“Do you think she can hear us?” There’s some snorting laughter behind me, but my back is to them. Somehow my brain was triggered awake at this exact moment, like an interior alarm alerting me of the impending mental attack. I’m conscious enough to process the question posed behind me in the dark, and to know that nothing good can come from it. It’s the kind of question that makes me go still in preparation for what could follow.
“Fire.” It’s a threatening whisper, but I can tell it’s my roommate’s voice.
“Fire.” Still just a whisper, but a fierce one. I can distinguish between the two laughs that follow, one my roommate’s and the other a stranger’s. I feel a sort of betrayal in my REM cycle, then, finding out that a stranger came through my shared door and sat four feet across from my bed without me knowing. The thought makes me want to turn around so I can see the other girl’s face.
“Hey. Fire.” The voice sits in the darkness, a normal pitch. They’re pushing the boundaries, assuming I’m a hard sleeper and not desperately trying to lie still and keep my breathing normal. There’s a spot on my back that tickles. I can’t tell if it’s from trying to keep still or if it’s the same spot where their eyes have landed.
“She’s so weird. Like she listens to this weird music, I don’t even know what it is. I think it’s like Indian or something.” I had told her a week ago that the music coming from my computer was indie music. My desire to laugh almost wins over my desire to cry. I lay there, tracing with my eyes the pattern of mortar between bricks on the wall in front of me. My face gets hot from anger and embarrassment.
I wonder if her biggest complaint about me is that I listen to “weird music,” because surely she remembers how the week before, I took out her hair extensions when she came back to the dorm drunk and couldn’t get her fingers to unclip the fake hair.
“She also has like a whole thing of food under her bed. That trunk right there. It’s like, do you really need that much food?”
Or how I tried to talk her back to sleep when she started sleepwalking drunk. How I watched her get out of bed, ignoring me and squatting down on her rug. I turned to the wall before I heard the heavy stream of her peeing.
“Ew. What a weirdo.” Her friend, agreeing with her.
I stir in my bed. I don’t want to hear any more. They laugh at my movement, but go on to another topic.
I felt in that moment the shocking hurt that I can guess is akin to what animals would feel at a zoo if they could understand the words thrown at them from lowly visitors. I was the main attraction in my own room, two strangers tapping on my glass to see if I’d hear what a weird thing I was. The next five hours until morning were spent running over the things they had said, noting the truths in the words, and replaying them over and over again. Five hours stuck behind the same glass, and when I finally crawled out of bed, I kept wondering what other people would think about my music, or what I was eating, or if they would notice my puffy eyes from the night before. Or if that laughing was meant for me.