Diesel and I met last September at a small liberal arts college in Ohio on move-in day. I was riding up the elevator of my freshman dorm, Barns, with my cart full of stuff, when this girl slammed her hand against the door and said, “Wait. I’ll squeeze in.”
Hindsight 20/20, I should have intuited right then and there that a girl like her might be the one to spark my downward spiral, but I was too busy freaking out so I didn’t register the possibility until much later. It wasn’t only her proximity, her shiny hair up in a ponytail, and the denim shorts that rode up her ass that made me squeeze my eyes shut. It was also how she moved, electric-like.
“You one of the athletes?” she said.
I kept my gaze low. My height, tan, and blond fro must have made her think that. Typical, I thought, though I reminded myself that I’d picked this school because it was supposed to be racially inclusive and open-minded. I had no choice but to follow her out on the second floor, and when I found my room, 211, she darted inside 212. Then, I remembered, hair standing straight up on my forearms, that this was a co-ed dorm where girls and boys sometimes lived together or right next to each other. We shared bathrooms.
My cart got stuck in the doorframe. I had to push and pull it until the whole thing went flying, a clank reverberating all the way down the hallway as my laundry bin crashed into my twin bed. I lurched forward like an idiot. I was catching my breath when Diesel’s voice re-emerged.
“You alright?” she said.
I wanted to disappear through the cracks of the floorboards. Instead, I stared at her pretty gold striped Adidas.
“Yeah,” I replied.
Diesel stepped into my roommate’s side of the room, ran her fingers along his desk, which gave me goose bumps all over again, then read this ancient red graffiti that must have been written in the 50’s, No to Homos, and shook her head.
“Damn,” she said. “You’d think they’d spend a little more on furniture with the bill our parents are forking out.”
“I’m Diesel,” she said.
I wondered how anyone could have this kind of confidence, this fluid ease among strangers.
“Lennon,” I said.
“As in John?”
She sat Indian style on my roommate’s bed, the fringes of her shorts riding up so high that I might have peeked part of her ass-cheek. Diesel, like all hot girls, belonged in the solar eclipse category. I couldn’t look at her directly without fearing some kind of terrible repercussion, like a retinae burn. I only glanced at her sideways and decided that I might have to go touch that spot on my roommate’s mattress once she was gone, that my fingertips might combust from her flame-like skin, and that this dude was the luckiest student on the planet. He’d sleep where she’d sat.
“My grandmother’s last name was carried down to me. Erma Lennon,” I said.
I guess Erma made her giggle. I blushed.
“With a name like Diesel, I wouldn’t pick on other people’s.”
“Fair enough,” Diesel said.
It was weird because I wasn’t the type to ever scold or tell anyone about my name. I always said yes to John. It was easier that way. Plus, I liked the idea of being named after an old school celebrity, even a white one. But with Diesel everything was different from the get-go. I felt the need to tell her the truth. I was about to ask her something lame, like where did you go to high school, when my roommate Steve showed up. My cart was still taking up the room. I fretted, dumped everything on my bed, and said, “Sorry. So much shit.”
Steve frowned. He was slightly overweight with dark hair that framed his face. He wore glasses.
“My folks are about to come up,” he said as if Diesel and I had been doing something illegal, which, again, gave me goose bumps.
Diesel grinned then moseyed over to my side and stood so close that I inhaled her citrusy scent and shivered.
Steve glanced at her and then back at me, “Are you guys dating or something?”
I laughed and almost asked him if he knew about the gap.
Diesel squeezed my arm. “No, dummy,” she said. “I’m your neighbor. I live in 212 with this kid named Tyler.”
Tyler. I imagined swapping rooms. I mumbled something ridiculous like maybe then we should except that I couldn’t live with someone like Diesel. I could barely handle her presence from my peripheral vision in the hallway. And anyway, Steve’s parents walked in, saying hello too loudly, which made Diesel slink away.