A note about this piece:
This very long short story as it is presented here is a romantically parenthesized 17,000-word creative non-fiction work, the bulk of which is written in a modern, conversational tone.  All identifying information has been altered out of respect for persons/institutions. Although standalone in this form, the total piece is being reworked as just one vignette in a longer tale telling the full journey of an experience-hungry young lady transformed by a gritty city into a hardened but world-ready woman. It includes the struggle of adjusting to cut-throat academia, the forced destruction of sexual innocence, the unflagging pursuit of passion, and at last the victory of rising to one’s own potential.  But for now, consider this a tidbit nugget and have a laugh at my expense in… The Squalorly Scholars..


The Squalorly Scholars

by Erika June Christina Laing

 

An icy spring day was breaking, the early morning sun illuminating the delicate melting frost encrusting the corners of my window. I gazed out vacantly, admiring the contrast between the frost’s suggestive chill and my furnace body, sheets clinging to my perspiring skin as if it were Pittsburgh’s summer swelter.

On the sill, an upturned cup imprisoned a lonely carpenter ant. She’d traveled with me from Florida, an unwitting stowaway in the fake plastic fig tree I’d brought to decorate my sophomore year college life. Captured months ago, astonishingly she still lived. Predictable as could be, a simple tap on her plastic home could send her into a frantic tizzy, so desperate was her basic instinct to fight for life when threatened. At this moment, however, she was calm, perhaps in dull reverie to the ennui of another beautiful morning in captivity.

Without her colony she was lost. While arguably cruel to be detained, she was alive longer than her four sisters who’d made the trip with her. My roommate Rosa and I had watched them crawl the walls and ceiling all semester long. You’d scarcely believe it, but eventually they entered the light fixture one by one, marching in for their last hurrah. Each one walked in circles to her death – it took weeks – then the next would enter through a tiny opening in the plastic fixture, an ant-sized hole abutting the ceiling like it was a miniature door in an upside-down world. In elegant ritual, one would pace the interior while another would wait outside the entrance; this was what they had left to do.

Of these ants, who was the luckiest? Many might say our pet on the windowsill who was still here with us. Humans have this notion that living is always better than death, but if given the choice her fate would most likely have been that of her siblings. If ants could be depressed – if ants could commit suicide – this was what we were observing. If our captive desired this, we were keeping her from it. Who could say that she should live, if she has no purpose? Her life in ant culture was gone. Her connection to her geographical home was obliterated by distance. The habits she had honed through habituation to her familial group now caused her to founder in her new environment. Really what else was left for her to do?

Painfully exhausted yet unswallowed by sleep, these were the thoughts that came to me. Did the ant wonder how she got here like I did? An alien in my supposed home, forlorn from a lack of support, and shocked by the discovery I’d made just a few hours earlier, my mind was whirling like our pet so often did in her plastic cup. Nothing could have prepared me for what I’d just found in that bag, not even the slow sordid descent of the prior 8 months. It was making me burn with questions and fear and my body was generating so much energy that it came off me in wavering lines for hours.

But finally the sweat became a chill and the blankets became my nest. With an imbuing sigh I closed my eyes and mimicked the stillness of the ant on the sill, allowing her apparent serenity to diffuse through my consciousness. Sparks of bad memories tugged at my sinking being but at last I relented to the gravity of my descent.

What else was left for me to do?

 

Now, Where Were We?

It all started in the sticky hot dampness of a late Pittsburgh summer, August 1998. The internet was hardly a thing yet. Most net surfers out in the RealWorld were dependent on dial-up modems and AOL, but I was on a university campus, and a super high techy one to boot, so we were all set up with high-speed (for the time) internet, directly from the wall via Ethernet cable. Not having yet experienced the modern convenience of living technologically wireless, the Ethernet cable was umbilical for nearly every student on campus. Equally prized was computer storage space and it was a notable event when I became the early adopter of a whiz-bang fancy new hard drive with a capacity of one entire gigabyte! WOWEE!

At the time, all the computers could be shared on a network, and it was big-time business to freely share as much media as possible for everyone to enjoy. The big hits of the day were an exploding whale carcass video and a computer game called Sextris, which was a tetris game where all the falling pieces were men and women, naked and ready to go, splayed in different sexual positions. You would have to flip them around to make them fit, sexually (at which point they emitted cries of delight, each figure with its own trademark utterance, before disappearing to make room for new rows of carnal geometry). The king product, though, was music, and compressed music files such as the mp3 had just come into existence. Though my new 1GB hard drive was leaps and bounds above the piddly 150MB drive that came native to my computer, it only took one night for it to be filled up by other students on the network, who stuffed it full of music like a dirty martini olive.

This was the rabid desire that ushered in the age of digitally distributed music. We all felt as though we were running above the law, as if campus administrators had no knowledge of our rampant piracy. Of course, they didn’t for a blissful time, but the day did finally come when the party was over and people got shut down, some even in serious trouble with the law and the record companies. But for the context of this story, that day had not come yet. Students were cowboys on the internet, and if you wanted to be Billy The Kid no one was watching to stop you. Getting away with minor digital delinquencies was entirely feasible.

This was my sophomore year of college. My freshman year I lived with a wonderful sprite of a woman named Elizabeth. Lean and doe-eyed with long hair that was sumptuously dark and bouncy with curls, Elizabeth was sweet and carried the juxtaposed airs of both innocence and debauchery, a magnetic mystique of sensuality very much like her hometown of New Orleans. She loved art and astrophysics, was expressive and a little off-kilter – a rare beauty of a personality who was wholly out of place in the nerdy, computer-driven environment of our technologically-driven university.

She wasn’t at all hard to live with, as her moods were her charm, and she was FUN. One time she bought the raddest pair of overalls, bellbottoms that fit tight in the butt and thigh. They had a funky kind of hardware affixing the shoulder straps to the chest bib, using lobster-claw shaped clasps through eyeholes instead of the standard button-buckle combo. This detail is important because (as if she wasn’t sexy enough in this getup) I vividly recall the time she put it on topless, holding the bib up with her stiff nipples poked through the eyeholes. Ever the pixie, she trotted around the women’s hall this way, shoulder straps dangling free and bouncing off her bottom as she went, her perfect breasts exposed and maintaining the perk necessary to keep her overalls (or perhaps better called over-somes) on. Nothing bad ever seemed to happen to her when she did things like this, except, perhaps, for the development of the loneliness of being chronically misunderstood by those around her.

Suffice it to say we had many enchanting adventures together, and survived just as many personal challenges under the protective wings of each other’s acceptance. Both of us quirky and open-minded, it was about as good of a roommate match as one could hope for. When it came time to think about our living situation for the next year, it was easy to choose Elizabeth. She was great.

 

Moving to DesRes

Summer after freshman year zipped by and soon enough I found myself packing bags for my sophomore year. Elizabeth and I both had the urge for expansion and independence so we put ourselves in the lottery for one of the off-campus apartment-style rooms. We craved the facets of life that a little upgrade afforded (such as cooking for oneself) and were thrilled when we were assigned an apartment in the walking-distance Desmond Residences – or DesRes, to be hip. DesRes was a large apartment building a half-mile away from campus, full of non-student residents, from which the university leased a subset of apartments as official student dwellings. We thought living here was a brilliant notion and our respective migrations back to Pittsburgh were filled with the glee of a promising future in an apartment that was sure to be full of merrymaking (alongside our studious efforts of course).

I arrived there first, a few days before Elizabeth. My mom had driven me up all the way from Florida, as was our now-regular habit, in our white mini-van stuffed to the gills with clothes, shoes, random things I decided I totally 100% needed, like that cruddy fake plastic fig tree we had kept next to the garage in Florida, and other dorm-life necessities of the day, such as ye olde standard butterfly chair from Target with white fuzzy fabric. Oh, and my beloved computer with a very long Ethernet cable, it goes without saying.The damn car was so jam packed you couldn’t see out the back, and I slept worryingly in the hotel on the drive up, counting like sheep all of the things that robbers would almost certainly smash through the windows to steal (such as the fake tree, obviously).

But we made it all the way from Jensen Beach to Pittsburgh without incident and headed straight to Student Housing Check-In. New keys in hand, my mom and I arrived at DesRes to scope out the scene. As we ascended to our high floor in the rickety elevator, the smells and gloom of an old lived-in building enveloped us, setting a small stage for disappointment. But I willed those thoughts away! This would be my place of awesomeness, I just knew it! But my hopes quivered when we opened the door to the little corner unit. It was bright and sunny enough, but tiny, smaller than our freshman year dorm room, which had only been 212ft2. It was hard to believe this space was meant for two, in spite of the suggestive bunk bed.

Yet, all of that seemed bearable to me. The stars in my eyes were just that bright, illuminating all sorts of potential small space solutions. However, those stars started to dim as my mother started looking around, her critical eye awoken by suspicion. First, she wiped a finger along the baseboard and a layer of dust 3-years-thick came off. Then she pointed out the impracticality of the teensy weensy kitchen combo thing that existed there. Hardly could you call it a kitchen at all – shoved against the wall, it was a single unit the size of a compact dresser topped by a small sink next to a two burner stove top, all above an embedded mini fridge, with no oven at all! That was it! That was a kitchen? That is not even a kitchenette! And for two people??

It really was not acceptable, she was right, but I was still sure I could manage my way around it – get a second mini-fridge, be creative with storage options, get a little microwave cart with counter space… But then the nail in the coffin came when she turned on the faucet and a wave of little legs and bodies came out, a living stream of cockroaches, flowing fluidly as water as they were disturbed from their hiding spot. We may have left scuff marks on the floor as we turned on our heels to high-tail it out of there, but no one would have ever noticed amongst the dirt already ground in.

