I’m going to tell you a funny story from my freshman year in college because some of the things I went through that year were really not funny. I was riddled with anxiety at the start of the semester and I did not want to live in a hot, smelly, shoebox sized dorm room with a complete stranger. But that’s what you have to do.
The day roommate assignments came out I was sitting on my couch dreading the experience ahead of me. I didn’t share the same excitement that most of my peers had about moving away from parents and starting college. I was very apprehensive and not knowing whom I would be living with made it worse. So when I opened my email and saw that room assignments had been posted I was simultaneously filled with dread, a bit of relief, and the smallest amount of excitement.
320 Braiden Hall
Haley Huffman — Denver, CO
Kayla Cortezano — Pueblo, CO
The snap judgments I made based on her Facebook suggested that we would get along just fine. She appeared to be incredibly normal with a passion for 80s music that I thought was cute and quirky. She ended up having some other “quirks” that I discovered as the first semester progressed.
The first three weeks of college I was miserable. I missed home, I didn’t feel like I fit in with anyone on my hall and to make things worse, everyone else seemed to be having an amazing time. I was so anxious that I wasn’t eating; I could only force myself to drink an Odwalla smoothie every morning and that was about it. After a while I began to adjust and things were getting better. My roommate and I were getting closer and I discovered she had this ridiculous sense of humor that I could really relate to. We would stay up until 2 or 3am some nights just talking and laughing. I was beginning to really love college. The only strange thing I was noticing was how quickly the toilet paper was disappearing from our suite style bathroom. It was getting a little ridiculous; four girls should not go through a roll and a half of toilet paper a day. So I made an off hand comment to Kayla about the toilet paper disappearing, “ What are you doing with all of the toilet paper?! Are you eating it?!” Kayla just giggled and we both continued on with our day. I didn’t think anything more of it. The next day she came to me and said “ you know how you asked if I was eating the toilet paper…” and I said “ Yeah…?” Kayla responded with “ well I actually have been eating the toilet paper. I have a disease called pica caused by my anemia that gives me strange cravings so I have been eating the toilet paper.” My jaw just dropped. I could not believe that she was actually eating the toilet paper. When I made that comment I was just joking! I didn’t even know how to respond to that properly, but Kayla made some jokes about it and broke the ice a little.
Later that day we went to Target together to pick up some groceries and while we were on the way home she told me that she also likes to eat cardboard. She had specific product packages that she liked best because it dissolved in her mouth. She bought a pack of hair ties, not because she needed to pull her hair out of her face, but because she liked to eat the packaging that they came in. Her all time favorite cardboard to eat though, was the cardboard that is used to make binders. She explained that if she cut open the plastic casing of a binder, the cardboard that is in there is the best kind to eat. I was so curious about this and what compelled her to start eating cardboard that when she offered me a piece of her hair tie package that she was munching on, I took her up on it. I did not enjoying eating that small piece of cardboard and I ended up spitting out, but I think it made Kayla more comfortable telling me about her disorder. A couple of days later I walked into my dorm room to see Kayla chilling in her chair watching TV with a roll of toilet paper dangling from her mouth. At this point I just burst out laughing because this was the strangest thing I had ever encountered but it was also strangely endearing. Maybe that’s because I knew Kayla was in an unhealthy relationship or maybe I just find toilet paper eating endearing.
Our friendship did not last the entire first semester. I had to move out of our room because I encouraged Kayla to speak to a woman’s counselor about the relationship she had with a guy friend. They weren’t in a romantic relationship, but it was still an abusive one. I remember she ran into our room one day and tried to close the door behind her with a slight laugh and her friend shoved the door open and found her sitting at her desk and proceeded to grab her by her hair and pull her out of the room. This was not an isolated incident and there was emotional abuse as well. This was really hard to deal with as a freshman because I had just started to feel comfortable in this strangely small room with no storage space and now I was having to leave because Kayla told her friend that I though he was abusive and he was not very happy about it.
That first semester taught me a lot about what life is like and opened my eyes to a very small portion of what other might be experiencing in their own lives. This girl who appeared to be so happy and funny and was always cracking jokes was not living the life that everyone around her believed. A close friend was abusing her and her anemia was so out of control that she was eating toilet paper to quench her body’s cravings for iron. Seeing the effects of these forces on her life really shaped who I have become and I was only Kayla’s roommate for less than a semester. It encouraged me to look into the feminist movement and it allowed me to realize that there is a still a problem with women’s rights and that there are women who are situations that are really terrible.