Creative Nonfiction: Resident in Training
By Dinamarie Isola
Summer break was over, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, I found myself back at college a week before classes started, training for a job I didn’t want. But what I wanted was not as important as what I needed. My father’s retirement caused him to reconsider the tuition bill. As he pressured me to transfer from a private university to an in-state college, the best solution I came up with was to cover the costs of room and board.
I had interviewed and been selected to be a resident advisor—glorified den mother—or, as I sometimes referred to it, resident ass-wipe. My job was to keep order among the fifty-two girls assigned to me, police the entire dorm, break up squabbles among roommates, write up underage drinkers, let people into their rooms because they were too stupid to remember their keys, and evacuate the building in emergencies. This was a hellish list of tasks for someone who was nonconfrontational and liked to fly under the radar. Bad enough I had to reprimand others; now I was living in a fishbowl and had to set an example.
I responded by chain-smoking.
To be fair, I headed back to school already a smoker, but the commune-like atmosphere of the RA-bonding experience did something to me. I could hear a crack as if all that forced conformity was a battering ram trying to plunder my fortress walls. I watched as everyone was led around willingly. I decidedly was not a pack animal. Being mysterious or hard to read were qualities that were not to be respected. Everyone was required to jump in and be enthusiastic, even when we looked foolish doing so.
Our first exercise was to act out our astrological signs without speaking and find other like members of the zodiac and then introduce ourselves. If this were a movie, I imagined an extreme close-up on my horrified face: an unflattering angle, no doubt, and then a freeze frame. A scream would echo in the background. Had I joined a cult?
I made my way gingerly around the room, pretending to have claws. I found a group of other unimaginative types making the same lame pantomime.
“Cancer?” someone asked.
“Yeah,” a few answered.
“No,” a few more, including myself, muttered, “Scorpio.”
I took a small lead with this suggestion, “Scorpios, do one claw, one tail stinger with your left hand.”
We all broke into our respective groups. Were I officially legal I would have asked for a beer before continuing the rest of the exercises, but since underage drinking was the fast track to being fired, I smoked as many cigarettes as I could in a row during the breaks. A nicotine high was all I could hope for, and that didn’t to do the trick. I wanted out. Everyone was cheerful; I seethed.
The room where we trained was understated and orderly. A wide-open area was left for “circle time activities”; chairs lined the back of the room for lecture time, where we were to sit neatly in rows. It reminded me of kindergarten—different stations for different activities, but unfortunately there were no provisions for a much-needed naptime.
We were supposed to come up with something clever to say about ourselves that started with our first initial. This was so that we could remember one another’s names. I was tempted to be outrageous, shake things up a bit. D my name is Dina and I’m a Dominatrix; that would have gotten the sharing circle going. But being outrageous had a price I was unwilling to pay—unwanted attention.
I looked around and wondered what the hell I was doing here and where was the back door? I was surrounded by “country-club Catholics” unlike any public-school Catholics I had known in my entire life. Where I lived Catholics were ethnic, maybe even a little gritty. Everyone in this group was in pink and green plaid—even the guys. The girls had short, shiny, straight bobs and wore pearl earrings. My jeans had zippers running down each leg, hip to ankle. My hair was as big as my fake gold hoops—it was the eighties, after all. The guys looked like they took more time to get ready than I. Their linen shorts had perfect pleats painstakingly ironed into them. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these guys were actually straight. I longed to see a high school acquaintance, Fred Guma, walk in on the proceedings wearing his trademark fashion statement. Fred had a full wardrobe of sweatshirts with the sleeves raggedly cut off, exposing his flabby white arms. Yes, this group could use a little Guma in it.
The head residents were amphetamine cheerful all day—words of encouragement were shouted out through the day.
“Way to go! Good sharing! Good teamwork!”
That is until the “rules” were covered, as in break any of them and you’ve broken your contract with the school.
“Make no mistake, if any of you are caught underage drinking, you will lose your job, and if you are at a party that gets broken up, you will be asked to assist the head resident in collecting IDs and writing people up.”
Now my social life was in jeopardy. For starters, I was underage. Being caught at a party would end my employment. Even if I wasn’t drinking, who would want me at a party, given that I’d be obligated to write up two-thirds of the kids?
When the day was mercifully almost over, we were told we had one more exercise to complete to get to know each other better. We had to meet up after dinner dressed as our future selves.
By now revealing myself was starting to feel more like a strip search. I stewed at the thought of yet another probe. I pulled a few guys to the side and simply told them I needed their help later in the evening—that they were to hang back so I could make an entrance with them carrying me in. It was a good-natured crew, and no one seemed to mind. Maybe they thought I was planning on being queen of something.
When I showed up people were perplexed. I had lightened my tanned skin with powder and darkened my lips with maroon lipstick.
“What are you supposed to be?” one girl asked, looking every part the corporate wife.
“You’ll see,” I chirped.
“How are we doing this?” one aspiring Deloitte & Touche accountant asked me, pocket protector and eyeglasses firmly in place.
“I’m sprawling across all of you,” I said off his noticeable gulp. “You’re my pallbearers.”
I sensed this was more action than many of them had seen in a long time, if ever. Some laughed nervously; others thought I had a horrible sense of decorum. But I knew the real truth: You’d have to kill me first if you wanted to bend me.
When asked by the head resident what I was and what was in store for my future, I simply said, “The same as the rest of you. We’re all gonna die sometime.”
I didn’t mention that this “retreat” was probably speeding up the process one molecule of my soul at a time. I was met by pursed lips and probably labeled the “snarky” one. I didn’t much care. I had cooperated more in one day than was reasonable to expect from someone who just needed a job to cover college expenses.
I’m still not sure how I was persuaded to go to a beach party with the crew. I wanted a drink badly, and I figured we’d be far enough away from campus to relax. And so even though they looked different from me, and their socioeconomic class was definitely different from mine, I figured we were all in the same sorry boat. The difference, of course, was that I needed this job; for most of them it was an impressive item to list on the résumé.
A party at the beach always sounded better than it really was. While this group was uber-polished by day, by night (and much alcohol) it was another matter entirely. Maybe that’s a side effect of having too much starch in your linen shorts.
Furniture had been cleared away in anticipation of a wild time. Kegs were kept outside, where there was a constant traffic jam. The crowd grew louder and louder; the keg kept flowing and flowing. When the bathroom line grew too long, some guys staggered outside and relieved themselves on the lawn, to the horror of the year-round residents.
A pounding at the door startled us all. It was the town police. Head residents were pattycake compared with this. Never mind losing my job; I wasn’t getting hauled down to the station. I ran out to the backyard and eyed the fence, seeing where I could get a foothold to throw my legs over. Some guy who easily weighed 150 pounds more than I scooped me up and threw me over before I could even say thank you. With one swift move he followed, leaping over the fence cleanly. I recognized him as one of the trainees from earlier in the day; he was in the Cancer group.
I smiled. Maybe I could give this group a chance after all.
Dinamarie Isola is actively engaged in exploring the craft of storytelling. Through poetry and prose, she strives to tear down the isolation that comes from silently bearing internal struggles. She received her BA in English/Writing and Communications from Fairfield University. In addition to her work as an investment advisor, Dinamarie has a blog, RealSmartica, to help others better understand personal finance. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Apricity Magazine, Avalon Literary Review, borrowed solace, Courtship of Winds, Evening Street Review, Five on the Fifth, Nixes Mate Review, No Distance Between Us, Penumbra Literary and Art Journal, and Potato Soup Journal.