Needless to say, I would not be living my dream life at the hip DesRes with my spunky and vivacious bosom buddy, Elizabeth. While everything else may have been surmountable, it was hard to erase the image of such infestation or ignore my imagination of what chemical-laden extermination would have to take place in the life-sustaining water pipes of this living space. Furthermore, even if I’d wanted to stay there, it was for all of reality impossible, because my mother was on the case, and she was *NOT* letting me stay there, no matter what I said. Moms are like that, you know? Kinda their job.

My little hopes and dreams dashed, I reluctantly accompanied her to the Student Housing Office. As she commandeered the situation, I felt the adolescence of my age. Just hours ago, being 18 felt like being 20; now I could see it was much more like being 16. We (she) explained the situation and demanded my placement in a more suitable location. I wanted so badly for them to just give Elizabeth and me another apartment somewhere together – clearly they had given us the dregs of what was available and we deserved a big upgrade to make up for the error of their thoughtlessness. But as it stood, a saturated housing situation prevented such a scenario from being possible. Their hands were tied, and all they could do was offer each of us a placement as individuals inside of other housing situations where there happened to be a single hole vacancy. I don’t mean a single room that would be mine all mine, I mean a single hole vacancy in a multi-person living environment.

What misery I was in! Not only could I not live the figmental apartment life of my young independence-seeking aspirations, but also I’d have to forgo my known and trusted living partner, and worse yet, live with complete strangers! I had this intuition that I’d really lucked out with Elizabeth, and it seemed unlikely that I would strike such gold again. But ever the optimist, I held out hope.

Things started to look a bit rosier when they said I had the option to live in what was easily the nicest dorm on campus, East Extension (or EastEx, because, as already established, we were a campus of very hip nerds who liked to cleverly shorten our dorm names). Coveted for its proximity to the center of campus action (0.04 miles to food and the gym, 0.23 to the library, and 0.4 to the furthest class I’d ever need to walk to — how could I ever be late to a class again?), my favorite thing about EastEx was easily the fact that it had AIR-CONDITIONING!

You would not think the air-conditioning was such a big deal. A Florida girl, people expected me to complain about the cold, not the heat that I was supposedly used to. And while I had plenty of gripes about the cold, it was the unyielding humidity in Pittsburgh that really ran me aground.Where I grew up in Florida, the ocean breezes move the hot air around so it really isn’t so bad, and when it is you just run from your air-conditioned car into the air-conditioned supermarket, then back to your air-conditioned car, then into your air-conditioned home, then you think about jumping in the pool but decide it really is too hot even for that, so you just stay inside your perfectly controlled air-conditioned environment for about two to three months of the year, which is our version of a season.

Listen, I know that sounds grossly privileged, but truly we were not affluent people. Yes, we were white lower middle class generos, which is a huge leg up in a lot of America let alone the world, but my parents worked to the bone to afford us such Florida standards as a pool and air-conditioning, as well as to send me to this crazy expensive university for which I received need-based grants and scholarships. But yeah, also, ok I admit it, I hadn’t seen very much hardship in my so-far 18 years of life, which may give you some context with which to interpret this story. And don’t worry – I have seen a lot of hardship since then and am no longer une petite princesse juvénile. I also now prefer open windows and fresh air. So there.

Anyway, at the time, I had not acclimated to my new aquarium even after a year, and as well I had already developed a serious thing against the Pittsburgh summer humidity. In high school, I had spent 6 summer weeks in the university’s Pre-College program, living in what was later my freshman year dorm, Delta Hall. Delta Hall looked like a big green can of sardines and had no air-conditioning in its living quarters, and I am telling you here and now, I really truly very nearly died. Of drowning in my own sweat in bed. I’d never experienced such dispiriting mugginess in all my sweet Florida life. It was so bad that I would frequently sneak downstairs to sleep in the blissfully cooled common room, and I did this so often that the counselors thought I had some kind of problem with my then-roommate, Jennifer.

By the way, Jennifer was pretty great too, so between her and Elizabeth I suppose I’d used up all my good-roommate-luck already. I really should have known; I’d have been better off with the cockroaches.

 

Moving to EastEx

So, off I trotted to EastEx, towing fake tree and all. I was to live in one of the very large suites, comprised of two double-occupancy rooms, and one single (which was, unfortunately, not the unoccupied space). Suite 217 faced northeast and upon entering you walked straight into the common living room area, looking out over a courtyard to a view of the University Center and main campus. The living space seemed pimp for a dorm room, all recently new and with two conveniently separated bathrooms heretofore labeled Bathroom#1 for the one with the commode and Bathroom#2 for the one with the shower. The whole suite was situated on the side of the building that did not face the adjacent football field thereby relieving us of marching band practice sounds on the weekend mornings. It all seemed very promising.

The existing occupants were a mostly international assortment. While my direct roommate, Rosa, was an American of Latino descent, the other double contained one girl from China, Margaret, and another from Saudi Arabia, Anwita; the single held a girl from India, Prisha. I was tentatively reassured by the diversity of my new living partners, optimistically imagining interesting cultural exchanges and exotic foods in my future.

All were wickedly book-smart upperclassmen (or should I say upperclasswomen?), as most students at this university tended to be, and the international students especially were studious to the max. You wouldn’t think anything that terrible could happen amongst a group of intelligent young women dedicated to their intensely challenging studies, but you’d be wrong.

We moved in, and as we all settled into our new lives together it became clear that variety was not the spice of everyone’s life. Though we were five, the Spice Girls we were not, and the variety of our backgrounds seemed to be more of a barrier than I had anticipated. Rosa and I got along just fine, which was a godsend because we actually shared a room together, but we also shared the indelibly American quality of gregariousness that is not so much appreciated by all cultures. Maybe we came off as invasive, or maybe we inadvertently said something offensive, or maybe they never wanted to like us in the first place, but from the minute we stepped into Suite 217 it was clear that we would both be permanently met with only a superficial nicety. And, actually, Prisha wasn’t even superficially nice. Tall, thin, and a sharp dresser with her nose held high, she didn’t seem to like anyone and rarely interacted with any of us. Most of the time that I saw her, she was bustlingly en route from the front door to her single, usually toting fistfuls of crisp laminated bags with fancy rope handles from stores like Banana Republic and United Colors of Benetton. She appeared to make purchases so frequently that I often wondered just where everything was going in that tiny room of hers, which I never once saw the inside of and from which she rarely emerged.

The common area became totally defunct at its function within weeks, as the feeling of welcome withered as completely as the dust settled in our stead. Everyone stayed in their rooms under tacit pressure of mild hostility. This confusing atmosphere was not only due to Prisha’s clear disdain; Margaret and Anwita had a closed-door attitude as well, along with some kind of perplexing friendship that Rosa and I couldn’t help but ponder. It seemed that perhaps they were the only residents of the suite who had actually known each other beforehand; however, Margaret had mentioned on more than one occasion that she had requested a single, exuding an air of miffedness about the fact that she was instead assigned her second-ranked choice of pairing up with Anwita. Perhaps that explained the strange undercurrent that palpably ran between them, in spite of the fact that they had also chosen to live together on purpose and seemed to get on reasonably well.

Paradoxically, Margaret emanated a bright and bubbly energy, but her effervescence was so great as to create an impermeable shield, and it became apparent that her geniality was only cosmetic in nature. Meanwhile, Anwita was much more of a brooding character, most often seen in a pajama’d state. She possessed a bewildering collection of stylish and designer shoes, all in sizes that were too small for her. She once explained this as her infatuation, obsessing over the physical beauty of them. OK – I guess I can get behind that – it’s quirky but at least it’s real.

Anwita was soft around the edges and by far the most genuine of the bunch (aside from my confederate, Rosa, of course). She was the only one from the rest of the suite to ever reach out across the invisible borders… just once… when she painstakingly crafted many honey-dripping confections of her heritage, in beautiful looping shapes of a pinky-red hue, and shared the sticky-sweet treats with me. It was but a momentary emergence from her shell, but a delicious one, and I was glad to have had a small connection with her, even if fleeting.

Trouble started to seep in around the edges over the course of the semester. Just little things here and there, starting with normal stuff. There were, of course, complaints about being too loud, mostly to me, about my music. I had one of those classic late-90’s dorm-common sound systems, the cube-shaped Aiwa AM-FM double-cassette 3-CD player. If you were around then, you will know it as the one with the annoying bright lights on the front that displayed an endless game of spinning jackpots beaming blue daggers directly through your eyelids as you tried to sleep at night. It. Was. AWESOME! Because also I could plug my computer into it via auxiliary cable, and that meant I could blast my aforementioned treasure trove of fancy, cutting-edge mp3s out the wazoo!!

Which Rosa and I loved to do. She had a best friend, Emily, who would come around allll the time, a real party chick, and her influence resulted in the frequent appearance of the song ‘Put It In Your Mouth’, the chorus of which goes, “Put it in your mouth, I said your motherfuckin’ mouth”, and which also contains charming lyrical gems such as “You wanna go down, why not? I be like Herbie and Hand-you-a-Cock” and (ALERT! ALERT! SKIP THIS LINE IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE!) “Creamin’ your teeth like dentists as I’m rubbin’ them, with an erection like injections, fuck it I be druggin’ them. Numbing up your tonsils, like Anbesol anesthetic, Cummin’ down your throat like chloraseptic.”

BUT WAIT! Before you dismiss this song as straight misogynistic tripe, which it very nearly is, there are lyrics at the end issuing a possibly GLBTQ-friendly message, “What do ya choose to lick, Pussy or dicks? People throughout the world, man it’s your pick.”

 Slightly redeeming?

