CHAPEL HILL, NC–Listening wistfully to his youngest daughter Natalie talk and laugh with her new roommate while he helped the girls set up their room, Jim Cox wished that his own roommate were similarly excited to live with him. Sitting behind him, Sharon Cox, his wife of 28 years, stared at the father of her three children until he grew uncomfortable, looked over his shoulder to meet her eyes, and then looked back down again.
Before her move to Hinton James Residence Hall on Sunday afternoon, Natalie Cox had lived in Charlotte, NC, since just after she started high school, when her father was laid off from his job near Atlanta, GA, and relocated the family for a new, worse-paying one. Natalie was randomly assigned to room with Liz Colburne early in the summer before her first semester at Carolina, and the two immediately connected on Facebook, soon chatting for hours several times a week. Late in July, Natalie and Liz met midway between their hometowns to get lunch and shop for dorm furniture, a trip which affirmed their fast-blossoming affinity.
Immediately after her daughter left that morning, Sharon Cox announced to her husband that she was leaving for a long weekend at her friend Donna’s beach house and would drop him off at work because she needed the family’s other car.
A few weeks later, just as the Cox family was taking their second load of stuff from the Honda Pilot up to Natalie’s new room, the roommates-to-be sighted each other across the parking lot behind Hinton James, screamed, ran toward each other, and hugged.
“Did you remember to lock the car, Jim?” Sharon said while her daughter was still embracing her new friend. “It was unlocked when we came back down here. You forgot to lock it the first time.”
After helping the girls loft their beds and listening to them joke about keeping each other up too late watching and talking about movies, Jim Cox considered his night before, when, like most nights, he came into his bedroom with his own roommate already asleep, changed in silence, read until he fell asleep with the lamp on, and was awoken several hours later by her drowsily elbowing him to turn it off.
As the girls decided to just share their closet and cabinet space because they were the same size in most things and envied each other’s clothes, he reflected on the brief, strictly missionary intercourse to which his wife acquiesces on Thursday nights, typically drinking three to four glasses of wine at dinner beforehand, and afterward immediately getting out of bed, going into the bathroom, and remaining noiselessly inside for up to 20 minutes.
“Goodbye sweetie,” Jim said to his daughter as the Coxes departed for their newly childless home. “I love you so much. I know you’re going to be happy here.”
As he and his wife walked separately down the hall from the still-open door of the room, he heard his daughter and her roommate resolve to walk their class schedules together the next morning and to head to the dining hall later in the evening with other people on their hall.
“What do you want to do for dinner?” he asked his wife as they got in the car.
“I don’t know, that meal at Spanky’s is making me sick,” she said. “And my neck hurts. I’m going to yoga in the morning. James is teaching again.”