Roommate, The (by Xyggurat)


By Xyggurat

San Cristobal University is not a typical college. To the casual observer, it's an average academic institution, clinging to the hills overlooking the 78 about half an hour away from the coast. It's not unique among universities in that there was no town of San Cristobal before the school was built. Like a growth, San Cristobal welled up between Escondido and Ramona during the 90's. The school played host to 4500 undergrads and a nebulous number of grad students, but it had a Visual Arts program comparable to those of schools ten times its size.

Looking north from the 78, you can see the bell tower of Golding Hall, the largest construct on campus. The campus is still in its adolescence, otherwise possessing buildings with utilitarian names like Science Hall and the San Cristobal Arts Building. Some students commute, but a majority live in the network of dormitories huddled in the valley north of the college. The only problem with living in the dorms is getting anywhere on campus—the parking lots, student gym, or cafeteria—requires a hike up an overabundance of stairs.

It was a good life, mostly. I was seeing a pretty girl named Lisa. If I didn't have much of a social life, it was because I spent too much time studying or working out to have too many relationships. The only irritation in my life was my roommate, Phil.

Phil was quite possibly the worst college roommate a guy could have. Despite being quite a bit shorter than me at 5'5 and 110 pounds, he carried himself as if he were pretty strong for his size. I always thought he could probably make a fight between us miserable, although he'd never win. I was taller, with a larger-than-average swimmer’s physique from years of water polo. Girls said I was pretty strapping at just over 6 feet and 185 pounds. I was dark-haired, dark-eyed, tan, and robust.

Phil was fair-haired, blue-eyed, pale, and generally sickly. I've always been an easygoing guy, so I let Phil get away with a lot. He'd never gotten past the high school stage where it was fun to meaninglessly assault others: in fact, he barely made it out of high school at all. We were stuck together by state policy, and because no one else would have accepted a guy like Phil as a roommate.

The part about Phil I hated most was that he was the best example of a guy deluded into apathy that I had ever met. His failing grades and disinterested outlook on life spread out into all aspects of our relationship. I caught him 'borrowing' food from my fridge several times, but he just laughed and turned back to his computer. I let it go, in the interests of preserving the peace. The guy was addicted to his hand, but he just rolled his eyes when I called him on that, too. His favorite line used to be "Everyone masturbates, get used to it."

I couldn't really bring myself to hate him back then. Sure, I took delight in seeing him get screwed over, occasionally: Seeing him half-heartedly complain about how I never had to study much to get A's in my classes; hearing him gripe about how much his professors hated him; knowing that he was secretly envious of my height and my size, despite his projection of uncaring.

Coincidentally, one such incident of Phil getting screwed over is the start of our tale. It was a really pretty day on the Carlsbad beach, or might have been were it not disgustingly early in the morning. One of the less pleasant parts of living on campus was that the Residential Aides occasionally came up with ineffectual bonding activities for students in their sections. Some favored movie nights. Ours liked beach cleanups.

There's something about community service that makes it feel more rewarding when done in cold, misery, and damp, I guess. The waves were crashing against the shore, driving their sparse cargo of crushed beer cans and the occasional 6-pack holder onto the wetly gleaming sands. It was a cloudy day, so the sea was grey with foreboding.

Some of the guys greeted me with enthusiasm as they walked on by, but I just smiled and nodded in response. I didn't know any of them by name, but they all seemed to know me. One of them even inquired about the hamstring injury that had sidelined me from Varsity water polo this year.

Phil wouldn't have been there if he hadn't been forced, and he made us all regret it. Three separate chunks of icy seaweed found their way down the back of my shirt, and he pantsed another of the guys. When confronted, Phil just gave us the finger and wandered on ahead. The sight of his red hair flapping in the breeze up ahead almost made me want to throw something heavier than seaweed at him—a nice rock, perhaps?—but, as always, I refrained.

We eventually caught up to him at the edge of a makeshift dam that bisected part of the beach. The source of the water behind the dam was not the ocean, but rather a massive storm drain. The futility of cleaning up this part of the beach was not lost on me. The pool formed by the dam was an utter mess. Maybe it was fortunate that most of the stuff inside was concealed by swirls of greyish grime prevalent throughout the murky fluid. I distinctly recall several pieces of rusted metal, shards of broken glass, and other, less wholesome things like latex gloves. It was a veritable soup of foulness.

That was probably why Phil decided to show us what a moron he could be. He liked repulsing people. A single bar of dark, slimy wood extended out into the waters of the small pool. And there, nearby, like a sign of providence from above, glistened a single white bag at the surface of the filthy water. Phil grabbed a thin stick of driftwood from nearby and skirted out onto the bar like a madman. We all turned to look. That was his motivation in the first. False apathy or not, he liked commanding our attention. He bent forward, perching precariously on the wet wood, and began fishing for the bag.

I looked away for an instant, and missed a defining moment in the history of physical comedy. I heard a splashing sound, saw Phil's head submerge, and subsequently erupted into laughter. A moment later, he exploded out of the water, gasping and coughing, and I stopped laughing. He did not look well. Covered in grey gunk, longish hair slicked down like a wet dog's, Phil looked more miserable than I had ever seen him. He tried once to escape from the sucking foulness with the help of the wooden bar. He failed with another splash. I almost went over to help him, but by the time I had reached the border of the pool he was already nearly out.

I expected him to make light of it and run after someone to spread the wealth of sewage encrusting his jogging jacket and trousers. He even might have, had something not taken a hold of me. It was like someone else was using my voice.

"Phil, you don't look dirty, man. You look Phil-thy," I jeered. In the wake of my juvenile cleverness, others began heaping insults onto the pile. A few like mockeries later, and my drenched roommate was stalking off without even a cursory response. Others continued chanting "Phil-thy" from behind us. Freshmen. I should have stopped the insults then. Lisa frowned at me in disgust.

Maybe Phil was frightened by the fall, or just by being insulted so badly by others in concert. It had to have been staggering to realize how much genuine dislike many students felt for him. He walked way up ahead the rest of the way back to the parking lot.

He was already in our dorm room when I arrived. He stripped his clothes off with a minimum of ceremony. After Phil had removed his fouled clothing and tossed it into his hamper (which I really do not know why he had, considering that nothing ever escaped its clutches) Phil walked soundlessly past me on his way to the showers.

I felt sorry for him. With his slender musculature, whose utter lack of fat was the only thing that prevented it from being girlish, and threads of gunk still clinging to his hair, he reminded me of a drowned rat. A very pale, scrawny drowned rat.

I watched him walk down the hall as I was closing our door. He looked cleaner than he should have been: maybe he had scraped most of the goo from his skin on his way up from the beach.

He saw me inspecting him frankly, and hatred flashed in his eyes for a second. I remember him rasping something like, “Just leave me alone.”

Inadvertently, I lowered by gaze. There was barely-concealable bulge underneath his towel, but despite his erect state he was obviously underdeveloped there, too. I didn’t joke to him about his horniness. It just didn’t feel right at the moment. He wanted me to leave him alone, so I did. •

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