Not to my suite-mates. They definitely did not enjoy this song on full-blast. And I guess I can say, I totally understand! That was really Emily and Rosa’s thing, but I bopped along, and I certainly had my share of doubtlessly annoying music that I played. I was majorly into experimental electronica of the day, Autechre, Aphex Twin, μ-ziq, Wagon Christ, Global Goon, Squarepusher… and the fast beats and scraping sounds were almost certainly not to everyone’s taste. I was also overly obsessed with Bjork, and there is only so much of anything on repeat that anyone can stand (even me in the end). Of course, I did keep it down, I am not a total asshole, but if it was the middle of the day and I did not think anyone else was there, I’d turn it up for sure!

Now, loud music is a 100% totally normal roommate gripe, but the complaint never came in a face-to-face form, or a friendly knock on our partially-open door. It was always by e-mail, from one of the other girls, sent to all five of us. Forever and ever, every gripe by email. Pointy-finger emails, about music, about dishes, about doors being open, about doors being closed, about toilet paper usage, about towels left around, emails emails emails emails emails. And they were seething long ones too, that must have seared the fingertips of the author as she flamingly stamped them out on her keyboard from just a few feet away on the other side of the wall. Actually, it was a few feet and a very closed and always locked door away. From the understandable to the absurd, all requests were dealt with acerbity. Thus an antagonistic tone was set for the year.

 

Strange Days Have Found Us

Strange things started happening. Strange and concerning things, to one girl in particular, Margaret. For example, one time Anwita’s homework went missing, and in the flip-out about this Margaret discovered that she was missing something too – several pairs of panties. They both swore they did not misplace these items, and that it must be that someone pilfered from their room. We urged them to make a report, especially Margaret, but she refused. Rosa and I did not know what to make of this, and became a bit skeptical of their story; maybe Anwita was just trying to evade punishment for missing an assignment, maybe Margaret was just trying to one-up her roommate for attention and glory to be gained. Really, with how little we knew about these people at two months into living together, genuinely anything seemed plausible to us. I wrote it off.

A few weeks later, an outburst from Margaret and Anwita’s room was the result of finding a love message written in her lipstick on her bedroom mirror. Surrounded by burgundy hearts, it said, “You will be mine, M – I’m watching you!”

!

OK, this was getting serious – someone really must have been breaking in to our suite, then into her room, to be doing these things. There were no marks of forced entry, which made it even scarier. Did this person have keys? Did he have ALL our keys? Was this person in our suite when any of us were home? Would he try to break into our room? Was this person a rapist? Was he… a MURDERER? Was he watching Margaret through the window from the building just across from us? Rosa and I also had a window on that wall; was he watching us as well? Would he try again, ShouldWeChangeOurLocks, ARE-WE-AT-THE-BEGINNING-OF-A-BAD-HORROR-MOVIE?!?!?!?!

But Margaret had an unusual response to all of this. She was the right-seeming amount of scared for herself but unusually cool at the same time, and then completely dismissive of our concerns for the welfare of people other than herself in the suite. It seemed to us that we were all in danger of this mystery person, but she was quick to correct us – almost as if a matter of pride – that is was SHE who was the target of this supposed lunatic’s passion, and that we had nothing to worry about. None of this made any sense.

I should also mention, Margaret had a very tall but stout, Caucasian boyfriend named Barron, a Texan who surely shopped in the King Size department. She called him her Puffy Papa Bear and he called her his Stinky Kitty Cat, and when he stood next to her petite physique they were quite a striking pair. More striking, though, were the sounds of their couplings, which were loud and obscenely littered with her shrill screeches of, “MEEOOOOWWWWEEEEWOWWWWEEE-MEOWWWWW!” Stifling our laughter, Rosa and I would exchange raised eyebrows and fanciful hypotheses about what must be going on behind that door – surely she was in a dominatrix pleather bustier and kitten ears, brandishing a cat-o-nine-tails at an on-all-fours and ball-gagged Barron. That just seemed like the kind of relationship they had; he was larger in size, no doubt, but she was definitely the one in charge. As such, he seemed to take her cue on this whole threatening-stalker-mystery-suitor thing, and was not nearly as affected by it as I would have been, if I were in his position.

Over the next month, these unsettling invasion attempts continued with increasing flair, until finally one afternoon I returned home to find the suite swarmed by campus police. Anwita was locked in her room, fists pounding on the door, wailing, “I didn’t do it!” and begging to be let out. What on earth was going on?

The Detective Sergeant sat me down in the common room and informed me that Margaret had received an emailed death threat, targeting herself and Barron, and that she had enlisted the campus police and computing specialist administrators to reverse track the email to its site of origin. Apparently – DING DING DING – it came from her OWN room, and from ANWITA’S computer’s Ethernet port.

 

SAY WHAT?!

Anwita was the culprit!!! Anwita was the culprit??? What the hell?!?! WE WERE LIVING WITH A MANIAC! Well, I guess that would explain how the person got in and out without any signs of forced entry… But WHY? Did she develop an infatuation with her roommate as she did with her beloved shoe collection? Creeeee-pyyyyyy! Or was this a spun out attempt to get out of that unfinished homework assignment from the first incident? True, our university was so stressfully competitive that a person could be driven to extremes in order to stay afloat; yet even so that idea seems a bit outlandish… Maybe it was simple: she was moody broody in general, maybe she was just generally unstable enough to do something this crazy. I mean, I really didn’t know her all that well. I should never have eaten her sweet treats! But WAIT – she’s a computer science major – how stupid would she have to be to send such an incriminating email in a traceable manner? That’s a rookie mistake. WHAT on earth was going on??

Anwita was sobbing and pounding and pounding and sobbing, and the police were just milling around conferring amongst themselves, merciless to her pleas. After a while, her room became suddenly and noticeably quiet. Just as it had been long enough to get worried about what she might be doing in there, she banged on her door in a new way, a sharp rap, and chirpily announced an unambiguous declaration, “I have PROOF!”

From under the door, a small slip of paper partially protruded. It was an ATM receipt, issued at the precise time that the death threat email had been sent. The detectives were even able to procure the ATM security footage, revealing in a fish-eye view that she really had been present elsewhere at the time of the technological terror.

OK – really – what on EARTH was going on?

Now, ok, so maybe Anwita didn’t do it? But WAIT – she’s a computer science major – she’d definitely know how to set an email to send at a time when she was not even there, perhaps even intentionally going to the ATM to produce an iron-clad alibi for herself! Was I living in an episode of Law & Order? Could she be that diabolical?

Apparently, the campus police didn’t think so. They and the cyber-detectives poured through the evidence over the next week, and slowly but surely, the eye of their suspicion began to swivel away from Anwita… and began narrowing in the direction of none other than the original object of threat, Margaret herself.

Like, whoa! Could it be that she had sent the message to herself, on her roommate’s computer? I suppose she very well could have; in those times, passwords were not as ubiquitous or as robust, and it was regular practice to leave one’s email logged into or even open. Margaret could have easily taken the opportunity of Anwita’s absence to send the email, assuming it unlikely that she would ever have physical evidence to prove her whereabouts at the time of sending. Moreover, Margaret knew Anwita’s schedule of classes and other such activities where she would have a natural alibi, so she could easily pick a time when she would suppose there’d be no chance for her to provably defend herself. She must have picked a time when she thought Anwita went to do something mundane and solo, like studying in the library, but guessed wrong. When I stopped to think about it, the pieces fit.

But oh geeze, who knows!!! That sounds ridiculous and implausible too! However, before you wave away such an absurd hypothesis let me just tell you what happened next. Margaret, at the first whiff of potential scrutiny, promptly dropped the case. And since it was just the campus police and no real injury had taken place, there were no more investigatory proceedings. The whole issue just vanished – POOF! – and astonishingly, there were Margaret and Anwita, still living in the same room, under the same roof, just on the other side of my wall. As if nothing had ever happened at all. No more weird events targeting Margaret were to transpire again, and lickety split the first semester of the year was over and it was time for Winter Break.

 

Spring Semester

The holidays came and went, a brief respite from the intensity of coursework and my weird living situation. We all returned to campus, freshened by the break. While a rancorous haze was still present in the suite, the previous semester’s events started to feel like merely the plot of a lucid dream. Things seemed still, stable. All in all it was an improvement to the situation.

We all went about the business of trying to peaceably cohabitate the best we could, each with our own flaws to contribute. Prisha was still stuck-up and caustic, while Anwita was still gloomy and possibly even more reclusive than she’d been before. Rosa raucously partied a little too much, with her frequently visiting party-girl friend Emily, and I had my boyfriend Andrew over for a few too many slumber parties, creating the feel of a sixth (and very male) roommate. And Margaret, well, she was still shifty-eyed and having her weird loud cat sex with Barron with abandon. Long, abrasive emails still flew around, but it all started to seem manageable and ordinary. We had adapted.

That is, until the Fish Incident.

Ugh, the Fish Incident, a harbinger to a mudslide of wretchedness.

Poor, little goldfish, tangled in the loom
He could never have known his peril, or avoided his doom
Someone, we may never know whom
Placed him on the heater in the living room
From whence his bowl became his tomb

The fish was Anwita’s. She pointed the finger at Margaret, which seemed pretty reasonable given the previous semester’s events. But Margaret deftly parlayed the accusation towards Prisha, who palpably hated everyone and could have definitely done it out of pure animosity. Eyes also turned on Rosa and me – we were never left out of allegations of wrongdoing – but the only person who I KNEW didn’t do it was me (though I remained steadfast in my belief that Rosa and I were totally united by our abstinence from the drama of our suite). Emails flurried about, but subsided naturally; no campus police were called on behalf of the little unsuspecting pet.

This was now our norm – a fish was MURDERED and it was just par for the course.

