alt=a woman shades her eyes and thinks about her younger self studying on a hot roof

Students on a Hot Slate Roof

The bittersweet feel of a sun-drenched fall afternoon reminded me of a crazy thing I used to do and a crazy thing that happened.

Those college days

It was the late 1970s, and I was living in a rambling Victorian house with six other people in Brookline, Mass. A few were law school students at the nearby Boston College. One was pre-med. I was in journalism grad school at Boston University. I don’t remember what a couple of them did. We ate a communal dinner on a ping pong table in the dining room. We were supposed to all have jobs cleaning, but nobody wanted to do it. The place wasn’t squeaky clean, shall we say.

I was embarrassed for my parents to come visit. But they didn’t make a fuss. They just soaked it all up. I think they were happy to see that I lived with smart, fun, people. We had lively discussions while sitting on the ratty furniture in the living room. Was in Animal House? No it wasn’t. But we had some good parties. The fire escape led into my room. One Halloween, I went to bed early, and a monster came into my window via the fire escape. I screamed. It was just one of my roommates though. I don’t think he meant to scare me that much, and I can’t even remember why he was doing it. Maybe he was locked out.

After school, two of us jogged on the path along the Charles River. I loved watching the boats and the people and taking in the skyline. We could jog right to the path from our house.

Sun bathing on the roof

Another thing we did (crazy thing number one) was crawl out someone’s bedroom window and sit on the roof to do our homework. The surface got hot, but I didn’t mind. It slanted a little bit, as roofs are supposed to do. I had to be conscious of leaning back against the window so as not to slip down. I loved the feeling of the sun on my skin and the look of the subsequent tan that I got. It was a three-story house, and this roof was an overhang over the first floor.

No sunscreen

Did we wear sunscreen? No, of course not! I don’t believe we ever thought of such a thing. There’s no way to know if or how much it contributed to the long-term damage to my skin. I’m sure it wasn’t helpful.

Fast-forward to the present

Jump ahead years and years, and you get crazy thing number two. I was at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Kraft Family Blood Donor Center after my last stem cell transplant, getting a procedure called extracorporeal photopheresis, or ECP, to treat my graft vs. host disease of the skin. Though skin related, it is not skin cancer related, as I have discussed.

A familiar voice

I heard a woman across the way talking about a law case she was involved in. I gathered she was a lawyer. Her voice sounded familiar. It dawned on me that she was one of my roommates from those days in Brookline. She was there with her husband, who was being treated.

I asked my nurse to ask the woman if she was who I thought she was. And it was. She came over to my chair and reminisced with me. She told me that sadly, one of the roommates had died. She brought me up to date with a couple of the others, especially one with whom she had remained close. She called that friend and put me on the phone. She sounded the same. We said we would get together, but as these things go, we never got around to it.

When I’m in that neighborhood, I sometimes walk past that house. But I don’t need to be there to think of all the good times we had. In hindsight I wish I hadn’t done that study and sunbathe thing, but I’m glad at least that none of us fell off.

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