You might be interested in this story because he, Justin Theroux -- actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and boyfriend of Jennifer Aniston -- is now famous. I'm interested in this story because I was, probably, an idiot.
I arrived at Bennington College as a freshman knowing the name of my roommate-to-be and that she was a sophomore from Colorado. And the picture I received of her told me she was blonde and liked to ski. This info made me nervous. I'd gone to Bennington to meet other theater, writing and art freaks like myself. The gal I was slated to share a room with seemed far too normal, but I tried to reserve judgement.
I had also been placed in a "quiet house" when I'd specifically requested a "loud house." I arrived in my house to find a gaggle of soft-spoken women who liked to knit, make herbal tea, and smile calmly at me when I made a joke.
Where were the freaks? The drama queens? At that point I was ready to pack my belongings in a bandana and run for the hills.
I wasn't a party animal, but I loved to be around them. Once sprung from a traumatic tour of duty at a Long Island public school, I wanted to go crazy in all ways but one: I was not sexually adventurous and had no plans to be. I came of age in the 1980s and my father was a dedicated hematologist who watched as his healthy young patients began to die of complications from what became known as HIV/AIDS, and all he could do was play whack-a-mole to treat the confounding diseases that came up. So yeah, you could say I was uptight.
Anyway, my roommate's stuff had been shipped and was in the room, but she didn't show up the first day. Nor the second. They told me she had medical issues and might come in a week or two. I kept her side of the room neat as a pin, at first.
At some point I started to inch over to her side and started hosting my newfound freaky friends, from louder houses, in my large room. It was all going swimmingly when, one day, the gal from Colorado said she wasn't coming back and the college said that, as a freshman, I couldn't have my own room. Rats.
My counselor was an ultra-sincere dance professor named Martha. She was a lovely person, but our personalities didn't mesh. She asked how life was going and I said, "Everything's fine except I'm getting really bummed I can't find a decent bagel in Vermont." She got a grave look, nodded with extreme understanding, and picked up the phone book to search for bagel places. She said, "Adjusting is hard, but let's see if we can remedy that. Together." I said, "Martha! I'm joking! I'm OK!"
And it was Martha who was tasked with helping find me a roommate. There were options but she was bent on selling me on one person. A guy.
See Bennington had co-ed dorms, co-ed bathrooms, and sometimes co-ed rooms. I found nothing odd about the first two, and it wasn't until I left working in the dining hall to work in admissions leading tours of the campus that I saw some parents thought co-ed bathrooms were shocking. Didn't we all grow up in homes with no ladies room?
Martha fixed me with her ultra-concerned look and said, "There's a nice young man. He's in a wheelchair. He needs a roommate. He seems very sad and lonely. You're so outgoing. I think he could really use someone like you."
Ho boy. I knew if my parents learned I was sharing a room with a guy, they'd disown me after pulling my funding. No amount of working in the dining hall at 5 a.m. cutting fruit salad was gonna pay my way.
But if I said no, I'd be leaving a depressed disabled guy all alone. Wouldn't my parents understand that? And if my parents were afraid of a sex-crazed roommate having his way with their chubby daughter, couldn't I tell them I'd be able to run away faster than he could roll at me?
I told her I'd think about it. But I came back and said no, I'd go with any roommate, any house, but it had to be a woman. I hadn't done improv yet and learned the always say "yes" rule. I couldn't face lying to my parents or telling them the truth. And honestly I was relieved because although I loved making people laugh -- I was terrified. What if I failed in my mission to cheer up the handicapped guy?
I chose to move in with a painter named Amanda. And then, Martha said, "It's such a shame. I really think you'd have made a difference with Justin."
SFX: record scratch
Wait, Justin? Which Justin? It was a tiny school. I knew two Justins and both were not sad dudes.
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It just so happened to be Justin Theroux -- a guy I'd met on my first or second night there when I went exploring on my own and crashed a loud house party. An insanely handsome and, more importantly, insanely nice, cheery sculpture guy with dark shiny hair and eyes that sparkled. Basically, he was art school Romeo. And he already had a girlfriend, which wasn't hard because the school had more women than men, a lot of the men liked men, and most of the women were stunning, smart, and liberal.
Maybe Martha didn't realize most of us aspiring art stars wear a lot of black and sometimes skulk around looking broody?
I said, "Martha, first of all, he's not in a wheelchair. He's on crutches. From a soccer-playing accident. And I assure you he's not lonely."
"Oh," she said.
And "oh crap" I thought. Because the horrible truth landed on me that if I'd known it was THAT Justin, I'd have peeled off the worries about my parents faster than Bennington dance majors get naked. I don't mean to imply that anything romantic would've ever developed. No way. I'm like the best friend type in the movies and in real life. It's just that I knew he was awesome, and I'd have happily been the chirpy dorky moth to his flame.
I don't believe in a higher power, but it did feel like a test that I'd failed. If I'd been the heroine of a Hollywood fairy tale, my heart would've been big enough to cast aside my fear of my parents. I'd have taken pity on a poor, unseen soul and I'd have found my bags in the room of THE COOLEST GUY EVER.
It was a magical Vermont fall day -- crisp delicious air with bushels of sun that baked you hot as apple pie. I saw Justin. I think he was still on crutches, but I might be misremembering. I told him what had just gone down and the story of how I was almost his roommate. He thought it was hilarious he'd been cast as a sad sack in need of shepherding. He smiled and said something like, "Ah, that's too bad... might've been fun."
He laughed. His eyes sparkled.
Can you imagine sharing a dorm room with Justin Theroux?
Image via Christopher Peterson/Splash News