My Roomie/My Bestie

by Kate Stone Lombardi '78

Kate and Sally

I don’t know how Williams made roommate assignments back in the day. Certainly, we weren’t surveyed on our musical tastes, sleep and study habits, or propensity to party. We simply got a letter over the summer with the name and address of the roommates the housing office had chosen for us. The post office kind of letter, that is – I entered Williams in the fall of 1974, and that was the only kind of mail there was.

Had I filled a roommate preferences survey, I likely would have gravitated to someone like myself. And myself, at that point, was a long-faced 17-year-old, hair on the frizzy side, parted down the middle and grown past my shoulders. I’d never owned makeup and my wardrobe consisted of dark, droopy sweaters and jeans. My musical tastes could only be called depressive – lots of Bob Dylan, some Grateful Dead, and a deep-grooved copy of Joni Mitchell’s album, “Blue.”

I’d grown up in suburban New York at a time when any display of enthusiasm or excitement was not cool. (Thank goodness that back then, the Admissions Office had not yet cottoned to the idea that teenagers should have “a passion.”) Anyway, that’s how I remember myself – trying to seem laidback, though in truth was anxious about everything – grades, friends, boyfriends, you name it.

The roommate I was assigned, Sally, seemed like she was from another planet. Looking back now, of course, I see we weren’t so different - both of us privileged and clueless. But at the time, she was like no one I’d ever known. Sally was from Memphis, Tennessee. When she arrived at Williams, she had a heavy Southern accent. “Y’ALL shut up!” she’d say, when we made fun of it, which back then we didn’t think twice about doing. 

Sally was blonde, pretty, and brought bright, girl-y clothes to Williams. She wore makeup! I think she packed curlers. She was enthusiastic about everything. The music Sally packed for our shared stereo was upbeat - Steely Dan, Elton John and Motown. (Yes, young ones, these were vinyl records which we played on a turntable.) My new roommate had amazing dance moves. She was outgoing, hilarious, and made friends wherever she went. I flew under the wing of Sally’s social skills, as she dragged me to parties and made her new friends my new friends. Being a not-so-undercover academic grind, I, in turn, occasionally dragged Sally to the library.

Mostly, we laughed. We did the kind of laughing where no noise comes out except the occasional squeak. We laughed about the stupidest things. We’d buy an entire large pizza from Colonial on Spring Street, and then try to hide it, because we didn’t want to share. The other girls on our floor (Fayerweather – an all-female building back then) would bang on the door and call, “We smell pizza. We know you’re in there!” and our giggles would give us away. 

We became the best of friends. And over the years - long past Williams -we grew up together.

Our lives took different turns. Sally was one of those people whose address you wrote down in pencil, at least in the days before Apple contacts. She is adventurous and moved around a lot.  In 1985, Sally sent me a letter from China. She was traveling the world; I was living in Connecticut with a new baby. She moved to Santa Fe. To Vermont. To North Carolina. We celebrated her 50th birthday in French Polynesia. 

She was all over the place, while I was a suburban Mom, raising kids. Sally reinvented herself professionally multiple times, too. Mostly she worked in women’s health care and reproductive rights. But also in the hospitality industry, archiving, consulting, and tutoring immigrants. Meanwhile, I built a writing career, slowly and steadily, from which I never wavered. 

I highlighted my hair. Sally got tattoos. 

We managed to see each other at least once a year. After my kids were grown, she incorporated me into her travel life. Our last big trip together was to Panama. My most salient memory is not of the incredible beauty and culture of the country, but of Sally’s laugh, ringing across an island as she watched a rogue wave drench my clothes. Then again, I got to laugh with a rogue monkey stole Sally’s snacks from our tent. 

We usually take far less exotic trips, and we’ve had as much fun in a run-down hotel in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania as we have at the tropical resort where Sally ran over an iguana. (She tried to pin that iguana’s death on me in our class notes, and I’m here to set the record straight.)

 Our friendship just keeps growing deeper. There are things I share with Sally that I wouldn’t tell another soul. We’ve been together at joyful moments, but also at painful ones. We saw each other through our respective fathers’ deaths. Too soon afterwards, we saw each other through our respective brothers’ deaths. When I was ill and my husband was out of town, Sally drove six hours to take care of me. When she’s battled low times, I’ve been present for her too. A few years ago, my son got married. It was a small wedding, and the guest list was tight. “But what about Sally?” I asked my son. “Mom! Sally is on the family list.” That pretty much says it all.

My Roomie never stops surprising me. A few years ago, she fell deeply in love with a man while traveling in New Zealand. Now she lives there, clear across the globe. If it were any other friend, I’d worry about staying close. But not Sally. We make it work with Zoom and FaceTime and visits back and forth. 

For all her moving, Sally is an archivist when it comes to friendships. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when she unearthed a letter I wrote her in August of 1974, a few weeks before we’d meet on campus. It begins like this:

“Dear Sally, Thanks so much for your letter! I’m so glad to have a roommate from the ‘deep South.’ I’m sorry I didn’t answer sooner (please don’t think me the epitome of Northern inhospitality!) but I’ve been traveling, and I just got your letter.”

The epitome of Northern inhospitality? What a teenage nerd I was! I go on to tell her that even if our music tastes weren’t similar, “I end up liking any song if I hear it enough anyway!” And that I might not be able to bring my record player anyway, because my sister and I were driving to Williams together, and there’d be “quite the quibble” negotiating space in the car. Cool and laidback? More like painfully awkward, anxious, and desperate to please. We’ve laughed about that letter so many times, but Sally still claims that she loved it.

I am so incredibly grateful that Williams didn’t ever ask me what I was looking for in a roommate. Because I never would have known how to ask for Sally, my best friend for the last 47 years. (And no, Roomie – I do not know how we got so old.)

sally and kate now

One comment on My Roomie/My Bestie

  1. This story brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps. It is so beautifully told and what a beautiful friendship you two have had. I love the pictures, too. You both lucked out getting each other as roommates and I hope your adventures continue on and on! Thank you for sharing this 🙂

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