Our theme for the month of June is “Top Ten.”
We lived in Madison for two years before moving in together. Despite having some shared friendships back at Calvin, Susan, Monica, Kelsey and I tried to build our own lives at first in our new city. But everything converged when we moved into the Gorham place, a huge hundred-year-old house with blue shakes on the sides and bats in the attic. My nineteen-year-old cockatiel José and my badly-behaved puppy Rainy joined us. Amidst our busy schedules, we all happened to be free Tuesday nights; establishing roommate night cemented our shared identity as the Gorham Gals.
We’ve made a lot of memories after three years of living together. The best ways to spend roommate night are including, but not limited to, the following.
1. Drinking alcohol. I have a side gig pouring wine tastings at a local coffee-and-wine shop, and for a while I was allowed to keep leftover wine. At any given time, we’d have one to seven bottles on the counter, each a third full of old cabernet and pinot gris. We’d sample the wine and eventually got into cocktails. We even grew our own mint. Drinking on roommate night can be the prelude or the main event. At some point, it’s almost a guarantee that two roommates will try to double-spoon Rainy. Rainy is never very happy about this development.
2. Watching movies or Jeopardy. In the olden days before the copyright crackdown, YouTube was a haven of pirated Jeopardy episodes. Especially important are the mid-game interviews, which are a great time to make snap judgments about which contestant should win and which one we irrationally hate.
Movies are another classic activity. We stumbled upon the Mandy Moore shark flick 47 Meters Down, were shocked by its perfection, and established the sub-tradition of Shark Night. Other favorites include Ever After and Robin Hood: Princess of Thieves, Keira Knightley’s first movie that has been nearly scrubbed from collective memory aside from blurry bootleg versions.
We quickly learned everyone’s movie-watching personality. Kelsey tends to fall asleep; Monica likes romance, no matter how cheesy. Susan asks aloud the questions that the movie’s exposition raises, like “Who’s that man?” and “Is she gonna die?” I yell at the screen about plot holes or anti-feminist themes yet still conclude at the end that I loved the movie.
3. Putting together jigsaw puzzles. Many debates were had over which method is best. Do we use the box for reference or hide it? Separate the edge pieces first? The ultimate puzzle-making night took place after I found a box of ten ocean-themed puzzles at the thrift store. Several different 300-piece puzzles meant, of course, that we needed to have a puzzle race. We poured the wine, turned on Kelly Clarkson’s new album, took our places at the long dining table, and got to work. At various intervals someone would yell “Drink!” and everyone had to take their hands off their puzzle for a wine break.
Monica claims she won the puzzle race, but she is lying. She was given a 100-piece puzzle so she could go to bed early, so the most she earned is a participation award. Susan seized victory by being the first to complete her 300-piece Lisa Frank whale, and we all had back pain afterwards because of how tense it is to put together puzzles under high stress.
Subsequent jigsaw undertakings were far less competitive, although Susan reminds us of her victory at regular intervals and claims she now has the authority to set all puzzling rules.
4. Sewing night. Monica and I had been working on sewing projects. Somehow we all ended up wearing plaid and hats and singing Taylor Swift to José. I don’t think we actually got a lot of sewing done.
5. Sitting in the kitchen. This is one of the more thrilling ways to spend roommate night. Usually it begins when one roommate is still cooking, and we all want to hang out together, so we sit on stools near the counter. Even when cooking is finished, we stay in the kitchen chatting despite having very comfortable couches in the next room over.
Secondary activities while sitting in the kitchen include mixing cocktails, being pressured by Susan into making brownies, and teaching Rainy how to catch a tennis ball.
6. Party planning. We threw a lot of themed parties for our friends, and Tuesday nights under the influence of gin is the best time to brainstorm ideas. We needed fruity recipes and a steel drum playlist for the tropical Muppet Treasure Island party. We planned plague-related costumes for the Prince of Egypt party (Monica dressed as darkness, Rainy as a hailstorm). We scoured Pinterest for ideas for the vegetable-themed party (Rainy dressed as cauliflower and I sculpted fondant cake tomatoes). Innovation on roommate night made for excellent party execution.
7. Enjoying the front yard. Our house was set back a ways from the road, so there was always something to work on outside, from gardening to shrub-trimming. Once I had a tree company deliver wood chips so we could spread them over our muddy parking spaces. The six-foot-tall pile they dumped in the driveway was a bit bigger than expected, so a few roommate nights were spent carting the mulch around in the 65-gallon recycle bin to distribute it across the yard.
After doing any outside work, we’d sit on our makeshift driveway patio, enjoying a drink and watching Rainy chase bugs. If we were lucky, our eccentric long-haired neighbor, Hot Tub Dave, might emerge from his house and chat with us on the way to his hot tub.
8. Exploring the Madison outdoors. Gorham house was just a few blocks from Lake Mendota, so we’d cart our kayaks out and breathe the evening air on the water. For Susan’s birthday this year we rented a giant paddleboat shaped like a rubber duck. We’ve also enjoyed taking walks out on the dock, or, in wintertime, treading over the frozen lake.
9. Wedding dress shopping. Monica, in addition to having an uncanny ability to sense when one of her roommates is about to get engaged, is an excellent bridal shop companion. Together the three of us “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed when Kelsey tried on her dress for the first time. After Kelsey got married and moved out, Monica and I took our enthusiasm and unmatched taste to Susan’s bridal outing, and they did the same when it was my turn to squeeze into white satin. We delighted in the fancy trappings of these boutiques while trying not to think of the weddings that will eventually separate us.
10. Going out. On rare occasions, we homebodies would visit a distillery, cocktail lounge, or taco restaurant. Once we even went to a monster truck rally to be mesmerized by a bunch of big-wheeled vehicles smashing each other up. Our consensus after the rally was, “That was awesome. We don’t ever need to do that again.”
Sometimes roommate night is an excuse to get out of the house, but most days we enjoy the simple pleasures of being home together. Usually the night ends with us trying to convince Monica that it’s only 7:30 p.m. so she won’t leave to go to bed. The fun tends to deflate once Monica is asleep, so we all file off to bed soon after.
Roommate night has sustained us through breakups, engagements, angst, hopes, and now even a pandemic. This summer will end with Susan’s wedding and my wedding, and possibly my moving to Canada, so for the first time in three years I won’t live with these ladies who have become family to me. In the next ten weeks, I will treasure these final roommate nights.
Laura graduated from Calvin in 2015 with a degree in art and writing. She currently lives in Madison, WI, sharing a house with two other Calvin grads. She works as a software support analyst for the State of Wisconsin court system and enjoys painting, rock climbing, biking downtown, and walking her dog.