Roommates Once More

Ten years after graduation, six women celebrate being together

It’s been 10 years since we all lived together – 10 years since we shared one bathroom, six closets and all the bills. We don’t even share the same ZIP code anymore, but we are still roommates. And for one weekend each year, we live by those rules again.

Of course, now we choose accommodations with multiple bathrooms. We each pack our own suitcases and rarely, if ever, dip into the wardrobe of another. And although we still split all the bills six ways, they have nothing to do with the maintenance and upkeep of a particular brown house near the corner of Laurel and Fairview.

We moved into 1827 Laurel the summer before our junior year at St. Thomas. The house wasn’t beautiful, but it had five bedrooms, one big enough to share, and the rent was decent. We didn’t mind the sloping porch or the chipping paint so much – although the raccoons nesting in the attic and the pigeons cooing on the roof were a bit more bothersome. It was our home, humble as it was. It gave us shelter, kept us warm and held us together. We loved it.

We moved out at the end of May 1993, just weeks after marching through Schoenecker Arena on our rainy graduation day. It was a bittersweet occasion.

Although we were happy to be moving on to much newer digs, we knew we’d miss our beloved nest. We carved our initials into the wall of the walk-in closet, sure that somehow the house would want to remember us.

It wasn’t really the house we were worried about. The six of us had become best friends in that house. What would happen when we no longer had those walls to define our friendships? How would we survive in the post-roommate era?

We never had a chance to find out. By the time we got settled in our new digs, we realized that it hadn’t been the house that had been so special; it had been the people living there. And although all six of us would not share the same address again, we never relinquished our roommate status. We’ve clung to it so tightly, in fact, that we find ourselves compelled to honor it at least once a year at Roommate Weekend.

Roommate Weekend started barely a month after we’d graduated and moved out of our house. We crowded into a couple of cars and drove to Cumberland, Wis. We drank beer, sang karaoke with the locals and promised ourselves to do it again.

Before long, Roommate Weekend had become an annual event – and the highlight of our year. It was the one time when the six of us were guaranteed to be in the space together, with no distractions and no other obligations. As life grew more complicated for each of us, it became something of a sanctuary. And no matter how many marriages and births (six of the former, nine of the latter) added to our extended family, we keep that weekend sacred for the six of us.

In the past decade, we’ve been back to Wisconsin once and to the North Shore twice. We’ve gone biking in Lanesboro and hiking in Taylors Falls. We rented a lake cabin in Nisswa for an extended weekend one summer and took over a small house in Lake City one fall. Twice we spread sleeping bags out at our own homes.

Life changes a lot between each meeting. Sometimes it takes us until the end of Saturday just to catch up with each other. And then we have to do the requisite rehashing of our Roommate Weekends past, complete with several slow turns through our scrapbook. It takes guts to start at the beginning, back when we still had big hair. The pictures aren’t necessarily flattering. But they document our evolution as women and as friends.

For the last five years, at least one of us is pictured in maternity clothes – half of us were pregnant on one trip. The compact cars we crowded into years ago have been replaced with more spacious, family friendly vehicles. Slowly but surely, our hairstyles have calmed down and our wardrobes have matured.

So have our conversations. Discussions that were once devoted to new loves and late-night adventures are decidedly more domestic now. We focus on our families, our jobs, and the inevitable ups and downs of married life. Last year we even started sharing recipes – a concept unheard of in our macaroni days.

Tough topics come up too, and we’ve had to learn how to help each other. Miscarriages, deaths, financial dilemmas, major moves – we’ve all faced problems of some sort or another in the past decade. And although there’s a tendency to stay positive at our weekends, we realize now that we’re stronger as a whole than as individuals. Even those topics too serious or sorrowful to speak about aloud are eased with the heartfelt hugs we now share as easily as we once did our clothes.

But as much as we’ve changed, certain things stay the same. There’s always that one self-timed picture of us, standing in a semicircle with our arms linked behind us. No matter where we are, we might as well be back at 1827 Laurel Ave., roommates once more.

This year, we’re planning Roommate Weekend around our 10-year class reunion at St. Thomas. It seems somehow fitting to return to campus the same way we left it: together. Amidst all the celebrating with old friends and familiar faces that I’m sure we’ll do that weekend, we will no doubt carve out time to honor the birthplace of our friendship. The six of us met in the shadows of St. Thomas’s arches and grew up together in its quad.

Although our hair isn’t as big as it was when we came to campus in 1989 and our last names have changed since we left in 1993, not much else has changed – including, I’m sure, the crumbling façade of that particular brown house near the corner of Laurel and Fairview.

And although I’m sure the festivities on campus will be compelling, I think our feet will instinctively lead us past the chapel, across Cleveland and up Laurel Avenue. We couldn’t come to campus without stopping to pay homage to our old home. And I’m sure that once we get there, we’ll stand in a semicircle in the yard, link our arms behind us and smile for a picture. Roommates once more.

Sara Gilbert Frederick ’93 is a free-lance writer and editor in Mankato. She and her husband, Shane ’94, have two boys – Ben, 4, and Jack, 2.