Six Girls, Two Fish

I lived with five other women in a three bedroom dormitory in New York City during my Freshman year of college. Let’s call them Millie, Sally, Maya, Quin, and Abby for the sake of this article. I’m really into Scandal. No one gets to be Olivia. We aren’t worthy.

We all had long hair. We all had opinions. We all had conflicting schedules, and we were all eighteen year old assholes who thought we knew a lot about the world. We didn’t. 

Some of us were already experienced in late night drinking and drug use. Others really liked tea and reading books in bed. One of us had gotten too drunk at a high school party and begged her best friend to call her mom while vowing that she would never throw up from alcohol again. She would. Multiple times.

Let me set the scene for you — Millie and Sally were best friends. They had grown up together or knew each other or something where they promised that they would be friends forever. As far as I know they still are. But one of them unfriended me on Facebook so how can I be sure? They were loud and liked to party.

Abby and I were best friends. She and I had met at a summer program and instantly fell into friendship. We hadn’t stopped talking since that program ended. Abby is known to say exactly what she is thinking. I am known to be quiet, but my thoughts come often and have a tendency to be very loud. We made the decision to go off of our meal plan during the first two weeks of college. I’ve regretted it ever since.

Abby and I met Quin at Tisch School of the Arts’ welcome event and asked her if she wanted to live with us, thinking we’d have a nice four person room. She agreed. She was kind, quiet, and smart. Maya had been put into our room to bring it out to an even six. She had a beautiful tattoo of Ganesha that covered her back. I thought she was really cool. She was into dark clubs, black tights, and bad boys. Quin and Maya became the Switzerland of the apartment.

A couple of weeks after moving in we found out that our new home had been the go to coke den the year before we arrived. We should have known that we were in the midst of bad karma. Welcome to college!

Each room had an aggressive and passive person residing behind its walls. I was passive, Abby was aggressive. Not aggressive in a bad way, but she was more vocal about her outrage when Millie and Sallie would blast club music in the common room at three in the morning or when Millie’s boyfriend lived with us for two months because he had been fired from his job as a dog walker and was now homeless. His signature move was leaving Colt 45 bottles in the shower.

There were a lot of different personalities in a confined space.

Millie was a different kind of aggressive. She would place dirty pots in the middle of the floor.  After Millie placed one too many sticky notes on our door, Abby finally returned the gesture. I don’t remember what was written, but I do remember the screaming match that ensued. At one point Millie shrieked, “Don’t ever fucking put shit on my door,” which is funny since she had started this pattern.

Poor Quin attempted to translate all of Millie and Abby’s verbal attacks using phrases like, “What I think she means by ‘If I find your boyfriend’s beer in the shower one more time I’m pouring it onto your bed’ is…” and “What I’m hearing when you say ‘If you don’t do the dishes I’m going to choke you with a dirty spoon’ is that you feel…”. Sallie and I had already made eye contact for the inevitable, “If they go after each other, you grab your friend and I’ll grab mine” look. I’m still surprised no one got hit that day.

Although the tension in the apartment could have been cut with the dullest butter knife in our very tiny kitchen, one event brought us all together– a funeral. For two fish.

Millie had decided that she wanted a pet. Since we weren’t allowed actual animals in the dorm, she went out and returned with two exotic goldfish. You know, the kind that look like they have their brain on the outside of their head? This was a thing a lot of people did in college. I don’t remember the names Millie chose, but I want to say that they were Franny and Zooey. That could just be my teenage angst obsessing over J.D. Salinger though. 

One weekend, Millie went out of town and left Sallie in charge of of her new companions. As she walked out of the door, Millie smiled, winked, and purred, ‘Don’t kill my fish.” At some point during the weekend there was a knock at our door followed by a sullen, “Guys?” The fish were dead. How they died, I’m still not sure. Sallie thought the best thing to do was to call Millie right away and fess up so she had time to cool down before coming home. Sallie disappeared for the phone conversation, but when she returned she explained that Millie wasn’t mad, but she wanted us to save the fish so that she could give them a proper funeral when she returned in a couple of days. Abby and I walked away, wanting no part in what was about to happen. Reluctantly, Sallie squealed as she slipped the fish into plastic zip-lock bags and placed them into the freezer where they stayed for the next week. 

After most of the apartment threatened to throw the fish away if she didn’t do something with them soon, Millie thawed out the fish and called everyone into the bathroom. We dragged our feet and rolled our eyes. Millie was wrapped in a dark blanket. Float On by Modest Mouse played in the background. She had made a sign. The bathroom was gross and crowded and out of toilet paper. She said a few words and then flushed the fish to their grave. From then on the apartment was a little more peaceful. We by no means got along, but at least no one was threatening to put Nair in anyone’s shampoo.