Strange things started happening again, but this time not just to Margaret. It was almost like an evil came alive in the suite, like we lived at The Overlook Hotel from The Shining and the suite was sucking away at everything that resided within it.

The toilet paper kept disappearing. ALL of it. Housing Services visited all campus suites biweekly, resupplying lowered stocks. They’d leave us with ample supply, 24 rolls once I counted, and it’d be gone in a week. Where was it all going?

Like the Eighth Plague of locusts in the Old Testament, ants started appearing and crawling the bounds of my bedroom.There were not too many of them, but they were giant and hairy; carpenter ants that could only have been brought with me from Florida in that stupid fake tree. Why didn’t we see them in Fall? What drove them out of hiding now? The winter cold? This ant behavior was highly illogical – were we getting a message from God?

Dishes piled up on the long countertop of Bathroom#1, the one with the toilet. You see, we did not have a kitchenette in the suite, nothing even as deluxe as the weird mini-fridge, stovetop, roach-fauceted unit of the apartment I’d left behind in favor of this nightmare. We just had a shared single-burner hot-plate in the living room (one of the very few reasons anyone ever entered the space), or if feeling ambitious we might ride the elevator down to the spartan kitchen in the grey-block and barren basement. There was no dining space there though, so one had to always ride the elevator back up towing hot pots and pans of prepared foods to eat in-room. Then, out of laziness and convenience, we (all) almost always washed our dishes in the ill-suited bathroom sink of Bathroom#1.

I say ‘almost always washed’ with a bit of irony though, as the dishes that remained next to the sink almost never were washed. In fact, gradually the very long countertop became filled to its spatial capacity with pots and pans and dishes, all filthy with smears of condiments and even substantial quantities of leftover food. One pot vividly stamped into memory contained a good bit of some kind of porridge-turned-science-experiment as it began to form a verdant forest of moldy life-forms upon its surface. So you see, it was not just days of neglect, it was weeks upon weeks. One time I even passive-aggressively squirted dishwashing soap into all of the detritus, squeezing extra thick layers to coat the Gruel Gangrene.

But there was no change. The pots and pans and plates stayed dirty and in their long-standing positions, like little soldiers placed by their supercilious owners. Many of these dishes were Prisha’s, and I swear I saw her one-day return with armfuls of her pretty shopping bags, this time from Crate & Barrel, filled with brand new cook- and tableware. This girl, rather than push up her sleeves to clean a dish, and also rather than removing the disgusting remains of her prior set, chose to simply use her buying power to evade the situation entirely. New dirty dishes showed up. Nothing was getting cleaned. This was getting GROSS.

Finally it was my turn to angrily send one of those infamous emails. But it was like sending a message into a vacuum; I didn’t even hear an echo.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. I rolled up my own sleeves and… got a giant black trash bag and threw them all away! Hair pulled back and thick elbow-length yellow gloves donned, I gingerly plucked each one from the countertop and recklessly chucked them into their new resting place, with a smug satisfaction. I figured, how could any of my roommates get mad? They obviously are not USING these dishes, nor do they have an apparent NEED for them, and one of them had even already bought replacements, so… why not? Plus, hopefully this would get their attention, and they’d feel such shame and guilt that they would tuck their tails, learn their lesson, and never leave a dirty dish alongside this sink again – mu ha ha ha ha haaaaaaa!

One day later, new dish. Also, no acknowledgement. From anyone.

Except Rosa, of course, who was my ally. By the way, when I say ‘anyone’ and ‘everyone’, I almost always mean everyone and anyone aside from Rosa and myself. Rosa and I were on a little island in our room, huddling together amid this maelstrom of growing squalor. However, I am not speaking on behalf of Rosa in my story. She seemed mostly to hunker down and simply exist her way through this mess, while I continued to tentatively poke about the edges, hoping to find some better shelter or a way to make it stop. But this was a hurricane, and there was no escaping its path. I slowly began to realize that winter break had simply been the eye of the storm.

My moment of victory was brief, and the dishes began to pile again. The toilet became a problem too. It had clogged and been repaired by maintenance so many times since the beginning of the semester that Housing Services stopped expediently filling our repetitive urgent unclogging requests. They seemed to have given up on us after the plumber told them about all these crazy things he’d find in the snaking process: hair, sanitary pads, food, and even, you will not believe this, PAPER PLATES. WHO FLUSHES PAPER PLATES DOWN THE TOILET!? I mean, how do you even do that? Also, that was NOT what I intended when I passive-aggressively threw away all their dishes and then beseeched the heavens above that no more new dirty dishes would appear. I guess that is one way to avoid doing dishes, but… what?!? It’s unbelievable, flushing a paper plate. What kind of sloths was I living with?

 

In a Galaxy Far Far Away

I have to say, it was pretty irresponsible of Housing Services to let us down this way, in spite of the fact that somehow we deserved it – or at least someone in our suite deserved it. But they left us with a non-functioning toilet and told us that they would get around to it eventually (evidently having placed our work order at the very bottom of the pile) and that we should use the public restroom located on the first floor of the building for now. Can you believe that? The public ladies room was more or less directly below us by two floors but the stairwell next to our suite would not open on that floor without setting off an alarm, so to get there we had to trot all the way to the other end of the building to the elevator end and then trot all the way back, whatever time it was, day or night, even in pajamas and socks. Better hope it wasn’t an emergency.

And then some other things started happening. Bathroom #2 (with the shower) began to deteriorate, nullifying its status as a sanctuary immune from its sordid surroundings. Trash bags began piling up, from the far corner and ever growing, in the same manner as the piles of dishes in the adjacent toilet room. I never saw anyone place trash there, but nevertheless it appeared, and grew. The shower room became an ominous place to be, especially naked. It was like cleansing myself in the garbage compactor of the Death Star; a slimy, tentacled dianoga monster surely lurked within the room, ready to take my vulnerable body down like a nude Luke Skywalker.

Because Housing Services had stopped visiting us in some kind of attempt at punishment for our forever-clogging toilet, we also were not receiving any of the other normal services. This included restocking the now superfluous toilet paper, as well as a discontinuation of regular trash removal. This was how we found our lives unraveling into interminable foulness. That, and of course none of us were taking the trash out. Amongst ourselves, we were engaged in an extreme standoff. No one would admit to contributing to the nasty mess, and so also no one would clean it. I already knew from my experience with tossing the dishes that a magical removal of the mess did nothing but reinforce the despicable behavior, and for myself to do another round of such cleanup would only promote me to the undesirable role of housekeeper. No, as deplorable as the conditions were becoming, even I would not lift a finger.

Matters got worse, even still. You couldn’t imagine so, especially from a lot of GIRLS, but it did. This is the stuff you might… mayyybe… POSSibly… expect in a frat house. But even then, I don’t think it would get quite this bad. Bathroom#1 (with the toilet) started to grow rank, and not from the dishes that had sprouted once again, invading like kudzu and noxiously crawling over every surface. To my utter astonishment, the toilet itself was the origin of the offensive odors. Someone had dared to defile it with his or her excrement!

It started with just an apparent whizz or two, but one time Margaret’s businessman father visited from China; clean and clad in sophistication, he unsuspectingly stepped into the loo. I distinctly remember it because, from my room across the hall, I froze at the sound of the door clicking shut. My shoulders paralytically hunched, a small panic shivered through me that the disgustingness of our lives should be both discovered and regrettably inflicted upon an innocent bystander. I awaited his exit, which I was sure would be immediate and accompanied by a nose wrinkled in distaste. But he emerged after some time and as if all was normal, and later I could not help but discover – by olfactory means – that he had left behind something a little more substantial than what had previously existed.

After that, I swear that new unfresh odors of similar type arose at least two more times, and I began to wish I had received crime scene tape for Christmas. Margaret’s dad might not have known the toilet was broken – a simple accident – but the other incidents? Nuh-uh – someone wasn’t taking the extra time to go downstairs.

Even grosser, I swear to you by the Power of Grayskull that I once saw fecal matter on another girl’s hand towel. That means there existed a person whom I lived with every day that not only found it fit to poop in a known-to-be-unflushable vessel, but also then in the absence of toilet tissue chose to wipe their dirty little anus clean with a cloth that was normally used on someone else’s FACE. GROSS. I just hope whosever’s towel it was noticed it too, before they inadvertently gave themselves a brown mustache.

GROSSGROSS

And while Bathroom#1 could be mostly avoided, save for the radius of stench I had to pass through on the way to and fro my bedroom, soon enough the garbage room – oops I mean Bathroom #2 with the shower – started developing its own distinctive aroma (and not just from the overflowing piles of trash). No, this extra special form of aromaterrorism bloomed during bath time as the heat of the water unlocked a fragrant bouquet into the steaming mist that rose to soften my pores.

Someone was urinating in the shower – now nowhere was safe!!!!

 

Not cool, Erika

OK – so are you grossed out yet? Because I am. My living place was a literal shithole. But we all kept living in it, because I guess that is what you do. I mean, what choice did I have? Housing Services held the power to help the situation but apparently elected not to, abandoning us outright. At this point, there were just about five weeks left in the semester. I back-of-the-envelope calculated the anticipated increase in dilapidation based on the trajectory of its prior growth: the results did not look so good, but I forced myself to accept them so that I could grin and bear it for the duration. So, I hunkered down in my room and, as in my Floridian pursuit of air-conditioning, I ran from the sanctity of my room to the library, to the computer clusters, and to each and every one of my classes (extra early, to boot). I escaped into my studies and extracurricular activities, and in those parts of my life, flourished.

