Through These Eyes: Roommate


An empty lecture hall in the middle of the night. I’m on my back; he’s on top of me. Kissing hard. Loving rough. I’m wrapped around him, running my fingers through his hair.

Until my head falls off my hand and I jerk out of a dream. Economics 110 materializes.

A girl sitting beside me pokes me. “Hey,” she whispers. “You were sleeping.”

No shit. I stand up and leave.

It’s just after Labor Day in Chapel Hill, in the days when summer folds into fall. I’ve been a freshman at the University of North Carolina for a month and a half and have known my roommate for just as long, paired at random by the university. We’ve already experienced so much together, not the least of which includes him witnessing me cut through the hearts of three different men. I was better looking then, gorgeous even, or so he’s said. He’s paid me such compliments despite him knowing that I’m gay and despite him being straight. Maybe this soft attention draws me to him; I’m excruciatingly infatuated.

He is the perfect roommate. His side of our dorm room is messy, not dirty; he’s liberal, a brilliant student, an avid reader, and collegiate-level athlete. Together we venture to pre-rush frat parties, where boys meet friends and flirt platonically, where I fish the girls for him and he fishes boys of questionable sexuality for me. We do our laundry together, study together, and eat together. We already have inside jokes, and from day one we’ve known what a necktie on the door handle means.

Today he is teaching me how to play Frisbee on the quad outside our dorm. The lawn is full and soft beneath my bare feet; the fragrance of late-summer blossoms fills the wind. Boys from our residence hall are playing catch with a football outside a neighboring all-girls dorm. The quiet boy who lives alone in a room down from our own is practicing guitar on our stoop, and a girl on a picnic blanket across the way is sketching him; I wonder if he knows.

I have a date tomorrow with someone who’s asked to give me a primer in Ultimate Frisbee. I don’t want to embarrass myself, so my roommate agreed to provide me with a tutorial.

“You must like this dude, whoever he is,” he says and slaps my shoulder. “I mean, you learning a sport for a man? Who would have guessed?”

“You are such a jerk.”

Mark probes me about the upcoming date — where, when, what the guy looks like (“you think he’s cute?”), on and on. He grills me about every man I’ve met; to an outsider you’d think he was jealous, but his over-protectiveness is more a brotherly love, though certainly still heartbreakingly teasing.

Mark takes the Frisbee and tucks it between my palm and wrist. “Hold it like this and then just flick it away.” He rehearses the motion with his hand over mine.

Two hours later Mark and I are in our dorm room. I’m on my bed studying for a math exam. He’s playing a basketball game on his Xbox, occasionally lending his voice to a mute version of a virtual Roy Williams. A cool breeze pours in from our windows.

“Yo, JJ,” he says when a loading screen pops up on our television. I look up from my textbook. “You did pretty good today. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you still suck. But overall? Better than expected.”

I throw a pillow at his face and return to my book.

We’re quiet for a while. Mark finishes his game and climbs up onto his desk and into his lofted bed; I finish reading and drop out of mine to switch off the lights.

“Hey,” he says in the dark. “The dude you’re gonna see. He’s lucky.”

Mark says these sweet things sometimes; he provides me too many compliments. They’re agonizing and I never know how to respond. Maybe they’re his way of telling me he loves me, but boys our age are overly affectionate anyway and I can’t decipher his intent. I’d like to confess my attraction to him, but doing so would ruin our relationship. Even if he did feel the same, he’d never admit it — experimental boys our age never directly address the elephants. He’d freeze up if I told him, tell me in response that he loved me like a brother, then distance himself from me, pull back on his flirty teasing, change the way he acted in hopes that my crush would stale. I’ve decided that if his compliments do originate from something more than a brotherly love, he bears the burden of telling me — after all, he maintains he’s the straight one.

I climb into my bed and lie in silent torment.

Back to the lecture hall.

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