The summer before my freshman year of college I was really nervous.
Excited of course, but nervous as hell.
At orientation I had put down my housing preferences, I wanted to live in Orchard Hill. “Anything but Southwest” I had prayed aloud.
Of course I got placed in Southwest.
Then my battle cry became, “Well anything but a tower!”
Of course my assignment was a corner room (also known as the smallest room available) on the 6th floor of Washington Tower.
The anxiously awaited my roommate assignment.
I was assigned to a girl named Maggie Fitzgerald. She was from Maryland, was obviously very wealthy and had this kind of huge Julia Robertseque smile in her Facebook profile photo.
I wrinkled up my nose when I read her “about me”
“As soon as you’re born, you start dying,
So you might as well have a good time”
“My bitches rock Balenciaga and smoke mad marijuana”
We clearly didn’t have a lot in common. Though I did love Cake, the quote was one the guy who had been successfully been breaking my heart pretty much all of high school had used on his own Facebook profile.
We sent a couple emails back and forth, the whole “who’s bringing what” thing. She not so politely informed me that she was actually planning to switch assignments as soon as she arrived at school, she had wanted to room with another girl, also named Sarah, that she had met at orientation. She told me not to depend on her for the mini fridge, the television, etc.
I called my high school friends aggravated. I would have to buy my own mini fridge, my own microwave, blah blah blah. I of course was stung by the fact that she wanted to switch roommates. Of course I shouldn’t have taken it personally, but I did.
In the meantime, Maggie’s best friend Rachel friended me on facebook. She didn’t write on my wall, or acknowledge me in any way, she simply requested my friendship.
“She’s just trying to check you out!” squealed my best friend, who of course immediately requested to friend Maggie.
A mere two weeks before we were supposed to arrive at school I got a facebook invitation from Rachel. I can’t remember now if it was a group, or an event but the headline read “Prayers for the Fitzgerald Family.”
I immediately ran to google to see if what I had read was true.
It was true.
Maggie’s 1.2 million dollar house had burned to the ground killing her, her older brother Kennedy and his girlfriend.
Whether or not they were having a party was never released. Four friends who were staying the night and Maggie and Kennedy’s younger sister Clara made it out of the house, woken up by the smoke alarms. Their parents were away in New Jersey when the fire started. The “victims” as they called them in the news reports were so badly burnt that they had to be identified by their dental records. Something that haunts me to this day, upon first seeing Maggie that was the first thing that struck me, she had this brilliant movie star smile.
At first it was all too surreal to feel anything other than shock and almost awe. It seemed antiquated, who the heck dies in a fire now a days?! You hear the smoke alarm and then you get out!!
My friends, ever sensitive, teased me that I had willed it to happen because I was mad.
The whole thing was upsetting. I hadn’t known Maggie. I hadn’t even met her. It was hard to be sad, or miss her. I was sad mostly for her friends and family who treated her facebook wall as a grave site, leaving memories and messages. For awhile someone manned her facebook, periodically changing her profile picture. Eventually someone also”cleaned it up a little” taking down incriminating pictures and notes.
I was selfish and I wondered of course, why me? I tried to read into it, was it a warning about how life is too short? Was I being too reckless (the answer to this question is a resounding “no”) Was I being punished?
In the end the whole thing is tragic.
Shortly after I moved in my room there was a knock at my door. It was the Assistant Resident Director;
“Hey Sarah I was just looking over your room assignment, I see it’s just you in here, any idea when Maggie will arrive?”
I was stunned.
“Umm..” I replied “She’s not coming”
“Oh ok” he said confused “Any idea why that is?”
I stared at him blankly, wondering if it were a joke.
“She’s dead.” I said. And then I tried not to laugh because the whole thing seemed so absolutely ridiculous.
“She died, a few weeks ago” I clarified, trying not to seem like a heartless person in severe need of a visit to UHS mental health.
He apologized profusely for not being better informed and informed me I’d get my new roommate assignment within the next few days and until then I needed to keep one half of the room open and clear of my stuff.
I ended up having a single room for the entirety of my freshman year. Which I think turned out to be good for me in the end. I wasn’t in a good place then. I made friends outside of my dorm, and when I needed to be alone I had a place I could go and draw the shades and be sad until I wasn’t anymore. It was my little refuge and I guess in a weird and morbid way I owe Maggie for that? Or maybe I’m just trying to find a way to honor her. Who knows.
Today is Maggie’s Birthday. She would have been 22.