Once again, everyone in the suite seemed to settle into this new, demoted version of life, each of us creating our own little snorkels to survive amid an atmosphere grown thick with a suffocating malevolence. Clearly a monster slept among us, emergent from our collective enmity. Mere humans that we were, the air of malice niggled at us all, insidiously transforming us into the worst versions of ourselves.

I’ve already told you about sins other residents committed, things I discovered with increasing horror: impossibly dirty dishes, irresponsible trash piling, #1s in the shower, #2s in the broken toilet, and hand towels turned T.P. But what of me? Was I some sinless wonder, and if I claim to be could you trust the truth of my story? Well let me bear honesty – I did do a couple of deplorable things that did not serve to uplift our plight.

As the conditions worsened, the absurdity of it all became infectious, and I do believe I started going a bit mad. I stopped caring so much if my music was loud, and I would not turn it down so quickly after the inevitable scathing email arrived. I also had my boyfriend over all the time and cared much less about how much his male presence bothered anyone. I even hauled one of those uncomfortably rigid, scratchy-fabric-upholstered dorm chairs from the living room to the shower room, whereupon Andrew and I had loud and vigorous sex within earshot of Prisha, and I did not even care what she thought. In fact, I hoped she was listening with piss-scented steam coming out her ears. Not big deals, maybe, but I knew in my heart that I was acting from a place of spite.

Not cool, Erika.

One time, after the toilet had broken its final time and Housing Services informed us that they would not be our white knights come to save us from our water closet woes, but before we were totally out of the now-useless toilet paper, I did something quite imprudent. With the glee of a little girl, I played a game with Andrew where we tossed the rolls back and forth, giggling madly as they unwound, rolling and bouncing down the long hallway outside of the bathrooms. Maybe it does not seem that bad to you, but I know in my heart that we were doing precisely what Housing Services had scolded us about when they admonished our overabundant use of toilet paper (think of all the trees?!?). I did not normally contribute to such flagrant wastefulness, when the toilet was working… but I definitely was now. It was a moment of entirely selfish stress relief, and when I concentrate on the memory I can still conjure a trace of my loony mental state, head thrown back cackling like a supervillain about to launch my fiendish plan as I looked out across the expanse of my white, tissue-covered domain.

Not cool, Erika!

Well, now that I type all those confessions out, I see they don’t seem so bad. So let me hit you with the worst one. I did also once pee in the shower, with my boyfriend. He peed too. At the same time. It was not some kind of kinky golden shower fetish thing; it was because I had lost my mind. This was in the height of the filth that we had to tip-toe through just to get to the shower stall, and it really seemed like – why the fuck not?Obviously someone else was doing it, and the whole place stunk already, and everything about my living conditions seemed so out of my control, so wildly wildly out of my control… Maybe peeing in our shared shower was a way I could take some small semblance of control back, you know? So we did it. We peed, and for that entire minute it was glorious (cue supervillain cackling)! But then, suddenly, I felt an uncomfortable fellowship with the animals, for I had peed on my territory, marking it and establishing my dominance. Immediate shame flooded in, because in reality I was just being gross and contributing to the degradation of my surroundings.

NOT cool, Erika.

By the way, on the subject of peeing in the shower, I understand that a lot of people do it, but I really don’t recommend it, especially when the floor is absorptive grout and tile. This leads to the aforementioned vile bouquet, and I would suppose you could ruin a perfectly good bathroom that way. On the other hand, my dad’s good friend from back-in-the-day London, a Mr. John Lalley, used to tell me that when HE was a young man in the British Army they taught him that the surest way to cure athlete’s foot was to pee on your feet in the shower. Now, I don’t know if that is true or not, but I did not once have athlete’s foot in the year I had to bathe in this pee-riddled abode, nor did anyone else to my knowledge, so maybe there is something to it. Then again, I actually haven’t ever had athlete’s foot at any point in my life, pee-free shower or not, so maybe this little bit of evidence is not so good. I will leave it up to you; pee in your own shower if it pleases you. Just don’t come crying to me about it when it turns out that you stunk it up.

 

Now the good bit

So on we go, living in spite of all this, rubbing each other the wrong way over and over again at increasing vigor, our environment and morals both sinking further into decay. Get used to it, bro.

One night, my boyfriend Andrew was over to do some homework together. We were both taking a pretty hard but pretty fun math class entitled Concepts of Mathematics. In this class, we sat around talking about logic and doing things like proving how math works (sounds like a hoot, I know!).

OK – NERD ALERT! – now I am going to subject you to some maths. I am not a sadistic storyteller trying to bore you – well, that’s not exactly true – I am in fact trying to bore you, for just a minute, but not for sadistic reasons. Rather, I figure if I can sink you into the frame of mind that the two of us were in at the moment I am describing, perhaps you may more viscerally feel the mental sensations preceding and resulting from what was to follow. If you want to skip it, I understand. In fact, I understand so much that I have contained it in a text-book pop-out box, so you will conveniently know exactly where you should tune back into the story.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

Writing a mathematical proof means to formally display, by writing a set of rules, how a mathematical principle may be carried out. First you write a single, provable “base case”, and then you write an “induction rule” that further proves that any arbitrary case implies the next one. It’s a concept. Of Math.

OK so here’s how it works, via an example. One of the many concepts we were tasked to prove in this class was the Fibonacci Sequence. C’mon, you know the one, 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 113 … et cetera, blah blah yada, well history tells us that Leonardo Pisano Bigollo Fibonacci proposed this sequence in the year 1202, with his famous rabbit mating problem (because even then you had to add sex appeal to get a student’s attention).

Say the following attributes are true of rabbits (they aren’t, but suppose they are): Two rabbits are able to mate at the age of one month, and gestation also takes one month, and this produces an additional pair of rabbits, always one male and one female, oh and also no rabbit ever dies. And Mr. Fibb didn’t mention this, but I would suppose that any rabbits who’ve just birthed also have an extremely short refractory period of just a couple days before they begin their next round of bonking, which they always do (this is actually the most factual detail of the rabbit breeding cycle, just FYI, as a female bun is able to replenish her oven the VERY NEXT DAY after birth – man give a girl a break!).

Necessary incestuousness of the scenario inside, you would wind up with a great many rabbits over only a few iterations, and the amount is perfectly calculable, following just a simple proof of concept.

This essentially says: if you start with a sequence of [0 1], from thence onward each next number is equal to the sum of the outcomes of the two before it, thereby defining the full sequence to a length of infinity by recurrence relation. So, say you want to calculate F(10), that is, the number of pairs of rabbits you’d have by the 10th bunny orgy, you need to sum the outcome from the F(9)th orgy and the F(8)th orgy. Since I already gave you a partial sequence above, you can see that F(9)=21 and F(8)= 34, so F(10)=21+34=55. You’d have 55 pairs of rabbits (a total of 110 cross-eyed incest bunnies) after only 10 orgies! That’s pretty much it. It ain’t so hard.

Well, it gets hard though, because then they ask you to do stuff like use that information to prove, for all n≥1, that:

Then your brain explodes.

 

So there we were, just sitting around in the suite’s common room burning the midnight oil and suffering the mildly enjoyable perplexing torment of problems very much harder than the one above, with our brains slowly leaking out our ears as we strived and struggled for solutions.

You know how it is when you have been working at something so hard and for so long that your brain starts to become blank and empty? But not, like, blank and empty because you have been meditating and finally reached a deeper zen state of nirvana. Nor like the blank and empty of being newly born, when the whole world is this sensational brilliant place that your neurons are primed to assimilate. I’m talking… BLANK… and EMPTY… like there is this dearth of energy that leads to a great void in which nearly anything might happen. Lower brain structures become less inhibited, and funny things start to burble to the surface. Sometimes it might be anger and whatnot, but very frequently, it is actually funny things – I mean things start to get silly, and the giggles can set in.

This was the state we found ourselves in at around 3am, as it became apparent that our fatigue had been surreptitiously building an impenetrable stone wall, separating us from our potential to make any further progress on our homework at that time. However, weary as we were, sleep was not an option yet – too much work left – so instead we took a break.

Now, I can’t explain or justify what we wound up doing for our break, other than the fact that we were completely loopy with mental exhaustion and were no longer making sound decisions. Thus, in some weird attempt at stress alleviation, we entertained ourselves by monkeying around, playfully tossing the bits of debris that littered the suite at each other. Like I said, I don’t know WHY this seemed like a good idea, or anything approximating fun, but alas it was what we were doing, and for some twisted reason, it WAS fun. Like, toilet-paper-roll-tossing fun.

So, it started with little things – a scrap of cardboard, bare toilet paper tubes, packing paper from the bags laying around from Prisha’s shopping trips – and escalated to free-floating sanitary napkin wrappers and used tissues (SO gross). Thinking back, I guess the game was to see who would pick up the next grossest thing, and the reward for doing so was the right to throw that nasty thing at the other person. SUCH a riot, I know, and before too long we found ourselves at full tilt in the garbage/shower Bathroom #2, swinging the many bags of trash at each other.

By this time in the semester, the pile of garbage was up to approximately 3.5 feet high at its peak, with a spread of about the same emanating out from the corner of the room and obstructing entry to the closet. There were plenty of bags to choose from, making for a many minutes war that was mildly repulsive but mostly harmless. That is, until I caught a whiff of kitty litter.

Kitty litter — this gave me pause. I entered into a little isolated space of thought as I chewed over the alarming emergence of this incongruous scent. Andrew was on the outside, laughing and all smiles, hooping and hopping and still flinging bags at me while the impoverished gears of my brain were sluggishly crunching data. For what possible reasons would kitty litter be present in our suite, in a trash bag, in the corner of our shower room? We didn’t have pets – well, other than the ant we’d trapped in a cup and that pet fish who was now long gone. And for sure there was no way anyone could be harboring a kitten without being detected (crazy creepy sex meows notwithstanding).

