Okay, here’s my theory:
The first thing they do when they get your freshman rooming preferences is they throw them in the trash. They just dump them right in, piles of them crunched up and discarded until that great big bin is brimming full with them. And then – then the real thing starts. They shut the blinds and dim the lights. They lock the office door. And finally, when everybody’s seated, when everyone is ready, they begin to assemble the hell that is our roommate pairings, exhibiting all the tact and skill of a television writing staff as they concoct these garish personal sitcoms that recall either Perfect Strangers or, for the more unfortunate, No Exit.
My situation is somewhere in between. It is rife with problems, more problems than a freshman would want in his first year at college. Ultimately, it all comes down to a clash of lifestyles. They’re the type of problems that result from mixing slob with neat freak, slut with prude, drunkard with teetotaler and, in my own case – which encompassed (nearly) all of these variations – mixing me with an Evangelical.
I met him on the second morning of Frosh Week. I was in bed, asleep. He barged in the door. It was 7 am.
“Hey, my name’s D. it’s nice to meet you Jac!” he yelped, thrusting his hand up to my top bunk in greeting.
“Ah. Shit.” I rolled over to face him. “Shit, I’m sorry, I’m still half asleep.”
And it was at that moment, that most innocent of moments that I first understood what this year had in store for us. His brow furrowed; his eyes darkened. He shook his head in slow admonishment. “We,” he declared, “do not like that sort of language. We,” he declared, “will not ever use that sort of language.”
If you only caught a glimpse of him, you wouldn’t know that he considers
his Evangelicalism the defining aspect of his personality; I certainly
didn’t. You wouldn’t know that he carries around Bible in his upper-right pocket or that he has twenty-two more in our common room. You certainly wouldn’t flag him down and ask him to teach you the gospel; if anything, in fact, you’d ask him to sell you some pot. He is from Medford, Oregon, and for all intents and purposes he resembles a hippie. He spends most of his time outside, wears fat comfortable Vans and has black hair down to the small of his back. But after a while, after you’ve observed for a bit, the signs become clearer. You see that he sits bolt upright when he reads, and you realize that this is a habit drawn from years seated in church pews reading the bible. You realize that the hair is less 60s-inspired than it is Samson-inspired. You learn that he is opposed to premarital sex, homosexuality and drinking alcohol. You see that on his desk sits a small paperback called “The Scientific Proof of Evolution”: you leaf through and see that all of the pages are blank.
I’m New York born, reared in Manhattan and in Westchester; this is clear when you meet me. Before I came to Princeton my only exposure to the Evangelical community was through my 12th grade English teacher. She was a squirrelly woman who’d literally forgone the nunnery in favor of the chalkboard, which had become her pulpit. Her curriculum consisted solely of C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare; class felt like ground zero of the culture wars.
Now my room often does too. We agree on nothing save perhaps five of the Ten Commandments.
Like any good Evangelical, D. evangelizes. The first two months of school consisted entirely of D. and his new Evangelical buddies attempting to convert me and my other non-Christian roommate. They soon abandoned me; my other roommate, as a foreigner – someone who had never learned of the gospel, rather than someone who had grown up with it and rejected it –perhaps appeared to be easier to convert, and they stuck with him. D. himself has never quite stopped with me, though. I’m hell-bound, he tells me, and he feeds me religious texts.
This year with D. has been one of my more interesting years. Briefly, he wished to go hunt squirrels with this mad hunter type, a sophomore who, D. tells me, has pelts hung upon his wall [See Martina Car’s article for more on this mad hunter -ed]. I had to plead with him to do otherwise; eventually he listened. I’ve seen him join the juggling squad, host the Christian Coalition in my room and lose his temper with me and me alone. We fight often, more over petty things than ideological differences. We go days without speaking, and the atmosphere in the room is often so filled with passive aggression that it can choke a man upon his entering it.
So if we haven’t yet gotten over our differences, how did this roommate pairing serve to help either of us? Well, for one thing, it reminds me of the fact that I, too, am a stereotype. I listen to jazz and bands from Vancouver and people who sound like Lou Reed. I read dead white men. I write for a hipster rag. Before I met my roommate, I’d only read about the Evangelical community in publications like the New York Times and Salon.com, where it is treated like some anthropological anomaly from another century. And while I have occasionally thought of this during my time with D., I’ve also learned that, to him, I’m a similar sort of anomaly.
Two months ago, as room draw started up, D. sat me down in our common room. Jac, you know I like you, right? Yes, D. Well, but you know our differences in lifestyle, they’re pretty big, right? Yes, D. So I hope you’re not offended if I don’t room with you again next year.
No, D. That would be fine.
So he wants me to take care of myself. He wants me to attend Church and find Christ and abandon my life of sin and maybe, just once, to hang my coat on the coat rack instead of tossing it on the floor.
But whether I do or do not, at least its nice to know that someone somewhere, out there, will be praying for me.