion? She really wasn't that bad. In fact, she was actually a decent human being. I now know that I was the one with the problem.

My mother continually reminded me that a shy, nice girl would be perfect. She wouldn't bother me. I would be able to sleep and do homework in peace. This was true in some respects, yet even quiet, unassuming types have bothersome habits. In my naive, anxiety-ridden, freshman brain, it seemed impossible that I could ever adjust to my new roommate's behavior. I was constantly annoyed when she sang to herself, never made her bed, and insisted that Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals were the greatest. She was a science major and barely spoke. My interests were in theater, music and art. We were the odd couple. And, did I mention that she snored? I ran next door to my friend Emma's room each day to complain about my roommate's bizarre habits. As I came to know her, however, I realized that we had a lot to learn from each other.

I was "the loud one" of the two of us. I continually practiced monologues, played my violin and talked on the phone. Eventually, I found her quiet nature to be refreshing. I played the violin while she did her homework. When I had work to do, she would fill me in on all of our favorite TV shows. It worked.

Eventually, I stopped taking myself so seriously.

Things got better. I moved out of my shoe box and into an apartment for my sophomore year. I lived with three other girls in a rather tight space. In addition, our neighbors were anything but quiet. My problem was no longer my roommates, but my neighbors. Instead of freaking out about it, I thought it was tremendously funny. We had the campus police on speed dial.

Despite the squeeze and the noise, I managed to thoroughly enjoy myself. I soon had to accept, in my stubborn only-child way, that noise is a part of life. Life will never be as quiet and lovely as our triangular "only" homes. All three of my roommates have siblings. They are accustomed to sharing clothes, switching beds and, basically, crashing anywhere. By the end of the year, I started to behave as if I also had a few sisters at home. I relaxed. My closet was constantly raided, I went to bed later, and I never missed an opportunity to stay up giggling. I finally felt roommate-proficient. At some point, I realized that I was as aggravating to my roommates as they are to me.

Why was my first year so hard for me? Well, it was my problem, not my roommate's problem. As an only child, I found myself conforming to our traditional stereotype. I was narrow-minded and self-absorbed. But then, perhaps this isn't a problem exclusive to only children.

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