My brain could not compute, but it knew something was wrong. The only words that would come out were, “NO”, and “STOP”, which finally I uttered amid a rain of refuse. Andrew, immersed in his own lunacy, slowly came to as he realized my mood had changed and something was terribly amiss.

Once the dust had settled, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

“There is something wrong about that bag,” I said, pointing to the offender.

He glanced down at it for a moment. Looking back up at me he said, “Let’s just stop the game and get back to work,” making a move towards the open door.

I stood firm. “No… there is something really wrong with that bag, I think we need to open it.”

Something inside me was compelled, beyond reason, beyond anything I could explain or prove – I just knew we had to open that bag. Something was off, in a major way. And I had to know what it was.

Without any further hesitation I gingerly plucked the bag from the pile and placed it in the dwindled clear spot between us. We looked at it.

“What’s wrong with it?” Andrew asked.

“It smells like cat litter, can’t you smell it?”

He made a squinched up face. “I don’t want to smell it! Leave it alone, let’s go.” He grasped my arm with a soft tug urging me toward the door.

“No!” I hissed, pulling my arm back to my side. “I’m sorry, I have to open it! I know… I know its weird, but I have to.”

Promptly squatting down before he could try to pull me away again, I started in on the double knot that closed the plump plastic grocery bag. It felt like a perverted twist of being in some Legend of Zelda dungeon opening a treasure chest, only instead of uncovering a covetable hookshot I was sure I would be discovering something depraved and disturbing. There would be no uplifting victory music, but maybe something more like the punctuated stabbing sounds of the Psycho shower scene.

After a few minutes of fumbling fiddling I finally had it flapped open. I braced myself for the worst and looked within.

 

NOTHING

Nothing! There was nothing!

Well, not nothing. There was trash, that was for sure, but it seemed innocuous. Just a lot of papers and wrappers, some crumpled, some flat; just totally 100% generic boring old trash. And definitely no kitty litter.

“SEE!” cried Andrew.

I panicked. “No! This can’t be. There is something wrong with this, I just know it!”

“You are being paranoid, this place is disgusting and… and it is just getting to you. I mean, what could possibly be in there anyway?”

“Yes, well, but….” I sat for a few seconds considering. Regaining my resolution I said, “But what about the kitty litter smell? I still smell it. What is that?”

“I don’t know, but wrap it back up and put it back before one of your roommates sees you digging through their trash! C’mon, let’s get out of here!”

A flash in my brain, “…Digging…”

Dig! Dig, yes, that is what I must do! I urgently looked about the mess, searching, “I need an implement! Quick, help me find something, a… a stick or… something pokey!”

“Oh no, c’mon please let’s just leave it alone!” he pleaded.

Just then, I spied a solo wire hanger in the corner with a glowing halo around it. My eyes lit up; Andrew followed the direction of my gaze and emitted an exasperated sigh, rolling his eyes and looking away as I edged into the fringe of the trash and balanced on one toe, hand on the wall for stability, gracefully arching over the pile to extract my new tool.

As I began to unwind the hanger, converting it into a very long and bendy hook, Andrew began to fidget in agitation. Recognizing the battle was lost and that an excavation was impending, he switched to lookout mode and pushed the door to near-closed, peering out to detect if we had roused any potential witnesses to our misconduct.

Quietly, oh so quietly, I began to warily prod, jab, and stab at the contents of the bag. I did so delicately, as if what I was about to unearth may detonate upon puncture. I peeled layer after layer of rubbish off the top, with increasing suspense as the various tissue and paper towels seemed to be increasing in moisture as I neared the core of the muddle. At the discovery of this dampness, Andrew’s interest became piqued and he came to hover over my shoulder. To my relief I felt his resistance turn to shared suspicion, only to dissolve into revolted horror as I pared away the final, soaking layer to reveal five very large, perfectly aligned, dark brown logs of poo.

 

REET! REET! REET! REET!

In case you couldn’t tell, that’s supposed to be the sounds from the Psycho shower scene. Do it in your head, and you will hear the sounds I did in the otherwise silent hour of the night, followed shortly by a brainsplosion of, OMG OMG OMG POO!

Honestly, I can’t recollect the details of exactly all my actions in the post-discovery moment. It is like that sometimes with a trauma; time changes speed, many feelings become fused, and memories get logged out of order. But I do know that we freaked. the. fuck. OUT.

I mean… here was all this POO! But not just one secret poo – five healthy logs, all lined up in an orderly fashion. That means someone not only pooped in a bag, but repeatedly pooped in a bag, returning to the scene of the crime to commit a new act again and again. How many bags in that pile contained such carefully lain poop? Was it just the one, or are carefully lain poop parcels like cockroaches: if you see one there are a thousand more? How did the poop-itrator even extrude it so carefully? Did they poop on something else and then painstakingly transfer it to this bag, like cookies to a cooling rack? Or did they somehow always know the length of their own poops-to-be and hover over the bag moving their butt like a cake decorator with a frosting bag? How regular is this person that the poops were of such a similar length, color, and firmness? On that note, and perhaps most importantly, WHO was this person. Clearly, one of my roommates — but which one?!?!

After we shook off the initial burst of realizing we had just uncovered human excrement and thus a secret pooper among us, I swiftly went to rouse Rosa. As my only comrade in the suite, I assumed we were on a similar enough wavelength in general that she would not be a secret bag-pooper. I had to wake her up. I had to show her. Because, also, it seemed so UNREAL. I mean, what if I had entered some swirly twilight zone version of candid camera and this was some elaborate fake poop joke, the producers of the show wringing their hands in glee at my horrified and genuine reaction to their poop plant? Or, maybe I was actually just asleep, face down in books right there in the next room over, having a terrible Concepts of Mathematics fueled nightmare of equations that just don’t compute, trippin’ straight balls. I needed further validation.

So, leaving Andrew to stand guard over our findings, lest it disappear in our absence, I trotted down the hallway to awaken Rosa. She was a super duper sleep lover so it took a few shakes, and her initial response to my urgent cries of apparent lunacy was simply to blink at me. Once convinced of the need to become vertical, she trudged to the shower room to see for herself, at which point she, too, lost her mind.

A pod of three strong, we still had no idea who did it, or what to do now that we knew someone was doing it, but obviously something needed to be done, and something big. This infraction merited much more than the ineffectual long and bitter email; it needed big guns. Yet, at the same time, it did not seem like a call to the campus police was in order. I mean, what was I going to say? ‘HELP! I found poop in my bathroom!’ Were they going to send someone to see us at what was now 4am? Would they take DNA samples and file criminal charges? I mean, it definitely felt criminal to me in the moment, but actually it is totally legal to poop in a bag if you want to as long as no one sees you doing it. You are even technically allowed to mail poop as long as the person receiving it is not the object of your harassment. And, well, whoever this pooper was, they were clearly NOT meaning for anyone else to find it, having covered it up so thoroughly after each pooping session. It was personal poop. Not harassment poop. It wasn’t exactly meant to disturb me, but of course it was thoroughly rude to leave it laying around a shared living space. I mean, if you are going to poop in a bag to save yourself the trip downstairs, the least you could do is limit it to one poop per bag that you then take with you the next time you go to class, tossing it in some public can somewhere along the way. It is just common decency.

I’d like to think that, if there were a society of secret bag-poopers, they would probably have bylaws to maintain a sense of class about their discreet act, such as eliminate your eliminations at earliest convenience, and, when your vile secret has been discovered, make your identity known so that other can sleep peacefully at night. They’d have a little framed cross-stitch in the hallway saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; If it’s brown, poop in that bag and then take that bag downstairs to the damn trash can next time you leave you goddamn lazy heathen!” My imagination tells me that even the members of this secret bag-pooping society would be appalled at the behavior of whichever one of my roommates was pulling this repugnant move.

But there is no such society (I think), and you can’t go to regular or even campus jail for being a rude poop-saving roommate. But still, this act could not go unpunished! So I sat down at my computer in the wee hours of the morning and furiously composed an email from myself and Rosa to the Resident Assistant and Campus Advisor of our building, as well as Student Housing Services. It very politely but sternly told them the story of my findings and my need for their assistance in sorting out the situation because I didn’t know who did it and was beginning to lose my mind living in these deplorable conditions with these apparently insane people, and how am I supposed to be able to focus on school with the stress of this extremely detrimental living situation? PLEASE SEND HELP!

Then I did the only thing left to do; I retied up the bag and snuggled it back amongst its trash brothers as if nothing had ever happened, for I didn’t want the offender to sniff out that they’d been caught. Then I sent Andrew home and went to bed. My mind raced, my body burned, and sleep eluded my pursuit until the early morning hours. Only once the sun had crested the horizon did my senses finally quell, enabling me to succumb to a fitful, restless sleep. I dreamt that an ant ate my homework.

 

The Morning After

At first I awoke with a vacant sense of calm overlaid by a nascent grumpiness due to lack of sleep and overexertion of the brain. The grump factor then quickly grew to a sudden remembrance of all that transpired mere hours before. At this, I flung my blanket off and hopped down from my lofted bed, swinging like a gibbon straight to my computer. I was anxious to see a response to my email, which I was sure would be wholeheartedly sympathetic and a rush to my aid.

Boy, was I disappointed. From start to finish, I’m sorry to have to report that the response was neither. Probably fueled by their own previously generated sense of disgust about our suite in general, the campus officials treated the situation like it was Them vs. Us, and barbed the fence to keep me from getting over into the Them side. Couldn’t they see??? It was Them+Me+Rosa vs. TheOtherThem! But they could not see, not past their own noses (which, by the way, they did not even deign to use take a whiff of the situation personally).

