In the Fall of 2008, I took an Italian class in which I had to write a short story (in Italian) in some sort of surrealist manner. This is the story that I wrote in English before I revised/translated it into Italian.
The school year started out normal enough. I moved into my dorm room and met my new roommate, who seemed friendly in an average sort of way. You know, not too nice that she seemed fake, but at least willing to start on good terms. We exchanged pleasantries, helped each other unpack our too-much junk for our too-small dorm room, compared DVD choices, admired each other’s posters, and lamented about the fact that we got stuck with the least desirable building. “At least we are closer to the supermarket than all the other people on campus,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied, “but that’s only better since we are the farthest away from the dining hall.”
“Don’t remind me. I’m already sick of that food and we just got back to campus!”
We both hated our building for the added reason that all of our friends lived on the other side of campus. We knew that we’d be missing out on so many more spontaneous parties and get-togethers because we did not live just down the hall or a flight of stairs. We would actually have to plan our trips to see our friends, because if they weren’t there, we wasted a trek across campus. This would be even worse after it started snowing. Commiserating about this brought us closer together. We were different enough that, in course of a year, we would probably have never even met if we were not living together. I am an outgoing person who likes to spend a lot of my time listening to or playing music. My ideal weekend is a concert every night, followed by drinks at a low-key bar. I’m also a huge movie buff, and I brought my large collections of DVDs to campus with me. Kathy was more girly than me, though she was an engineering major and interested in more stereotypically nerdy and boyish pursuits like anime and video games. It was the latter that started this whole thing, but more on that later.
It was not as if she and I had nothing in common. We could connect on a variety of subjects, it’s just that our main interests lied outside of each other, and we had very different friends. I am sure part of that was due to the fact that she was an engineering major and I was a psychology major. We weren’t even in the same college at school, but, because of our shared situation, we spent most of our time together in the first few weeks of the semester. We still didn’t know where all of our friends lived nor what their schedules were, so it was often easier to eat together. I learned a lot about her during the first few weeks of the year, but I still had many questions. I knew that her parents paid for the majority of her tuition, with financial aid taking care of the rest. I got the impression that she was into girls, but she never explicitly said anything to either assure or deny my assumption. I did wonder how hard that might be for her, since she was in a male dominated field and was attending a school that preferred the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Unlike Kathy, my parents could not afford much. They spend all they could on my tuition, so I had to work to have any sort of spending money for my expensive movie and concert interests.
At the end of the first month, I started my new job. It took most of that time to find one that would pay enough. Thank god the Target really needed employees. I saw less of my roommate after this, as I spent the majority of my weeknights stocking selves and picking up after other people. I would arrive back at the dorm after the store closed at ten, and I usually found her playing a video game on her computer. I knew of the game before this, but I did not know anything about it. I’m not a big fan of playing video games, but my curiosity got the better of me. I eventually learned that my roommate played a gnome with pink hair. The voices that I heard coming from her computer were other members of her guild, a group of people within the game. Whenever they had to complete a “quest” or go on a “raid” they would use this in order to communicate easier. I had seen some of my guy friends doing the same thing during Halo tournaments, but in this game Kathy usually talked to people she had never met in person. I don’t know, but it seems to me that face-to-face communication is better than talking to people I never met.
“Come on!” I implored Kathy night after night. “Let’s go do something.”
“But I am doing something,” she would always reply. And this, inevitably, would lead to a discussion about the importance of spending time outside of our dorm room. I was only victorious on days when she hadn’t started playing with other people. She would never leave her friends in the middle of some adventure or whatever. I saw even less of her when I started dating a guy I met at a concert one weekend. We usually hung out at his house after I got off work, so I was not home to force Kathy off the game and out of our room.
It wasn’t until November that things started to get weird. The semester was winding down, and I had to spend more time in our room working on papers and studying for the last round of midterms before finals. I did not notice that anything was different at first. I can not say if things had already started changing, or if I was just too focused on my own things to pay attention. After a few marathon sessions of homework, I loosened up a bit to check in on Kathy. She looked thinner than she used to, and her sandy-blonde hair was starting to look strawberry blonde.
I still bugged her about leaving our room, but it was usually just to get food. Neither she nor I had much time for socializing, though her free time was spent on the game and mine was spent at work. One night, at close to midnight, I asked her if she wanted to walk to 24 hour diner a couple of blocks away for some late night nosh. She looked up from her game and told me that she had just eaten. I frowned my brow, as we had been in our room since seven and I had not seen her eat a thing and our food stores were nonexistent. It was then that I started to worry about her mental health. Having spent so much time out of the dorm, I did not know what she did with all her time, but, if I had to guess, I would say that she had been mostly playing the game.
It worried me that she did not seem to be doing any homework. And now that she did not seem to be eating either, I became even more concerned. She seemed even less social than she had before. When I added all the facts together, I started to believe that she was pretty severely depressed. My diagnosis would have to be taken with a grain of salt, however, since I have not yet finished my credits and earned my degree. However, the seeming lack of school attendance led me to believe that she is finding it hard to deal with her male-dominated field.
The last week of the semester before finals started, the weirdness picked up in frequency. After weeks of finding Kathy in our room alone, she started going out again. The first time it happened, I was writing a paper and Kathy was playing the game. I left to go to the bathroom, and, when I came back, she was no longer in the room. I knew that she wouldn’t be gone long since her game was still running. I went to grab dinner soon after, and she was playing again when I got back. Soon, however, Kathy disappeared while I was still in the room. I turned to ask her something about statistics, and I was confronted with her empty seat. I never even heard her leave the room. It was possible that I was too absorbed in my work to hear her leave, but after it happened multiple times I started to question my own sanity.
The night before my last final, I was up late studying. Kathy reappeared from one of her mysterious disappearances, and I noticed that her hair was even more red than usual. It almost looked pink. I asked her if she had died her hair for Christmas break, and the only reply I got was a grunt. I wanted to discuss it further with her, but my cognition exam was taking all of my worry and attention. Around four, I went to bed to try to get some sleep. Something woke me a few hours later, and I rolled over to look at Kathy. Her computer was still on, and the glow of her screen was lighting the room. As I went back to sleep, the last thing I saw was the character loading screen, with a gnome named Kathy looking out into the room.
There was no sign of Kathy the next morning, but I had no time to think about that. I fell out of bed, grabbed my glasses and a sweatshirt, and ran to my exam. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with some friends and my boyfriend celebrating the end of exams. When I returned to our room, Kathy was not there and her stuff was not either. As I crawled into bed, I was saddened that she never said goodbye or even hinted that she would be moving out or dropping out of school. It made sense, since the game had taken over her life, but I was still disheartened.
This morning, I woke with a wicked hangover from my celebrations the night before. I met the same friends at the local IHOP for some pancakes to soak up the rest of the alcohol. Casually, I mentioned how disappointed I was that Kathy never said goodbye to me. I am still baffled by what happened next. My friends had no idea what I was talking about. They did not know I had a roommate, and told me they thought I chose the building we lived in so I could have my own room. I could not help but ask them if the were serious, over and over and over again. How could they not remember Kathy? Just two nights ago her computer was keeping me awake! And then I realized it. The last time I had seen Kathy was on her computer. As a gnome. With pink hair. And I wondered if it was possible if that was where she had gone.