Continuing on with college memories, inspired by recent visits to IU, where I attended college, and where my oldest daughter will begin attending school next month …
After my freshman year, I moved into a single dorm room sophomore year, and loved it. I probably should have continued this arrangement for my remaining college years, but I’ve always been blessed (cursed?) with the fiscally-responsible gene. I had earned enough scholarships to cover my freshman year costs. Sophomore year I paid for with a college account from my parents. But beginning with my junior year, I was on my own. I had money I’d earned from babysitting, summer jobs, and playing for voice lessons, but I felt I needed to economize further. I was convinced I could live more cheaply off-campus than in the dorms.
Here is 415 S. Dunn Street as it appeared when I moved in, in 1985. My roommate Brenda (name changed) was a girl I’d met in a Campus Crusade Bible study. She seemed sweet, and I thought we had a lot in common. She was hard-working, having lived with her parents in a trailer. She was an accounting major, and volunteered to be the “accountant” for our apartment, dealing with the bills and telling me each month what I owed.
We moved into that efficiency apartment with an enthusiasm only 20-year-olds could have: an efficiency is really intended only for one person. It had a single bedroom, and as I recall, the twin bed was against the wall on 2 sides. The remaining sides pretty much were only big enough to stand in. I had the bedroom for the first semester, while Brenda slept on the sofa in the living room. The bathroom was so small that I remember at the time thinking that it would feel claustrophobic for a large person.
Here she and I are in our “kitchen” (the plant on the left is actually in the living room, to give you an idea of the size of the place). Things went well for a while. We each went to class, or so I thought. Brenda paid the bills, or so I thought. She had two jobs — working breakfast shift at a fast food place, and night shift at H&R Block.
Once second semester rolled around, things started to sour. Brenda picked up another job, because she couldn’t keep up with the bills. She constantly had car trouble (her car was ancient). Since she was gone so often, I usually got the mail. When bills arrived, I put them on her stack since she was “the accountant.” But when I started getting bills with “urgent” and “disconnect notice” stamped on the front, I opened them. I learned that our bills hadn’t been paid in months, although I’d been giving Brenda the money she’d told me was due. Brenda, exhausted from working three jobs, stopped attending classes and notices began arriving that she was in danger of failing out of the university.
Then things took a really strange turn. Brenda denied she hadn’t paid the bills. She claimed to have a boyfriend, who she said came to visit the apartment many nights. One morning, I woke up and went into the bathroom, only to find, “I LOVE YOU BRENDA” written on the mirror in lipstick. At that point, there were only two options, neither comforting: either 1) Brenda had a boyfriend who was coming into the apartment and writing on our bathroom mirror while I was asleep on the sofa each night, or 2) Brenda had written this herself, and was nuts.
In the end, we did make it through the year. I can’t even remember the details of what happened with Brenda and her classes, although I don’t think she returned to IU after that year. I do know that just a few months after I graduated, Robert called to tell me that Brenda had been killed. Her car had gone out of control on an icy bridge. It was such a strange feeling — I’d known her so well, and I’d known she was troubled, and I’d known her car was a piece of junk — but to imagine her gone from the world? At such a young age? It was hard to take in.
I returned to the dorms for my final semester at IU my senior year. It was blessedly drama-free.
I wanted to walk by 415 S. Dunn Street again, almost 30 years later. Just to see if it was still there. Just to see what the building looked like.
Honestly — it looked pretty much the same. A cheap, fairly grungy-looking apartment building. I think our efficiency was $185/month back in the day. For the record — it was cheaper than the dorm. Then again, I ate a lot of Pop Tarts and Campbell’s Soup that year. And double-paid a bunch of utilities. So maybe I didn’t save so much after all.
I gazed up those steps I climbed so many times, right to the door I’d entered so many times. That little window was right above my bed. So many memories in a building … On my old door, a sign informed me: “Meow spoken here.” I wish the current occupants — human and animals — peace.
Did you live off-campus in a college apartment for any of your university days?