It must be the 40th anniversary of the Lehman Hall Fire. I don't remember the exact date, only that it was the Friday before midterms, Fall Semester, 1978. I remember exactly where I was: watching the Friday night campus film, "The Opening of Misty Beethoven." I remember what I was wearing: a plaid spaghetti strap A-line jumper that I had purchased at a boutique at the Somerville Circle, shortly before leaving for college. I remember an hour into the film, someone came into Lecture Hall One, where the film was showing, and shouted, "Lehman Hall is one Fire." And I remember no one reacted in any particular way. But I don't remember the exact date. And no one ever established who was to blame. Witnesses saw someone running through the first floor. Fire department officials established that there was an accelerant. Campus mysticism correlated the fire with Vincent Bugliosi speaking that night (obviously, not the choice of activity I utilized) They say that everywhere he speaks, something bad ensues.
Probably an hour passed. The disappointing porno was over. And we left the Lecture Hall--and across the street, could see many emergency vehicles and flashing lights parked by Lehman Hall. Students and residents were standing outside. I found R, one of my two roommates (most everyone was tripled up). R was unemotional. She had been practicing her oboe, smelled smoke, put the oboe away, closed all windows and doors, and left. At some point, we both left to call our parents. I called mine, neither seemed to be affected by the news. I didn't want to be affected--I didn't want them telling me I had to come home. As was ever the case, I felt a need to protect them from over emotional information. My mother couldn't cope with anxiety then and she can't cope at all now. I told her the other day I bought a hardwood floor polisher. She had an anxiety attack. You'd think the former Mrs. Only Cleaning Dispassionately (OCD) would be pleased, like an apple from the tree.
But I digress.. One of the girls whom I attended the porno with told me if I had no place to sleep, come to her room--and she repeated the address @ College in the Woods several times.
Time passed, and there was no way we were going to be allowed in the dormitory. Lehman Hall was one of about five dormitories that made up Hinman College. Suny-B's residential buildings were grouped into five complexes: Dickensen Complex, College-In the-Woods, Hinman, and Newing College. Students were "sorted" into their "houses" by some unknown process prior to their freshman year. No sorting ceremony, no singing, mottled hat. Just another routine bureaucratic process. (That's why Harry Potter is a box office boffo and Suny-B isn't. Yeh--get a singing hat and an after dinner sorting ceremony). Almost every freshman was "tripled" up--place three to a room in a room meant for two. Three beds (bunk), two desks, two bureaus, two closets. Start out with residential stress. I was the last to arrive, and got the top bunk. There was some palaver about rotating, which never occurred.
The irony is that Dickenson Complex was the housing unit which was not up to code. It housed graduate students and those students who didn't want to pay full price for the dorm. Suny-B--complete with its own two tiered housing ghetto. The reason why it didn't meet code--no elevators. As you can tell from the photo of Lehman Hall, most dorms looked like garden apartments--three stories. So not having an elevator was not a serious problem, unless you injured yourself during the semester. I stayed at Dickenson during the summer--it was the only dorm open. It was like living with a bunch of old people. It smelled of death taking a holiday.
I found my way to the friend's dorm. I don't remember her name or where in CIW I was. I remember soon discovering I had my period--and no supplies. I was embarrassed and had to tell the RA I needed stuff. She helped me.
The next day,. we still weren't allowed in. I was bad and saw that someone had opened the window to the room I shared. As you can see from the photo, first floor rooms could be easily accessed via the window. I stood at the window and managed to grab most of the books I needed. I was obsessed with my studies and the upcoming midterms. I didn't want to put them off, though we had already been informed we could.
Sunday evening we could go back and take stuff we needed, accompanied by our RA. One at a time. When my time came, I was overwhelmed and underprepared. Everything was black. And the smell--how can I describe the stale burnt smell of extinguished fire and the smell of smoke everywhere. In literature, fire is supposed to be cleansing. There was nothing clean about this smell. It is antithetical to life. You never forget the smell and you never misidentify what it could be. I packed a bag and got the remainder of my books and notebooks. I felt ashamed of myself for crying so inconsolably. No one else was crying. I felt guilty for taking stuff the day before. I felt guilty because, aside from the overwhelming smell, there were no damages. Others had lost considerable stuff--they ran out and didn't close doors. I was thankful that R kept her head and knew what to do.
I remember seeing my other roommate, D, who was similarly breezy and unemotional giving me tips for how to get the smell of smoke out of clothing. No one seemed upset. I bottled it all up. Having an emotional reaction could derail my academic career.
By Wednesday, it was over. We had a choice--go down the highway to the local Colonial Inn, or take our chances being assigned to someone who had an accidental single. I was terrified of moving off campus, to a motel down the highway. No more crossing the street to LH1 to get to class. No more crossing the street to go to the library. I wasn't ready to move off campus. I didn't want to walk down the highway with Binghamton's harsh winters approaching.The lure of moving to the Colonial was that we got maid service. Rah. Suny-Binghamton: First provider to homeless shelters. Reader, I took my chances moving in with a stranger into an accidental single. Then, felt guilty--I had a bed off the floor--all for me. I had my own desk and my own bureau and, best of all, my own closet. I only had one roommate, not two. She seemed nice.