By Anna Grace Lee
Two weeks into self-isolation, I was sitting in the backyard with my housemate Emma when a rainstorm began to brew. As the clouds broke, we ran inside for shelter, and I suddenly felt overwhelmed with appreciation for our house. I realized, as many have before me, that I will probably never live in a community like Cayuga Lodge again, a small pocket in this giant university where, in the last four years, I have found comfort, excitement, and challenge. My friends back home were surprised when I first told them I was moving into a co-op, an independent house run entirely by students. I had lived in singles my first two years, and my friends thought I would have trouble adjusting to the vulnerability of shared space, to the myriad challenges that a place like Lodge would present to someone who liked to be comfortably alone.
I lived at Lodge for half of my college years, through different seasons, world events, and personal mindsets. Self-isolating there in March, after New York State’s stay-at-home orders went into effect, was strange at first. In the end, though, the experience made me even more grateful that I had the chance to live in this unique community, home to 18-22 people and, most of the time, many, many cats. The Lodge is used to constant motion—basement shows, art exhibitions, parties, and often too many cooks boiling pasta water in the kitchen. There’s a comfort in the chaos. So after in-person classes were cancelled on the week of March 9th, the stillness of the house felt overwhelming. All I had was time, and the walls around me started to feel like a fossilized tribute to college life. I spent some time in a hallway, looking at the built-in bookshelves of a wall that I’d never really noticed before. The shelves were full of abandoned textbooks and how-to books, histories of psychedelics, sex, social theory, and yoga.
I looked through the board games that we keep under the bar in our living room. A lot of them are missing pieces, but we make it work, and somehow we have multiple boxes of Settlers of Catan. The bar itself was an old house project, decorated with bottle caps that spell out “The Lodge” and lined with expired IDs glued to the top. The birth dates slip back in time—1993, 1991, 1989—and I don’t know many of the faces, but there’s a familiarity to them all, like signatures in a yearbook.
There are impressions like these all throughout the house: the murals left behind in different bedrooms; the pull-up record of scribbled names with individual triumphs on a door frame. Every once in a while someone will show up at the door saying, “I lived here!” They come and take a look around and revel in the ways things have changed but mostly stayed the same. They find their names on the wall or their photos someplace. Years from now, I’ll probably be one of those strangers at the door. When I moved out, I left behind many of my art prints and posters, luck and love-spell candles, and stained-glass stickers—the bright specks of color that defined my room over my years at the Lodge. When I come back, I’ll look for these pieces of me—maybe I’ll find them, maybe I won’t, but I’ll be content knowing that they had a life at Lodge beyond my own. Maybe, for a time, people will see my pink astronaut poster on the wall, my copy of the Little Miss Sunshine script on the bookshelf, or the many copies of kitsch scattered throughout the house, and think of me.
I first found out about co-ops from reading an issue of kitsch when I was in high school, after picking up the magazine when I visited campus in the summer. Both kitsch itself and the article about cooperative houses made me feel like I could find a home here. I Instagram and Facebook-stalked all the houses, excited at the prospect of watching live music in a basement with a dollar beer in my hand. While that isn’t the loftiest of college ambitions, it was important to me, and I was happy when I found myself living that experience at the Lodge. I hope that in the future, there will be more cooperative houses at Cornell in general—affordable housing where people agree to work together, and try to do their best by each other. Of course the model has its flaws, and it doesn’t always work for everyone, but cooperative housing gives students an alternative to Greek life and a place to find like-minded people and community at a university where it can be difficult to find your balance. I found my balance, lost it, and found it all over again at the Lodge. Thank you to my big, brick, centenarian house, and all the friends I met there. I will miss you. All I can hope is that some high schooler picks up this issue and Googles, “What’s a co-op?” They’ll fish their way through a bunch of Reddit threads and hopefully find their way.