Meet the Suite–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1991, part 1

The story begins in September 1991 in a little college in Wisconsin by a little town called H–.  Roanoke College is officially by the small city of S–, but H– and unincorporated A– are much closer.

1991 was a great year for me: My generation saw its first war, but we beat them bad; I graduated; my eighteenth birthday was on June 22; and now I would have a new life in a state I first visited in February.

I came from South Bend, Indiana, which is twice the size of and a different world than S–, Wisconsin.

I was a writing major with a Fessler Writing Scholarship, a naive young girl who thought that I would support myself with a novel writing career and German translation, and not need the internships or resumé writing classes.

I also thought that “Christian college” meant a college full of Christian people.

There were roughly 1600 students at Roanoke (the size of my high school)–around 400 on campus, the rest commuters and Lifelong Learning (night class) students.

This was a campus in the middle of cornfields in a state that has two seasons: winter and under (road) construction, as it is said, when the orange signs are in bloom.

The comedian during freshman orientation week said that, no matter what befell you there, you could console yourself and others by saying, “At least it’s not snowing!”  Despite how vulgar he was otherwise, this one phrase stuck in my mind throughout my time at Roanoke.

In the October 1991 issue of the campus newspaper was a cartoon: A car marked “New Student” is driving down a road with nothing but cornfields and signposts on either side.  On the left-side signposts you find: “Out there –> ,” “The corn –> ,” “<– The old tree,” “Roanoke College –> ,” “Absolutely nowhere –> ,” “Millers Farm,” and “Over there –> .”  On the right-side signpost you find, “H– Pop. 14.”  A speech balloon pointed at the car’s driver reads, “I guess the college is just down this road?”

I arrived on Labor Day, 1991.  There were a couple days of orientation before classes began.  The earliest class was at 9:15 AM!  For someone used to starting school at 7:45, this was luxury.  As I told my roommate, I liked this better than high school, which I had loved.

I saw this guy in February on SEED Day, a day of testing and orientation for high school seniors who were about to become Roanoke freshman.  He had blond hair and sky-blue eyes, joked around, and smiled at and flirted with me.  The rare eye color of sky blue was my favorite, and I figured my future husband probably had them.

Where was this guy?  He’d said he was a junior; I should see him again.  (Once or twice I thought I spotted him during the fall semester, but wasn’t sure.  Finally, I saw him again, and his name was Ned.  He was in his mid-20s, I believe.  More stories about him to come.)

I was a Nazarene girl, so I didn’t dance or drink alcohol or smoke or cuss or go to movies, though the denominational restrictions on movies and dancing had recently been lifted.

I had royal ancestors–Duncan of “Macbeth,” Saints Margaret and David of Scotland–and folk-hero ancestors–John and Priscilla Alden of Longfellow and Mayflower fame.

I had been in (as a teen magazine termed it) a love drought–plenty of crushes but all unrequited–since sophomore year of high school.

I took German for three years; French for two. I wanted to continue in German and learn Latin, as everyone at college always did, I thought.  But there were no Latin classes at Roanoke.

I would be living in the German suite, an honor only now opened to freshmen.  Only one other freshman lived in the two suite buildings, Friedli and Hofer.  Hofer was mostly fraternity suites, day care and the commuter suite; Friedli was language and honor suites.

In between was the main suite lounge, a little building with a lounge, couches, chairs, TV, bathroom, a microwave and a pop machine; half of the building was even a living area for a campus official.  That part was closed off to us.

Though suite usually means luxury, here it did not.  We got four tiny bedrooms (mine was largest), a bathroom (two stalls, two sinks, two shower stalls), shelves, no air conditioner, little heat from an ancient steam heater, and a little lounge that got compared to a waiting room.  This insulted Heidi, who said she tried to make it look more liveable with plants, a German flag over the couch, and posters.

In this lounge was a TV (a neat digital one, provided by the school) and furniture with no arm-cushions. We would take the cushion from another chair to make a comfortable neck-rest when lounging on this couch.

