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Millie Felder / Senior Staff Photographer

My roommate’s pepperoncinis spilled all over my fridge. The pungent smell of pickles ruined my safe space, the space where I unwind and cook scallion pancakes, s’mores cookies, or fluffy buttermilk pancakes.

That is why I am here today, sitting on the floor of my eight-square-foot kitchen, scrubbing every inch of my fridge clean. This floor reminds me of the numerous times my roommates and I all crowded together, sandwiched in the nearly two feet of space that lies between the fridge and the counter, recounting my roommates’ dates. It reminds me of the times I have attempted to cook a real dinner, only to find myself eating my meal with my back against the fridge and my knees held close to my chest as I watched a recorded lecture and enjoyed edamame or pork potstickers. At 5 feet 3 inches, I am too small for my kitchen. But it is just big enough to trigger numerous memories when I walk into it.

When I walked back into my kitchen after returning from winter break, I winced. The sickly sweet odor of candles and the leftover scent of gingerbread men evoked stress as they filled my nose, reminding me of my seasonal depression and the horrors of finals season. The smell of pepperoncinis is different. It reminds me of this past semester of my first year, watching 90210 with my roommates on nights when homework was light and we just needed a laugh. It reminds me of my craving for Lucky Charms when my essay deadline crept dangerously close. It reminds me of screaming “Dinner is ready!” across the apartment so my roommates could join me at the table for our family dinner.

In spite of these more glamorous memories, I am now here, unfortunately and painstakingly taking everything out of my fridge.

I remove the soy sauce that I use for stir-fried glass noodles. I remove the maple syrup I slather on top of my pancakes. I remove an ungodly amount of half-consumed soda bottles; I have no idea how they got there.

As each bottle hits the ground—softly, of course, because my roommates are sleeping—it feels as though I am sifting through a box of memories. These bottles offered me comfort amid my midterms. I used them to cook food that comforted me when the energy of New York City seemed too much to handle. The first year of college is hard, full of moments of loneliness and uncertainty. One time, I cried while I was flipping a hamburger because the smell of the sizzling oil made me remember how much I missed my friends from back home. Multiple times, after a late-night baking detox session, I forgot to turn off the oven, only to have my roommates chastise me in the morning.

There have also been times when I danced in the kitchen as I cooked scrambled eggs or sat on my counter recounting a dream I had to my roommate as she fried bacon. The bottles in my fridge remind me of the peaks and valleys of my first year. In reality, they are just bottles that happen to be a little stickier than they should be.

I move on to the forgotten leftovers. The potato that somehow escaped the purge of rotten vegetables. The whipping cream that has officially passed its prime despite the numerous meals I recently cooked with it. The only thing that lingers in the fridge is the smell of pepperoncinis that has driven me crazy for weeks. However, as I scrub the eerily yellow stains out of my fridge, I find myself reminiscing about what has occurred while this smell remained. This smell of pepperoncinis has sometimes exiled me from the kitchen—my favorite place in my apartment save for perhaps my bed—out of pure revulsion, but it has lingered over a particular moment in my life.

While deciding which apartment to lease for my first year at Barnard, I pushed for one with a kitchen that opened into the living room. In my experience, the kitchen has always been a community space in which the chef of the night converses with their family and friends as they cook. This is what I wanted as I was thrown into a new city with total strangers.

Although our kitchen does not open into our living room, that sense of community is still strong. My roommates and I shimmy past each other while one of us cooks dinner in the tight kitchen. We keep each other company as we brush olive oil on baguettes for bruschetta or chop broccoli for a stir fry. These conversations carry out of the kitchen into our LED-illuminated living room, where our laughter echoes over our plates and silverware.

When I moved into an apartment with three other Barnard first-years, two of whom I had not met before, everything I expected to happen—heated fights and endless lonely nights—did not. Although there is sometimes tension between us about whose turn it is to do the dishes, we are all sisters who get along. We tease each other about our music tastes and laugh when dinner, which was supposed to be delicious, is served raw—by accident, of course. We put on fashion shows in our hallway and have dance parties on Saturday nights. We also have not died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a broken stovetop or burnt our apartment building down by forgetting to blow out a scented candle. Impressive, I know.

We also spend a tremendous amount of time together, taking the time to learn about each other. Through this, we have discovered that “apparently, cucumber is enemy number one in this house,” according to my roommate who purchased cucumbers only to find that no one ate them. We have learned that we all have our own addictions: Takis, espresso, Lucky Charms, and McFlurries. However, I have learned more about myself than I have learned about my roommates. In living on my own for the first time, I have learned to stick up for myself, because no one else will when you move to a new place. I have learned that I need to trust my emotions to care for and be kind to myself. I have learned that sometimes, it is better to make cookies than study a little harder for a test because my mind deserves a break other than sleep. These lessons, along with many others, have characterized the learning experience of my freshman year of college.

Now, as my fridge is finally clean of the putrid smell of pepperoncinis, I find myself taking a deep breath. I am beginning a new chapter in my life. Will it be marked by the smell of the restaurants that open on Amsterdam Avenue in the next few months? The lingering whiff of cooked bacon? The aroma of fresh laundry? I will not know until this part of my life has passed and I find myself cleaning a different spill out of my fridge.

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freshman year pepperoncinis memories bella druckman