Thursday, January 2, 2014

Death of a roommate...

I had seven roommates when I was in college, even though I also had my own room during two semesters.  Most of my ex roommates are not people I really enjoyed living with.  I'm sure they'd say the same about me.

During my senior year of college, I was supposed to live with the same woman with whom I had lived during my junior year.  She had graduated from college, but planned to come back for her master's degree.  Unfortunately, she was unable to come back for financial reasons.  Consequently, the school placed someone in my room.  When I got to school that fall, I was surprised by a stranger named Lindy who stayed for about a month during the fall semester.  She was a special education major who was finishing up her degree.  Once my roommate's modules were over, she left campus to student teach and I had my own room for the rest of the semester.  Lindy didn't come back after the fall semester.  That left me with my own room again in the spring.

One day, early in that spring semester of my senior year, I found a handwritten note posted on my bathroom mirror from a woman who was looking for a roommate.  It was my last semester of college and I didn't particularly want a roommate.  But then I felt sorry for the woman, since I was once in her shoes.

I'd had to look for a new place to live just one week after I started college when my very first roommate made it clear that she and her friend from across the hall were going to make my life a living hell if I didn't move out so they could be roomies.  I remember trying to find a new roommate as a freshman who had only been on campus for a week.  I distinctly remember talking to one black woman who was very nice, but straight up told me she didn't want a roommate.  When I went back to the housing office, they said I could move to Tabb, which was considered one of the worst dorms (although it was actually not a bad place to live).  I ended up being moved into a room that was supposed to be vacant, but wasn't because the person who had been living there alone ended up not moving out.  The new roommate, oddly enough, had the same first and last name the first roommate from hell had, but she was completely different.  She had gone home for the weekend and came back… there I was.  We got along okay, but only lasted a semester before that roommate joined a sorority and moved out.  After having had that demoralizing experience trying to find someone to live with, I vowed I'd be kind to people who were looking for a roommate if I was ever in the position to make room for them.

I remember meeting my very last college roommate for the first time after she posted that note on my bathroom mirror.  She was a very tall, somewhat overweight black woman named Latissia.  She was two years older than I was and majoring in social work.  She had been living off campus, but could not afford to pay rent anymore.  That was why she needed a roommate.  She asked me if I had a problem with her being black.  I told her I didn't, as long as she didn't mind my being white.  Once that barrier was broken, we got along fine.  Apparently, a lot of people at our college didn't want to live with her because she wasn't white.  Our school didn't have that many minorities in attendance and, sad to say, racism was still alive and well at my college in the 90s.

Despite her difficultly finding a roommate, Latissia had a lot of friends of all colors and from all walks of life.  They often visited us and I became friendly with them, too.  Latissia was very friendly and funny, though I remember she snored pretty loudly.  She also had hemorrhoids, which she described as feeling like a knife was stabbing her in the ass.  I was two years ahead of her in school.  I remember laughing with her over old episodes of Fame, which we'd watch on the crappy black and white portable TV my sorority girl roommate had left when she moved out during my freshman year.  Latissia used to make fun of Gene Anthony Ray, another person who died too young.  She used to say he "had a secret".  I always cracked up at her observations of him and a particularly smarmy news anchorman from one of the Richmond channels on which we watched the news.

I remember Latissia also had some trouble finding a new roommate for the following year.  Someone at the housing office asked her if she liked her current roommate and she said she did, but I was going to be graduating.  I guess she found someone…  I remember being grateful that finding suitable roommates was no longer a problem I had to deal with.

After I graduated from college, Latissia and I were friends.  I remember writing to her and getting a letter back.  It turned out my musical tastes had rubbed off on her and she bought James Taylor's 1993 Live album, mainly because she really liked Arnold McCuller, who is a black man with a wonderful voice.  Arnold McCuller has sung backup for James Taylor for years; he's also backed up Bonnie Raitt and Lyle Lovett.  Latissia joked that the next thing she would buy would be a Kate Bush album, since I used to listen to Kate Bush all the time when we were in school.  Latissia had grown up in a small town not far from where I had grown up.  I drove through her town every time I drove to and from northern Virginia from my parents' house.  I often wondered what she was up to when I went through her home town.

We lost touch not long after Latissia sent that letter, telling me that her musical tastes had evolved.  Today, I decided to look her up and was surprised to find out that she died on December 1, 2002.  Apparently, her death was very sudden.  She had heart failure.  She was only 32 years old and had made a home in Manassas, Virginia.  I assume she was working as a social worker and was probably great at her job.  She liked people very much, even if she did suffer from discrimination.

I'm sorry Latissia died so young.  She was truly a good person with a kind heart… even though her heart was apparently diseased.  She was one of the nicest roommates I ever had and I can truly say of the seven I went through in college, she was one of the easiest to live with.  I remember thinking after she moved in that it was a pleasure to know her, even if I had to wear headphones playing Faure's Requiem every night because her snoring would otherwise keep me awake.

It's always a shock when someone young dies…  I hope wherever she is, she's at peace.


  1. It's most sad that Latissia died so young.

    I do not know know who Gene Anthony Ray is. I must google him.

  2. I noticed that after he died, his mother said that he was HIV-positive. latissia called it right in terms of his secret. People lived sad lives back in the day when they all had to kept those things secret. It's still not really a walk in the park to come out, but it's a much milder climate in that regard than it used to be.

    1. Well… if you've ever seen the show, it's not that surprising. However, in the movie Fame, he played Leroy and was a lot more convincing as a straight guy. He was an amazing dancer.

  3. I'm really sorry for the loss of your friend. I went to high school with a nice guy who was always really sweet, we even went to a dance together once, nothing romantic, just friends. I learned many years after high school that he committed suicide. It's a shock when someone dies young.

  4. Well, Latissia and I were not what you'd call close friends. But she was a nice person and a good roommate. It was a shock to find out that she had died, even though it was years ago.

    I remember after I graduated high school, there were three people who had been in my class that died either from accidents or suicide.


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