On our doors were little, Swiss mice next to cheese bearing our names.  Heidi, our German suite mentor, made these cute mice out of construction paper.  I still have mine.  But then, that’s hardly remarkable, considering I put most of my college memories into boxes when each year ended, and never got rid of the boxes.

Since it was tacked up against a concrete-block wall, the flag would often fall down.  My freshman year boyfriend, Peter, thought it had something against him, since it often fell on him as he sat on the couch.

Also living in the suite were my roommate, Candice; Latosha, whose door faced ours; and Tom.  Yes, the suite was co-ed.

Heidi was a German-speaking Swiss miss of twenty-five.  She had a birthday in the fall semester, I believe, that made her twenty-six.  Frank, a balding, non-traditional freshman, was twenty-five and became good friends with her.

Heidi seemed so old to us, and once complained about that.  But once I got to my mid-twenties and thought back, she didn’t seem quite so old after all.

I believe she once tried to get a license which would allow her to drive in America.  Her Swiss license wasn’t enough to drive here, and international students were often trapped on campus without cars or American licenses.

Heidi’s sandy-blonde hair was distinctly European: short, longer on one side than on the other, no perm.  (As a girl in my high school German class had said after going to Germany, over there nobody got perms.  They just cut their hair in different ways.)

Heidi arrived at this school the same year I did, with a strong Swiss accent and frequent trouble with the language.  Lots of words she didn’t know, like sassy, I looked up for her in the pocket German dictionary I carried for her benefit.

She lived in a room at the back of the other end of the suite, near the little balcony with its iron railing.  Each upper-level suite had a tiny, back balcony.  I believe some people put grills on their balconies.  The lower-level suites just had little porches, if anything.

I had thought the suite mentor in a Christian college would be a fellow Christian and a potential spiritual adviser.  I had expected to have many profound discussions with her about following God.  The reality was that I didn’t know what she was.  The French mentor, Nicole, didn’t even believe in God, though she liked to go to church for the ceremonies and the values.

Heidi amused my ears with her accent.  My favorite of her sayings was, “My GOOD-ness!”

I got along well with Nicole.  She was sweet and fun to talk to.

As for Heidi–we had some sort of personality clash that I never understood.  I’ve heard that European cultures look down on shyness; maybe it was simply a culture clash, worsened by my nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD, to be explained later).  Or maybe being chronically late like I was in those days is considered a grave offense in Switzerland.

Considering both she and my German teacher, who was Swiss, had problems with me, while most teachers liked me, it could very well have been a cultural issue which I did not know about.

In any case, I was grateful to Heidi for helping me polish my German, such as when she taught me that nicht was supposed to be said as one syllable, not two.  (It is difficult and takes practice.)

I enjoyed reading the 19th-century German story Undine (Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué) with her.

She told me that when you don’t know a language totally fluently, you can’t let yourself get hung up during conversation on words you don’t understand.

This surprised me because, when she said, “Now when I first came here, did I run for a dictionary every time I didn’t understand a word?”  I said yes, because I had the impression she did.  She often seemed to want my help with words, and I looked them up in my German dictionary.

But she said that no, she didn’t always run for a dictionary.

Heidi knew both French and Italian, since in Switzerland both were spoken along with German and a special Swiss dialect, Räto Romanisch.  She had conversations in French with Nicole.

One day, while sitting with me and somebody else at a meal, she reflected that our generation didn’t seem to drink coffee, while hers did.  The younger people didn’t seem to like the taste, and at best drank cappuccino, with its various flavors.

As many of the international students did, she had a problem with American sarcasm.  I’d thought sarcasm was universal, but non-English-speaking international students had a hard time understanding sentences with the opposite meaning of what they seemed to say.

Also, while watching TV, there would be commercials roughly every ten or fifteen minutes.  For the rest of us in the suite, this was normal and expected.  We read something, went to the bathroom, got something to eat, or just sat there bored as the commercials played.

But Heidi would cry out, “So many com-mehr-cials!”  In Europe, the commercials were only aired between programs, not in the middle of them.  (When do Europeans go to the bathroom during movies?)

