I never lived in residence in university. Before I got married in third year and moved to my in-laws’ basement apartment, I stayed at home with my parents. Residence always seemed sort of romantic – the first giant step toward independence
Thirty-four years later, I was accepted into a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Non-fiction at Halifax’s Kings College University and seized the opportunity to recapture my youth, to take a room in residence for two weeks. Following the course, we were flying to France where my partner, Bonnie was enrolled in a life painting course. So, she was along for the ride.
With the time change between BC and Nova Scotia, our plane didn’t land in Halifax until well after midnight. We were ready for bed, even though it was only 9 our time. That was the first difference thirty-four years made. Unfortunately, our luggage didn’t arrive with us and standing in line with several other customers waiting to fill out forms, we hoped our clothes would make it the following day.
By the time our taxi pulled up to the front door of the residence, it was 1:45 a.m. I had been assured late check-in was a non-issue, since the desk was staffed 24 hours a day. And it would have been fine had our names been on the check-in list. The security guard finally put us in an empty space and said the day staff would sort out our room the next morning.
It was Halifax hot – that is to say, humid and windless. The twin beds were serviceable but, of course, the washroom was down the hall. Being women in our sixties, we get up at least once, usually more every night. I was so tired, I dismissed the problem – for about two hours. Then I crept out of the room and along the hall, silent until the screeching washroom door broadcast my presence. I prayed those staying near were heavy sleepers and, without thinking, hoped our new room wasn’t near enough to hear every coming and going on the floor.
King’s College University Residence
Magically, in the morning (cue, the Sun will come out tomorrow…) our luggage arrived, our new room was ready and our internet worked. I got my wish. We were not near the scraping door; in fact, the washroom was down the hall, through two sets of double doors, as far away as one could get. The closer bathroom- the one with the silent door- was labeled “MEN.” I’m so Canadian, although often tempted, I never once disobeyed that sign.
The first thing I wanted to do, once unpacked was to shower. I’m not a modest woman, having spent my summers at a girls’ camp, but, ironically, after years on pool decks, lifeguarding and coaching, visions of athletes foot and toe fungus crowded common sense from my brain. The daily spectre of shared shower floors was even worse than twice-nightly hall walks and attempts to quell the shrieking door. Gold Bond foot powder took pride of place on the shopping list.
Each dorm room comes equipped with a bar fridge. There is a kitchen on the main floor but it was so hot, we didn’t relish cooking and we didn’t want to leave food three floors from our room.
Without a car, groceries were a challenge, one that Bonnie took on with heroic persistence. We ate out until Monday when Bonnie found the grocery store, about a twenty-minute walk from the dorm, and lugged home three over-filled bags. When I arrived back for lunch there were cold meats, cheese, fresh veggies, fruit and yogurt on plastic plates with plastic cutlery. I thought I had died and gone to the Ritz.
Our room faced Coburg Street, a main bus route past the university and the quickest way for police and ambulances to get to and from the hospital. To keep the window open at night, I had to wear earplugs. It was so hot and humid, closing the window wasn’t an option, even with the fan Bonnie had hauled back from Canadian Tire on one of her many trips. Although I lived in Toronto for 55 years, since 2001, we had been summering in New Zealand and hadn’t experienced heat or humidity for twelve years. More showers, and more anti-fungal powder were required.
The joy of residence, of course was its location – 3 blocks from one of the best coffee shops in town and 5 blocks from great Thai food. Five a.m. in residence is also a joy. I wasn’t sleeping well, so I’d get up, shower, and sit in the little common room on the third floor. It was silent with sleep that early, and I’d work for a couple of hours before the floor awoke.
At eight, I’d take the elevator down to the main floor where the smell of brewing coffee made my mouth water. No matter what coffee tastes like, its fragrance is seductive. Every morning, I’d arrive back at our room with two cups of hot, dark-ish liquid and two sugar and modified corn oil treats.
Seventy-five steps from our dorm was the spectacular Kings College library. I mention the library, even though I’ve never darkened its doors. Bonnie, however took full advantage of it.
Being on campus without a car while I was in class, there were only so many runs to the grocery store and walks downtown Bonnie could stand in the heat. So she went to the library and told them she was me. Our class had had difficulties getting student cards so with my name and student number on a piece of paper, the librarians were happy to check out a book for her. I would never have thought to try, but Bonnie has a history with libraries running back to her childhood when she checked out books using other children’s cards, having exceeded the number of books she could have, or owing fines under her own name. While she had no scruples perpetrating this ruse, I was almost catatonic knowing I would be kicked out of the university before finishing the first week.
She assured me there wasn’t a problem. When she returned the book, however, the librarian asked to scan her student card so the book could be entered back into the system. By that time I had picked up my student ID – I was so proud of that card – and, with great trepidation, handed it over to her. We look nothing alike, but she predicted they wouldn’t examine the photo and they didn’t. I kept my spot in the course, although Bonnie’s personality is so memorable, I may never be able to use the library again.
Having experienced student residence, I’m not that eager to repeat the adventure. This summer we’re renting an apartment and a car. I can walk to the university for exercise and Bonnie can drive to the store, and transport her paints, canvases and brushes to capture the east coast views she never got to see last year. I have already romanticized aspects of our stay in residence and they can rest, slightly blurred in my memory while I’m walking only steps to the toilet at night and sharing the shower with only one other.
photos by Bonnie Sheppard