Story by Erik Potter

Erin VanSickle and Taryn Wood link arms, showing the tattoo of their college room number on the backs of their arms.
Erin VanSickle, left, and Taryn Wood met in 2005 as random roommates in 531 Mark Twain Hall. Despite being 10 years out of college and living in different parts of the country, they are still best friends, which they commemorated last fall with 531A and 531B tattoos. Photo courtesy Erin VanSickle

On Move-In Day freshman year, Erin VanSickle carried her black comforter, plastered with Hot Topic patches, into Room 531 in Mark Twain Hall. Taryn Wood, sitting on her pink, floral bedspread, was already inside.

VanSickle took one look at Wood’s bedspread and thought to herself, “This is not going to end well.”

The young women, both journalism majors, had been randomly assigned as roommates. “We didn’t know each other, even though our names rhyme,” says Erin of Taryn, making a non sequitur that says much about her sense of humor and personality.

Despite their surface differences, the two women would develop a friendship over freshman year. They didn’t realize how strong it was until later.

Both became residential advisers with Residential Life their sophomore and junior years. Each decided independently to get an apartment and a roommate senior year. It was then they realized that, of all the people they could live with, they’d rather live with each other.

“The more we had had to deal with other people, the more we realized how lucky we had been,” VanSickle says.

The experience wasn’t without bumps. One (VanSickle) wanted a dog. The other did not. One (Wood) cut pizza with scissors. The other thought that was ridiculous. But their mutual respect held them together. 

A close-up of the back of their elbows, showing the "531A" and "531B" tattoos.
More than just a friendship tattoo, the Wood and VanSickle say their room numbers remind them of a transformative period of their lives. Photo courtesy Erin VanSickle

“Our differences showed a lot more when we were freshmen,” VanSickle says. “But there’s something about growing up together. They say couples tend to look alike. We don’t look alike, but we were able to nurture each other’s better qualities, and those qualities ended up being the same thing.”

The friends were loyal to each other. Each provided the other with a feeling of stability during a chaotic, change-filled senior year.

VanSickle graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, after which she returned home to Texas, landing a job as a high school teacher in Mesquite, a Dallas suburb. She now leads the school’s English-as-a-second-language program.

Wood, from St. Louis, earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in December 2008, then stayed and earned a master’s degree in journalism in 2010. Afterward, she took an editorial design job at Glamour in New York. She is now the design director for Radio.com’s digital platforms.

“We’ve kept in touch and grown closer for a long time,” Wood says. Despite living 1,500 miles apart, they have vacationed together, visited each other on holidays and communicated regularly over the years. “Sometimes friendships can plateau, but we are continuing that friendship-building.”

The most recent — and visible — evidence of their growing friendship is on the backs of their arms.

VanSickle, who has several tattoos, has needled Wood for years about getting a tattoo together. Wood, who had never had one, was reluctant. But after she got her first, she decided a second one wouldn’t be bad.

They didn’t want to get a typical best-friend tattoo — no hearts or names or flowers. But a tattoo of their room number would symbolize not just their friendship but also a formative time in their lives. (As a design professional, Wood’s only requirement was that they use a clean, modern font.)

“I came to Mizzou a quiet, not-confident-but-wanting-to-change-the-world person,” VanSickle says. “I needed someone like Taryn to help me see what I could offer. That wouldn’t have happened if I had roomed with someone I knew.”

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