Here is a short reflection of meeting my roommate for the first time and how the religious discussion came up. As an anxious gay, it was pretty uncomfortable.
A week had passed since I unloaded several boxes into my empty room and left them here. I’d been bound to the inconvenient move-in day of my second year at college. I only met my roommates for the brief moment; I stayed long enough to stack my boxes on the blank mattress before dashing back home for my grandpa’s funeral the next day. Nobody was there when Mom dropped me in the apartment for good. With the boxes moved to the floor, I laid across the bed on my belly, keyboard at my fingertips, waiting to start the year. As long as it’s not like last year. Anything but the silence of last year.
An hour of useless internet wanderings passed to distract me from thinking about the new beginning and all that could’ve gone wrong. I heard a key card swipe and the door clank open. What should I do? I sat up. “Hi,” I called from my bed. It boomed across the empty living room, almost echoing on the bare walls.
The roommate came to my bedroom door, resting a casual hand on the doorframe. “Oh hey! You’re back!” Her enthusiasm was cute and refreshing, but I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled with a nod. She had a stereotypical college girl look to her—tall and lean, almost lanky, naturally pretty, presumably athletic, exceptionally friendly.
She tapped her fingers against the frame, but not impatiently. “Well, I’m going to play some music while I unpack,” she smiled perfect rows of white teeth. “You can join me—only if you want,” she assured me, hands coming off the door frame. “I just don’t want you to think I’m being rude because I’m going to be in my room.” I nodded again and told her I’d be there in a moment.
I’m glad I told her I would join her before I got the chance to talk myself out of it. Making connections in the beginning would’ve probably helped last year’s situation of practically never talking to the roommate I shared a bedroom with.
I gulped a few times crossing the living area to her room. She broke from a hum-along to the song playing to greet me with a genuine smile, and I complimented the floral decor hanging on her door. “Thanks! I like doing crafty things here and there. I don’t have much time–especially at school–you know? But I like doing it. What about you?” She turned to me, pausing from the tidying to wait for my answer.
I nodded, taking a seat on the edge of her bed as she motioned her permission. This is an easy one. “Yeah, I like crafting. Random art projects and things.” She nodded along and hummed with her song without looking disinterested. I needed something to look at and stay focused on. There were little pieces of papers taped up by her mirror. I only read the first—it had some sort of inspirational quote on it—before she asked another question.
“What kind of projects do you like?”
She talked like we were having a formal meeting. Like she was interviewing me, but trying to make me feel comfortable at the same time. Yet she seemed oblivious to the fact.
I drew in a breath like I had a lot to say here. Which I did. “Just like, scrapbooking—I really like scrapbooking.” My eyes dart back to the paper with a quote on it. And I like to paint with watercolors sometimes. I like sketching, too. I usually do pretty basic stuff though. It’s been a long time since I drew something really detailed, but I have a great dragon sketch in my notebook. I hang my artwork up a lot, so you’ll probably see them eventually.
I looked down at her bed, where there was a décor frame that held several pictures. There was one of her with a group of people outside. It looked hot there, not like anything here. She saw me looking at it. “I was on a mission trip in Guatemala.”
I nodded. “Looks fun.” My eyes ran over all the pictures, but nothing gave me any alarm. “I have a friend that did a mission trip.”
“—Do you believe in God, Jesse?”
I had all of thirty seconds to process that she actually just asked me about my religious values when we’d only just known each other for approximately five minutes. Of course, she wasn’t to know that I’d been asking myself the same question for what felt like my entire life. Yes, I almost said. My eyes darted around the room, avoiding her eyes and landing on the tacked up papers by the mirror. The one next to the inspirational quote was a bible quote. Maybe they both were.
“I don’t know,” I finally admitted. I caught a glance at myself in the mirror. I’ve always hated the way my face goes red at the nearest sign of discomfort.
She stayed organizing things, stayed only just distracted enough to make me think, briefly, that this conversation didn’t matter to us that much. She didn’t say anything, but glanced up at me and smiled, almost nodding, like she was waiting for more.
“My dad grew up Catholic,” I offered.
It seemed to be enough this time. “So did my mom. But I didn’t really like it like that. My family was never religious in that Catholic-y way.”
“Mine either. We went to church sometimes when I was little.”
“Me too. But now though, I’m the only one who’s very religious.” She then took off on a long gush of her Jesus-loving path, white teeth glistening the whole time. I tried reciprocating her level of enthusiasm with the very short moments she stopped between gushes for me to utter a quick, “definitely” or “Uh-huh.”
Do you believe in God, Jesse?
Those twenty seconds between her question and my answer flashed one too many thoughts to carry on with this conversation as equal participants.
Thoughts about how I talked to God every single night, saying thanks for things that I appreciated, sharing hopes for the future. Thoughts about how I didn’t really think that made me believe in him, that maybe I thought if I missed a day he wouldn’t be happy with me. Thoughts about maybe I was just superstitious instead of religious. Thoughts that pondered all the other reasons he might’ve been mad at me. And the one reason it always came back down to. The same reason I felt unsettled when I found out someone described themselves as “very religious.” The same reason it elicited a fight or flight response. The same reason I tuned out from her Jesus-gush. I was too afraid of hearing something I couldn’t bear to hear.