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TCU Magazine "Cover Story"

Related Articles: Home sweet housing |  Gathering your belongings

These four walls

By Robyn Ross

The imposing canvas stares back, unimpressed. Blank space stretches out on all sides in a silent smugness. The whiteness is pervasive, authoritative, almost numbing. Novelists call it writer's block.

College students call it home‹for the first thing they encounter when they move into the inviting halls of their chosen university is the undeniable, inescapable whiteness of their living quarters, where on all four sides colorless plaster reigns. It sits without comment, waiting to be filled with personality. Its only tie with its occupant is a deep-seated, mutual skepticism.

Dorm life is a bit like the ultimate Rube Goldberg project: "Contestants, you are given a bed, a dresser, two clothespins, six textbooks, some ramen noodles, StainStick and a stranger. Create a life." But somehow, it gets done, and gradually the room becomes one's own.

In this room lives another person with whom one eventually takes a requisite number of pictures and attaches them with the requisite HandiTak (tape lifts up the paint) to the walls. Each roommate has brought the precious mementoes from home; the dead corsages, the Michelangelo's David switch plate, the jar-encased fetal pigs in jars that inspire the premed major. And eventually, after both parties have collapsed, crying, on the community bathroom floor, they will cultivate a relationship that takes them beyond the precious clutter that lies inside the whiteness.

Life within those walls that, as the months sneak by, become covered with faces and significant words, is somehow precious. One always promises not to forget all the times, even though when the times were being created no one knew it. Friends vow to keep in touch after they move to their respective freshly painted Student-Type Apartment Establishments, where encouragement and borrowed sweaters are now a phone call, not seven paces, away. And they do keep in touch, though in a way unlike the intimacy of the dorm years.

Eventually a student comes back to her old white box of a room to see how future generations have decorated it, to run her hands over the stubble-covered walls and try to ignore the puzzled smiles of the present inhabitants. They don't know how lucky they are. The traces of her own carefully displayed life are gone.

She won't look at those walls quite the same again. Robyn Ross '99 is a journalism and English senior from Marble Falls. You may write to her at