Instead, they waved their hands dismissively by positing various scenarios to explain the situation, scenarios that somehow they considered to be harmless alternatives relative to my assertions. For example, they suggested that perhaps some boys down the hall were playing a mean-spirited prank on us. Exsqueeze me? You mean that some nameless guys we don’t even know (because no one talked to their neighbors around here) decided to lay a bunch of perfect poop logs in a bag (unconscionable for a woman but totally reasonable for a dude?), carefully camouflage it with layers of real trash, BREAK into our suite when they hoped that all five of us would be gone or otherwise inattentive, go into our disgusting shower room full of disgusting trash that they somehow already knew about in spite of never having been in our suite before, and sneak this matching bag of trash in amongst all the others, concealing it so we wouldn’t even probably find it, all with no possible chance of knowing when and if their stunt was even uncovered? What kind of prank is that? I’ll tell you, it’s a dumb prank. A dumb prank that never happened. Also, if that WAS what happened, how would that be better? There’d be an even worse situation with a secret lock-picking prank pooper on the loose. HOW WOULD THAT BE A COMFORT?

Anyway, the pooper was definitely a resident of the suite. I could feel it in my bones. I just didn’t know who it was.

Around this time, I called my mom and cried. Maybe this is common for other people, but not for me. I almost only ever cry alone, and definitely never to my mom, not since she called me sensitive after I cried on my basketball over losing HORSE in our driveway at the age of 11 (no hard feelings Mom, its just a thing). But I knew she’d have my back, and boy oh boy did I lose my shit! I called and just cried like a baby, sobbing about how hard it was and other such puny baby notions. It was a pretty low point, and I felt like a dandelion puff whose seeds had all blown away except for the one to which I madly clung.

The one positive effect of all of this was that they finally did send cleaning and plumbing staff to the suite. They hauled all the trash away, fixed the toilet, and disinfected the joint. They did so unhappily, and though they gave me the stink eye just as severely as they did the rest of my roommates, I mostly felt victory that at least the immediate chaos was becoming orderly. I also felt a profound sense of relief that the need for secret bag pooping would now be eliminated just as soon as the toilet was fixed (unless the person rather liked the bag pooping, which was not implausible given her unknown depths of degeneracy, but I sincerely hoped this was not the case).

With the hubbub of all the cleaning, the other girls in the suite quickly caught wind of the bag of poop I had found. Then the finger-pointing began. Oh how quickly did they claim their innocence through deflection. It got so caustic (as if it wasn’t enough already) that the Housing Services staff decided to step in to have a meeting with all of us. Ascending the stairs to the dorm’s lounge, I felt confident in the meeting’s purpose as mediatory, but yet again I was disappointed by the response of the campus officials, who chose instead to infantilize us. As if we were kindergarteners, they had us sit in what they called ‘Indian-style’ on the floor in a circle and proceeded to lecture us the basics of respectable behavior using the loud, drawn-out enunciation people tend to use when speaking to toddlers, pets, and foreigners.

“Now girls, we do NOT poop in bags. We poop in toilets. Toi-Lets.”

And,

“In the Toi-Let, we do not EV-er flush anything but ur-ine and fee-cees.”

I only wished they had a poster board with pictures and a long pointing stick so we could understand what they were talking about.

I guess not one to take the blame either, Housing Services opted to pass all of the buck to us, without any apology for their intentional negligence in repairing our broken Toi-Let facilities. I just wonder if any one of the staff members there had even one thought about their own role in the debacle. How could they not? It seemed like they were just covering their asses and hoping we didn’t make a big stink of it.

As it was, they probably made a smart call on that. There was absolutely no unity or confession among us girls during this meeting of admonition. Just as quickly as a specific detail was brought up, an index finger went into action.

Anwita blamed Prisha for the dishes; Prisha accused Margaret of the trash; Margaret then claimed that she had PROOF that I had flushed pads down the toilet, to which I could not help but defend myself by saying, “That is impossible – I ONLY USE TAMPONS!”

Not my only time at the end of an accusation, Prisha boldly pinned me as the shower pee-er, to which I confessed and apologized for the occasion that I did indeed do that (and you know I am telling the truth because I confessed it here already!). This was the only admittance of any kind of guilt during the whole worthless meeting, during which Rosa was mostly just silent as was her usual submissive stance. She got generally blamed for everything too, but she wasn’t a squeaky wheel like I was. I got the grease poured all over me, and I mean like gross nasty bacon grease like the kind SOMEbody poured into our Toi-Let at some point. I left that meeting none the wiser as to who was the bag-pooper, but somehow feeling like it was me.

 

Except Of Course It Wasn’t

The only person I knew FOR SURE wasn’t the bag-pooper was me (unless I had a serious case of sleep pooping). After the meeting was over and it was apparent that this slap on the wrist was the only action to be taken, my mind started to fray at the edges. Everyone’s shape began to shift into that of a possible bag-pooper. It could have been Prisha; she was so uptight and private, could she have been literally anal-retentive? On the other hand, Anwita was the broody moody reclusive one who never seemed to leave except for class; could she have been so averse to leaving the suite that a bag started to seem like an attractive excrement receptacle? On yet another hand, Margaret’s dad had definitely pooped in the broken toilet that one time – I thought it was probably just an accident, like he didn’t know it was broken, but maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe there was a cultural difference and I was huge asshole for being insensitive to that fact. Maybe Margaret was just cool with alternative pooping arrangements under non-ideal conditions, and my American prudeness was limiting my vision on this concept. Or maybe all of that statement is a huge ignorant American privileged white person racist thing to think; my brain hurts!

WHAT if it was Rosa. I mean, she was my trusted roomie and only real pal in the suite. We’d been in this together from the beginning, surely she wasn’t a bag-pooper … but then … why had she been so quiet throughout the whole affair? Was she a bag-pooper of the silent but deadly variety? If so, how CRAZY would it have been for her to be awoken in the middle of the night to be shown her business, like pulling a dog to its accident and shrieking, ‘LOOK AT WHAT SOMEONE ELSE DID! LOOK AT IT!’ No, I think she reacted with true shock. And also, she was the same amount of quiet the whole year long, through that whole other incident with the faux break-ins and panty-stealing death threats of mysterious origin. Unless… unless she ALSO had something to do with that! No no, now that is getting pretty far-fetched… let’s just call her innocent with 95% confidence.

Also, what about Andrew? So, like, he was my BOYfriend, and I would really like to think my judgment of character is strong enough that I would have known instantly if he was a bag-pooper or not, but it seemed that my optimism had betrayed me all year and all bets were off. I really don’t think he could have done it, but he WAS over an awful lot, so he had ample opportunity. And he DID pee in the shower with me, without reservations come to think of it. And, if there is one thing Housing Services is right about, dudes ARE more likely to be bag-poopers than women are. Unfortunately there are no stats to this effect, but I think we can all just know it is true.

Now, if he DID do it, he would have been throwing his own carefully prepared bag of poop at me that fateful night, which wouldn’t make sense for him to do unless he forgot which one it was, or unless he was trying to throw me off the scent by cleverly throwing it onto me. OH ALSO THOUGH, remember how he tried to keep me from opening it? MAYBE HE KNEW! I really do suppose there isn’t any firm evidence I can claim to prove he didn’t do it, but guys, I really just had to believe he did not, because in that moment it was my last thread of sanity in an otherwise evershifting reality. I was in a funhouse at the county fair, walking on wobbly legs through a never-ending rotating tunnel.

 

So In The End

It was nearing the end of the semester now, just a few finals left. No more broken toilets, no more bags of poop, only the skid marks of bad memories left behind to keep me company as I fell asleep at night. Actually, it seemed like suite-wide we finally had some weird truce going on. Not a true one of attempted peace, but more like an acknowledgement that it couldn’t get much worse without something actually criminal taking place. Somehow, everything had stabilized into an emulsified vinaigrette of sour feelings.

Good enough for me. I’ll take it over a bag of poop any day.

In the last couple of weeks, I had this brilliant idea that I should go to Housing Services and use my suffering to leverage a single room for myself for my junior year. After this crazy experience, I was definitely done with roommates – especially random ones – and my dear former roommate Elizabeth (who had chosen to happily stay in the apartment originally assigned to us) had decided to move on to greener pastures back down South. I had no trustable homies left. I wouldn’t have minded living with Rosa again, but honestly I was just done with the whole scene of everything and everyone from Suite 217. Nope, couldn’t do it. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m a loner, Rosa. A rebel. Hasta la vista, baby.

So I made an appointment and headed down to Housing Services, where I sat at the very same desk I sat at with my mom just 9 months earlier, across from the very same lady who placed me in the incubus, and pleaded my case. She let me walk her through the entire story, giving me nods of understanding and the pout of sympathy at all the right places. Finally, someone (besides my mom) was listening!

Once I completed my proposition, this very official and nice-seeming lady unfolded her hands, leaned back, and said, “I’d like to help you, but another girl from your suite already stopped by with the same argument. I’m afraid we already gave her a single for this reason, and we cannot accommodate any further such requests.”

My jaw dropped, along with my heart.

Barely pausing, she elaborated her position, “You may consider the free counseling provided by Student Health Psychological Services. They offer a safe, confidential environment for students to talk about personal and..”

“Who?!” I cried in distress, leaning forward in my chair.

Her turn to gape.

“Who was it??” I demanded, beginning to get cross.

Diverting her eyes towards a paper on her desk, she pushed her finger along the page reading, “A Ms. Margaret… Sssuue-wong?”

Really?!??!?! That f***ing b**ch! I don’t curse too often, but what the what?! OH. MY. GOD.

-of- COURSE it was Margaret. Was this all her mastermind plot ALL ALONG??

