Letter from my off-campus house

Photo courtesy of Esmé Epstein.

I never had a queen-size bed, and I did not think I would have one this soon. Whenever I would stay at a relative’s house or a hotel and had a bed larger than a twin, it felt as if I were drowning in an excessive duvet comforter and set of pillow shams. Now, I have both. Instead of using a bed delivery service, I convinced myself that I could build a bed myself. It is still standing thanks to the help of one of my roommates.

When the sun is not covered by thick smoky haze, I wake up to the soft-yellow light peeking through my gray and white Target curtains, which I hung with command hooks and accidentally mismatched rods. Half-living plants decorate each corner of my perfectly square room. Watering day is Monday — most Mondays. This is the room where I do Chloe Ting workouts, complete my schoolwork and, most importantly, watch Top Chef. My room is filled with posters, postcards and a pink and green banana leaf tapestry, which I’ve accumulated over the last four years at Oxy. With each item, I remember the Braun and Stearns cinder block it was once on when I lived on campus. I don’t think about where these things will go next year because I have no idea where they can go. Similar to the trinkets in my room, I live alongside my first-year college roommate and friends we’ve made over the years. Until June, this is my room and these people are my home.

Our house is cottagecore but make it college-core. The bright turquoise exterior lined with fuchsia flowers contrasts the unlandscaped yard of dirt — hence Dirt House being the name of our humble abode. As a native New Yorker, I never lived in a house, let alone one filled with crocheted blankets, a sectional couch and a 1920s fireplace. My roommates and I have spent most of our time at home, making the most of it. The back house serves as our library, the kitchen as our dining hall and the front house living room is the designated frat house on the weekends. There’s always some event to look forward to, whether it is a MarbleLympics viewing party, a Mamma Mia themed dinner with Greek take-out or a roommate jeopardy night. Sometimes I forget what it’s like to dress up to go somewhere else on the weekends.

Cramped New York City apartments were the epitome of comfort for me until this year. That was until I started enjoying my iced coffee with Trader Joe’s vanilla creamer every morning on the back porch, with a view of a distant LA palm tree and the limes that we harvest weekly. In New York City, you’re lucky if you have a balcony. On any given day, one of my roommates is in class, one is at work and one is cooking carbonara because that’s the only pasta dish she knows how to make (I wonder who that roommate could be). I used to be scared of people being so far away from each other. When I moved to LA and noticed no one walking on the sidewalks, I felt a bit spooked. Now, it’s odd to think I lived 18 years with neighbors within 10 feet of my apartment and only being able to crack a window to access the outdoors. Space from others and space outside is extremely valuable. It’s nice to have time with my own thoughts and think about what I’m grateful for.

When my roommates and I do leave the house, we take advantage of the outdoor spaces that California offers. Before this year, I never would have thought to wake up at 6:30 in the morning to hike and see the fog passing over the lush green hills. I had never been to the beach during the school year because I always thought I was too busy. There are days where my roommates say they want to go to the beach, and we go to the beach. We bring towels, sweatshirts and Chipotle to watch the smoggy sunset pass over the ocean.

Photo courtesy of Esmé Epstein.

Not every day is perfect. There are days where the neighbor’s dog will not stop barking, or I need to go for a walk around the neighborhood and clear my head. When I walk to campus, which is not often, I wonder what my off-campus experience would have been like if I could have seen excited first years walking across the quad or faces of professors and friends that I’ve grown to know over the last four years. Instead of seeing that community daily, I am now a 21-year-old girl living in Eagle Rock with her four friends while we complete school that feels like a full-time job.

Sometimes, I feel as if I lost a year of college, but really I have gained a new perspective for what I want in my future. Since our school experience is compacted into our screens, my roommates and I prioritize what makes us happy. We make time to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender after a busy day and drive to Jugos Azteca if we’re in the mood for agua frescas and tortas. Oxy is more than the campus; it’s the community that surrounds it.

That’s what helps me sleep at night when I curl up in my queen-sized bed.