Independence. It’s not always all it’s cracked up to be.
If you’ve been single and under the age of 30 for any significant length of time, then chances are you’ve had one or more roommates. You might have been assigned them by a college or university. You might have gambled on a good friend or acquaintance. Or, perhaps you were especially brave and advertised/answered an ad. If you’re one of the lucky ones who is still in touch with said roommate, consider them one of your dearest, and, in your more wistful moments, wish you were still living together, this post will (hopefully) entertain. You may even permit yourself, in the deep recesses of your heart, a smug little laugh.
No, this post is for those of us who understand the special kind of hell that is living with a bad roommate. Who have watched perfectly normal-seeming people turn into the kind of seven-deadly-sinful monsters fought by bespectacled teenagers with wands and Scooby Gangs with pointy sticks that aren’t wands. Who have encouraged, cajoled, pleaded, begged, promised their firstborn to utterly disrespectful people if only they’d [insert request here]. I have had two such experiences and, let me tell you, there is a reason I now live alone.
In graduate school, away from my family for the first time, I lived in the international student cottages section of my UK university. Six students to a cottage, each with their own room, but sharing a bathroom, a kitchen, and a dining room (the latter really just a large table beside the square of appliances). I lucked out on three of them. Teddy the Newly Out Bear was the son of a restaurant owner who taught gaggles of Japanese girls how to make dumplings on weekends and watched every episode of Queer as Folk with me. Girl Who Shares My Real First Name was your typical English rose with an affable, adoring, permanently attached boyfriend. Southern Belle became my close friend and fellow pub-crawler, despite her strict religious upbringing (and my liberal atheist leanings).
But then there was M. She doesn’t get a cute nickname. Used to servants scurrying to fulfill her every whim, I don’t think she had ever seen a fridge before, let alone learned how to use one. She left so much food to rot–and by that I mean lettuce would liquefy and drip all over our food–that we had to eventually get a second fridge, leaving her the bacteria-laden cave that we moved out into the hall. She avoided spending any time with us as a rule, ignoring our hellos and early-weeks’ invitations to have a cuppa. She never met a song she didn’t want to play at full volume at all hours of the day and night. But her piece de resistance came one Sunday morning while the rest of us were gathered around the kitchen table, having a fry up.
Southern Belle left to have a shower, only to discover that M had spilled her black hair dye all over the bathtub and not even made a cursory effort to clean it up. In Belle’s words, it looked “like a horse had a bath in there!” By this time, we were deeply fed up with her rebuffs and her behavior, so we pounded on her door until she “woke up”, letting her know that she would be cleaning the bathroom. Which she proceeded to do. With dish washing fluid and a facecloth. You can imagine how much good that did. So the four of us ended up taking turns scrubbing with actual bathroom cleaner and cursing her name for most of Sunday afternoon. And strongly suggesting she move in with her boyfriend.
A suggestion I would come to rue a mere six months later. Before leaving for the UK, I worked at a cinema for three years. The staff was a tight-knit group: we made work feel like play; we partied afterwards; we had each others’ backs. So, naturally, when two of my most responsible former co-workers needed a roommate, I jumped at the chance. The last thing I wanted to do, moving back to Canada after a year and a half living in a foreign country, was keep on living with my parents. Arrangements had to be made while I was still in the UK, so they chose the apartment… and got suckered by a slum lord.
The place itself wasn’t horrible–it just wasn’t the cute apartment they had originally been shown. Instead, it was the exact same layout in the building opposite, with words painted into the walls and scum so bad the whole place had to be bleached. I was still out of the country when they discovered the bait and switch, so I escaped most of the painting process. Which is why our kitchen ended up being navy blue.
K was my former manager. The oldest, the savviest, allegedly the most responsible of the three of us. At work, she’d been a by-the-book badass. You can guess where this is going. Just before I got back, my other roommate, Updo, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and was in the hospital for two months. It was during this time that K painted the kitchen, knowing full well our lease said it needed to stay white. Her little housewarming gift to us, apparently.
When Updo and I moved in, K’s room was full of stuff. Like, storage closet-level full. But she didn’t live in the apartment a day the entire year we were there. She got back together with her on-again, off-again boyfriend a week before we took possession of the apartment and went to live with him. She would come around occasionally when we weren’t there, to eat our food and watch our cable TV. Every month we had to beg/threaten her for her share of the rent. Because of Updo’s hospital stay and continued crappy health, she wasn’t in a position to pay $100 more a month, and I was just out of school, looking for my first job. K didn’t help us fight our gross slum landlord, code name Bastard Man, who also used to creep around our apartment when we were out. When our lease was up and we decided to go our separate ways, she sent her boyfriend to repaint the kitchen for her. He did such a half-ass job that I was stuck doing it the night before moving day, after working a 12-hour shift at my new job and having to move Updo as well, who had just had surgery. (Postscript: she’s managing her condition and perfectly fine today.) Our saving grace was that K’s name was on the lease, so we had some leverage when pleading with her for rent/painting/getting her stuff the hell out of there.
So, those are my tales of roommate woe. Infuriating at the time, but with the benefit of a few decades’ distance… nah, still infuriating. But I’m sure you’ve got a far worse tale to tell! Please share in the comments, so we can all commiserate together.