Another of Heidi’s phrases was, “What is that?”  She didn’t just use it when she heard or saw something unusual; she would say it when talking of somebody’s inexplicable behavior.  For example, she might say something like, “And then when I came over, he was rude to me.  What is that?”  (This is not a quote, by the way, just an example.)

Another phrase was, “It doesn’t work.”  This applied to all sorts of things, not just mechanical devices.  For example, she might look at an improperly constructed German sentence and say, “It doesn’t work.”  Or she might look at an intended solution for a situation and say, “It doesn’t work.”  She also had an accented way of saying “It doesn’t matter” that made it, too, seem like a Heidi-ism.

Nicole, also about twenty-five years old, was her best friend.  Late in the school year, when visiting our suite, their friends would sit and count how many times they kissed each others’ cheeks when saying good-bye, because Nicole and Heidi didn’t bother to keep track.  The count once got up to ten.  Nicole was a fun one to talk to, and I liked to try out my sparse French on her.

Heidi was impressed those first few weeks by what German I knew, like the slang terms toll and Mensch.  She also told me that Ach Mensch was dated, and now people generally said only Mensch.  But “Ach, Mensch!” is so much more fun to say when you’re upset.

My first day at Roanoke, I went up to Heidi–the lounge full of Heidi’s international friends–and asked her when we were going to dinner, thinking everyone in the suite naturally would go at once.

In those first few days, college seemed like summer camp.  And in summer camp, everyone in a cabin went to meals together, so this is where I got the idea that everyone in a suite in college would do the same.

We all went to dinner together, Heidi and her friends and me, and I impressed myself with my outgoing, cheerful demeanor–such a contrast to my shy, high school self.

Not that I came out of my shell for good.  But at dinner I kept laughing and talking and showing off my German and French.  I felt like a new me.

Another time that week, Paul showed up at the suite door, asking for Heidi and saying he wanted to go to dinner with her.  I asked if I could go with them, and he said okay.

I felt so outgoing; I was very proud of myself.  Paul seemed like a nice guy, too.  He was, or soon would be, a Zeta.

Once I sat in the Spanish suite and taught the phrase “not just yet” to Nicole and a girl from Costa Rica.  That’s also when Nicole told us she doesn’t believe in God, but believes in the values of church-going.  I took the opportunity to witness to her in a simple, non-intrusive way by saying I do believe in God.

I had been told that everyone in the German suite was supposed to be taking the language, and speak in only that language with each other for an hour every day.  But my roommate Candice only took German once, back in high school.  The other students didn’t know German at all; Latosha was taking French.

Candice was a talkative, pretty sophomore with auburn hair.  She was on the tennis team, which practiced on the court right outside our window.  Her boyfriend, Jeff, went to Roanoke over the summer with her, but now went to UW-Lacrosse.

Latosha was an African-American sophomore from Kansas City, MO.  She always seemed confident, strong, and mature.  I greatly admired her and respected her advice.

Latosha had an ex, E–, who’d been her boyfriend for three years.  It was a crushing blow when he fooled around and left her for another girl, but he was the possessive one, following her car when she went on dates and calling her up all the time from his new college in Chicago, even though he’d broken up with her a year before.

We all wished he’d leave her alone, especially when he called her at three in the morning and she cussed him out: Those suites had concrete walls, but you could hear everything.  Plus, her door faced ours.

As for the new girlfriend, she was in a class with Latosha–and was very afraid of Latosha.  This made things difficult for either of the two girls when they had to do class work together (I think it was a science class, and they had to do labs together).  Latosha called her E–‘s ho, at least when speaking of her to us.

This E–, by the way, was the grandson of a famous black man.  If I told you who, I’d probably be subject to a libel suit for accusing this man’s grandson of stalking, even though what I tell you is true.  Through E–, Latosha met other famous people, and even got a tour jacket which only band members or roadies could get.

Tom was a flirtatious first-year senior and a football player.  He had two roommates that year, Tim first and then Stefan.

The immaculately clean Tim took one step into Tom’s smelly room and sprayed air freshener with a loud “hsssh!”  The next day, he was gone.

Stefan came later in the semester; he was a German lawyer, here in America until the end of Winterim.  Somehow, he survived Tom’s room.

