When I moved to New York in the summer of 2010 I didn’t have any friends. I couldn’t afford my own apartment, so I made the novice mistake of moving in with a random stranger I met on Craigslist. You hear horror stories about Craigslist roommates–OCD, junkies, money scammers, rapists–but still, I thought, How bad could it be?
Mike was in his mid thirties with a big beer belly, permanent armpit stains, and the general attitude and appearance of a someone who hasn’t gotten a blow-job in over a decade. He would burp and fart so loud that it would wake me from my sleep almost every night. To add to his cliched ‘bad roommate’ persona, he was a hoarder. Every available space of the apartment was crammed with dusty knickknacks, books with titles like Why We Get Fat, light-up Santa Clause statues that no longer lit up–the list goes on. The weirdest thing, though, was that for the most part Mike refused to speak to me, instead choosing to communicate solely through passive aggressive notes he would write in washable marker on the bathroom mirror. Things like, “DID SOMEONE USE MY COMB!?” (And by “someone” I assume he meant me, as we were the only two people living in the house.) I became so terrified of the awkwardness of running into him in the hallway that if I knew he was home, instead of going to the bathroom, I would pee into a plastic cup and throw it out the window. I only ever saw him clean once; I came home late one night to find him on all fours, manically scrubbed the bathtub with bleach. I was convinced he’d killed someone.
That apartment only cost me $420 a month–that’s pretty insane, even for Bushwick–but still, it wasn’t worth it. I needed to get out. So when my friend Amelia split up with her girlfriend and offered to let me live in a section of her living room for a small portion of the rent, I gladly accepted. Sure, I wouldn’t have a “real” room, and instead of actual walls my living space would be defined by sheets slung over a makeshift clothes rail, but still, it would be better than peeing out the window.
It’s a unique form of intimacy that arises, living so closely with someone like we do. In New York, unless you’re loaded, you generally have to resign to living in a glorified shoebox. Having a roommate becomes like being in a relationship, except without the fucking.
Because of the open-plan layout of our house, there is essentially zero privacy. When I’m in my bed and Amelia is in hers, we can hear each other breathing. We hear every phone call the other makes–the lies we tell our moms, the excuses we make to our bosses. When Amelia has sex, I can literally hear the sound of her fingers entering her lover’s vagina. Last night, I heard the girl in her bed whisper, “You fuck me better than my husband.” I miss nothing. And Amelia, in turn, has been witness to the many times I’ve screamed and cried and came and puked. We split the price of toilet paper, we pull clumps of each other’s hair out of the drain, we make salads, we share boxes of tampons. Once, when the guy I was sleeping with refused to go down on me (he claimed that my vagina at the time tasted “potent” and that the smell of my cunt “put him off”), Amelia offered to lick my fingers after they’d been inside me to judge how mine compared to the plethora of vaginas she’d previously sampled. “How thoughtful!,” I replied. Really, what more could you ask of a roommate than that?