Dejectedly walking back to my hellhole of a home, my mind raced to refactor the year’s events. What if this was the real story: Margaret wanted a single – we know this because she said so at the very beginning of the first semester – but instead she got assigned to a shared room with Anwita in a suite of otherwise strangers. Dissatisfied, she invented a grand scheme to ‘off’ Anwita as a roommate so that she can have the double all to herself, an outcome she considered an acceptable substitute after having the original single ‘wrongfully’ withheld from her. After her attempt failed, her inner psychopath blows a fuse and she winds up murdering Anwita’s fish, breaking the toilet repeatedly, pooping in a bag a bunch of times, blaming everything on everyone else, and finally marching straight to Housing Services to claim mental anguish until she weasels her way to the top of the Single Occupancy priority list!

Well, some of that reasoning is a little shaky, but… it could happen!

At the very least, some parts of that are probably true, and even if she isn’t the bag-pooper, she is a masterful opportunist who saw right away how to get what she wanted, went for it, and got it. The cunning of such a move requires a lucidity of mind that I posit could only be afforded if unburdened by the requisite shock of sudden knowledge that you are living with a mystery bag-pooper; hence, it increases the likelihood that she IS the bag-pooper.

But, we’ll never know.

 

We’ll Never Know

Sorry to end the story without a conclusion, but the truth is that we never will know who dropped trou’ and pooped it up in the Spring of ’99. There is no comfort I can give you, there is no iterative proof I can provide, there are only those facts that have been presented here and an invitation to draw your own inference about the identity of the architect of this shit show.

I’d be remiss if I did not pause to give thought about what this whole experience was like for everyone else. Margaret, whatever she did or did not do – well, it is possible that she did suffer the mental anguish she claimed at the Housing office. I mean, I certainly did, and we were all so defiantly isolated from each other that I must suppose that each of us had the same potential to feel trapped on a remote island with four murder suspects and no hope of rescue. I knew I was innocent, but no one else did, and they didn’t believe me just as much as I didn’t believe them. And I guess why should they? If their sense of reality warped as much as mine, I guess I can see why they wouldn’t. It’s just safer not to. And after all I was the one who found the bag of poo. One could easily think to apply the ancient flawless logic, ‘he who smelt it, dealt it’.

I think about Anwita sometimes – what was it like for her to live with someone who potentially created an elaborate ruse framing her of a pretty serious offense? Did she forgive her and move forward? Did she believe Margaret when she claimed innocence? Was it just easier to believe her, or did she need to believe her like I needed to believe Andrew wasn’t the pooper, to preserve sanity? Or did she harbor resentment that festered into piles of garbage and bags of poo? I still think she probably got the short end of the stick, but I have no idea why I feel that way. I somehow just think she didn’t do any of it (except mayyyyyybe the poop bag, but definitely not any of the other stuff).

Prisha – I think she is a straight up princess bitch, but admittedly too classy to squat that low. She must have been positively horrified by each and every event that transpired in that horrid place, as evidenced by her consistent scurry to and from her room and complete disengagement from all things Suite 217 from the very get-go.

Rosa – I don’t know, I think she felt like me. I’m pretty sure of it. She just did a better job of mentally isolating herself from the negativity. And we stayed acquaintances and had many mutual friends for many years after, so all of those people can’t be wrong about each other… right????

One thing that has always made me uncomfortable about this whole story is that the negativity seemed to form on international borders.Amongst ourselves, I really do think that is partly a coincidence; Rosa and I had a soft alliance because we shared a room, as did Anwita and Margaret (who, in spite of the possible attempted murder/framing, seemed to stick together most of the time). And Prisha was always on her own from the beginning. But cultural misunderstandings can’t be discounted as factors leading, at the very least, to the corrosive environment of mistrust and isolation. It may have begun as a grain of sand, but one in our shoes as we tried to climb mountains. If only we had chosen to be as elegant as oysters, we could have made something beautiful together.

However, I must observe that some of the cultural factors were outside of our individual control. Rosa and I were united not only by the containing walls of our shared room, but also by being native to the country within which we studied. Contrastively, the remainder of the suite was comprised of international students of extremely varied background. Generally speaking, international students are especially vulnerable to depression resulting from a confluence of isolation and academic stress. If you don’t believe me, consider that a study conducted by Cornell University revealed that 55% of all suicides at their school between 1996 and 2004 involved international students of Asian origin, who at the time comprised only 14% of the total enrollment population.

Sobering, right? It is therefore a sacred duty for any university recruiting international students to protect such students and ensure adequate support is provided to prevent such negative outcomes as mental health crises and death. Surely none should be subject to the living conditions that I just so exhaustively accounted.

Imagine for a moment that Anwita, Margaret, and Prisha are the carpenter ants from the fake plastic fig tree. Their baseline existence was in an isolation much greater than I have even yet ever experienced: the isolation of being in a foreign land, bereft of familiar culture, only weakly connected to their few surrounding countrymen, enduring highly stressful surroundings, and being forced to share accommodations with a hodgepodge of sinister characters. Now imagine they are humans again and add on top of that the whole business of unsolved break-ins, a savagely cutthroat academic environment, piling filth, caustic hostility, an unknown bag pooper, and a dreadfully neglectful university who otherwise was entrusted to be their ultimate guardian … well, I am pretty sure that I didn’t have it the worst. In retrospect I am shocked by how failed these students were by their sworn protectors. And I am glad their story didn’t end the way it did for our insect stowaways.

 

The End, Forthwith

En masse, an ant colony is capable of complex behaviors quite different than that of any individual ant, each of who have their own jobs. While one single ant senses flooding moisture and responds by linking legs and mandibles with its neighbors, a different single ant responds by grabbing larvae and resting atop the newly floating mass of its sisters. While the Queen is ushered to perfect protection in the middle of the heap of this new mobile nest, the colony members on the bottom are met with constant peril, picked off one-by-one by fish and other predators. Who can be blamed for their death? It isn’t the Queen’s fault – she has to exist, she has to be saved because there is no purpose for the colony without her. It isn’t the larvae grabbing ant’s fault – that is just her programming, her role, and she just happens to get the better end of the deal in this case. And we can hardly blame it on the weather – the flood just exists, what else is there to do about it? It is a raw deal for that ant on the bottom when she gets plucked off the floating island, but it is just an example of a Natural Evil of the World.

That lonely carpenter ant on our window sill – I had big dreams for her. She lived for so long that to see her spinning about her cup when I returned from class every day had become comfort rather than surprise. As the days grew longer and warmer I developed aspirations to bring her back home with me to Florida. Her siblings may have expired, woebegone as they seemed to be, but she held a glimmer of survival. I thought maybe if I taped a lid firmly to the cup and carefully transported her, I could release her next to our garage with hopes that she might still have her dead reckoning in tact directing her to her old nest, that through this romantic endeavor she would have the chance to be able to rejoin the sisterhood. True, in all likelihood they would have moved the nest by then or rejected her as an alien even if she did find them, but either way I wanted for her to have another taste of the freedom in the sunshine she used to know so well. It was the least I could do for wrongly imprisoning her all this time.

It was poetic justice then that I returned from my last final exam to find her upside down with her legs curled tightly to her body, my heart lurching at the sight of what had been inevitable all along.

Since then I have learned that she lived far longer than scientifically studied carpenter ants when experimentally placed in isolation. These science ants showed a similar drive as that of my dorm friends, wandering the perimeters of their captivity as if seeking home. The experimenters found that the smaller the isolated group, the shorter the life span, even when the plentifully provided food was equivalently ingested in all cases. In these tests, completely solitary ants lived but a weekful of days; however, when kept in pairs, a duo lived over four times longer than a solo ant. Amazingly, this pair could be an adult with another adult, or an adult with a larva. Even more powerful, ants in groups of ten lived an average of eleven times longer than a solitary ant! These results suggest that kinship and purpose play a role even in the humble carpenter ant’s biological drive to live.

We are not above the animal kingdom. We are a part of both its predictabilities and its wonders, and the resonant feedback between these two extremes. Why did our isolated pet ant on the windowsill beat the odds, living well beyond her scientifically studied sistren? Maybe she detected the pheromones of my need for her grounding companionship. Why did one of my college roommates repeatedly poop in a bag and leave it in a shared living area? Maybe she didn’t feel any sort of grounding companionship with anyone.

But we are not ants… We are humans… And we think we can think! Is our awareness advanced enough to allow us to circumvent such Natural Evils of the World as are emergent from our collective behavior? I would sure like to think so, and I sure do like to try. Nature is a hard one to go up against, but I sure do like to try.

However, when I zoom out, I see this. As the little workers at the bottom, we were unwittingly trapped in a labyrinth of tunnels, disoriented by intense academic stress, cultural misunderstandings, flawed interpersonal relations, and arching over it all, undeniably shirked university-level responsibilities. The school failed: when it didn’t adequately prepare accommodations for its incoming students, when it filled its available housing to capacity instead of retaining a buffer of spaces for when unpredictable circumstances predictably arose, when it thus overstressed and understaffed its Housing Services department to the point that the employees could not provide or sustain sanitary conditions in student residences, when it accepted international students without sufficient infrastructure for their support, and when it deflected responsibility for the resultant situation back upon its sufferers. The university forgets, with its actions it paints pictures, in this case a surrealist portrait of an overgrown ant farm choked with commoditized students. Oh but lest WE forget, the university is protected from blame by its true identity: a business. Are its greedy motivations not like the flood that washes away the ant colony, with profit its Queen to protect? There is no trusting a collegiate entity when you know its humanitarianism is a mask. I spent years wondering, ‘What did I do that caused this thing to happen to me?’ merely to realize that only fools answer questions a wise man would never ask.

 

C’EST FIN

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