Tom and Stefan seemed to get along pretty well, and whenever Stefan came in the suite while Tom was in the lounge, Tom cried out, “Roommie!”

Stefan was tall and sweet, and always seemed to be happy.  He was from K–, Germany, and my boyfriend was from K–, Wisconsin.

Stefan and a short, pretty young woman became great platonic friends.  It had to be platonic because she was married.  No, I never heard of a scandal.

One day, Stefan said goodbye to my boyfriend and me in the lounge as he left the suite, and one or both of us said, “Auf Wiedersehen!”  He practically fell over in his surprise that we knew some German, and cried, “Whoa!”

Tom had a crush on Candice the year before, not returned by her.  She’d known about it.  Her best friend would have taken him off her hands, if only Tom would’ve let her.  I heard Tom and Candice argue about this once.

Tom constantly went into Candice’s mini-fridge in the lounge and drank her milk without permission.  One day, Candice told me she was getting him back.

On a friend’s suggestion, she put shampoo in her milk.  Tom came into the room and asked if he could use her milk for a mixed drink he was making.

She said okay, then confessed to me that she felt really bad about putting shampoo in it.  Tom didn’t even seem to notice or get sick from it, so that eased her conscience a little bit.

Each suite had two outside doors, one to the balcony and one as a main entrance.  The upper levels doors led to the balcony-like walkway and stairs, with a railing along the side of the walkway.  The lower levels doors led to a walkway along the side of the building, and to the courtyard.

The suites had no set visiting hours.  If your suitemates decided on special rules, that was your business.  But it was different in the other halls, which did have visiting hours and quiet hours.  I heard that visitors after hours were to go to the Main Suite Lounge, but no one ever followed this, and the RA’s (Resident Assistants, or the people in charge) didn’t care.

Heidi talked about quiet hours and such, but said that rather than conform to the rules of quiet hours which applied to the other dorms, we should all be adults and ask each other to please turn it down if someone played a TV or radio too loud.

With two stalls with working doors in the toilet area, two shower stalls with curtains, and a man (sometimes two) living with a bunch of women in the suite, we thought nothing of men and women using the bathroom at the same time.

During the warmer months, probably September or October when yellow jackets are really bad in Wisconsin, we discovered a hive of them living right outside Heidi’s window.  They tormented us until the cold finally killed them.

With the TV on the same wall as the outside window showing the head of the stairs, you’d sit on the couch watching TV, and people could see you as they came up the stairs.  And people would invariably look, whether they were coming up the stairs or just walking by.  It made me uncomfortable.

The best thing about the TV: it had cable, basic but better than nothing.

Besides the suites, we had Krueger Hall (women), Muehlmeier Hall (co-ed), and Grossheusch Hall (so-called hall of men, as the RA wrote beside a chalk drawing of a Playboy bunny on the front window that year).  Krueger is pronounced “KROO-ger,” Muehlmeier is “MULE-my-er,” and Grossheusch is “GROSH-iss” (otherwise known as “Grossh”).

Gross “Grossh” was disgustingly kept by its inhabitants (some would even pee in the hallways), noisy, and frequented by high school girls on weekends, a.k.a. “pop-tarts.”

Also, the cleaning crews hated cleaning Grossh, especially when they did major cleaning over holiday breaks.  So we girls laughed when the hall director drew a Playboy-style bunny in chalk on a window near the entrance, and wrote, “Hall Of Men.”

Muehlmeier looked like Grossh structurally, having been built about the same time, and both had carpeting in all the rooms.  But Muehlmeier was a little less scary and had women living on the top floor.

Both halls had two floors and a basement; Krueger had three and a basement.

Krueger, the oldest, also had huge rooms, compared to the cells in the other dorms.

Certain floors in each dorm were alcohol-free, probably based on where most of the upperclassmen and underclassmen lived.  The suites had more lax alcohol rules: basically, no underage drinking.  One improvement the next year: all the dorms went alcohol-free, excepting the suites, which mostly held upperclassmen.

But wait–they’re not dorms, they’re residence halls!

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: