WASCO for The Boston Globe
It didn’t have the grandeur of a blue-shingled corner home or the warmth of Indian cooking to come home to. Instead, I took solace in something that was a little too cold, sometimes suffocating, and often overpacked.
My humble first home-away-from-home was defined by something 18.5 inches wide and 32.5 inches tall: a mini-fridge tucked tightly on one side of my freshman-year dorm at Boston University.
Most people consider their freshman-year dorm a hub for the textbook definitions of teenage freedom: memories of late nights with right-swipes and overpriced tapestries on the walls.
I didn’t find a warmth in the formality of a picture collage of people from home or the cutesy candy-themed name tags that hung on our faded salmon door (as if a construction paper lollipop with my name could make me feel more welcome).
Nope. For me, the measly 5-foot-tall journalism major from New Jersey, my dusty mini-fridge reeks of the first place I would call mine. The shelves felt the heaviness of insecurities, nostalgia for childhood friendships, and unfamiliarity of death.
Eight weeks into school, my mom called to tell me my grandfather was sick. I was promptly presented with mint chocolate-chip ice cream and cookie dough by a girl down the hall. My longtime best friend would have thought it was a practical joke — my two most hated foods — but I guess for first-years they are the go-to thing to cheer someone up. Even though the gesture was sweet, they took up the last inch of freezer space.
As the days grew colder, I began to spend Fridays away from the cookie-dough friendships and dinner invites. I was comfortable with Skype hangouts and indulged in India Quality’s takeout or microwaveable chana masala packets. It worked. The packets had extra oil, was underseasoned (sometimes over), and stank of cheap processed ingredients. But paired with a video chat with someone from home, it brought a sense of comfort that outweighed invites to an elusive fraternity party at West Campus and surpassed the foreign Newbury Street.
By spring, the takeout was stubbornly traded for leftovers. I became close to a girl who lived in my suite and the boys who lived underneath us. The seven of us cheered for late night Domino’s orders. We spent Valentine’s Day on a group date, boisterously seated at an Indian restaurant on the now not-so-foreign Newbury.
As my mini-fridge became filled with “thinking of you’’ purchases from my new family, my actual family stepped in and shook things up.
“I have some bad news,’’ I recall my dad saying, a cliché for announcing a death in the family. My grandfather, who had been sick on and off since October, had died.
I sunk back into bed, e-mailed my professors saying I was sick, and laid there beside my picture-perfect tapestry. I came to realize the difference between crying and weeping.
I longed for my mom’s soup that she had frozen and mailed to me. I pushed through the packed fridge and remembered that I had probably thrown it out.
During this hard time, as far as I felt from home and family, my dinky little place had settled into a sense of permanence. I knew that I had found my first home after almost six months of living there. The momentary silences, between tears and reflections, were filled with seven people taking turns opening the door and sitting beside me. Seven people who somehow knew this wasn’t a mint chocolate chip and cookie dough kind of day.