In the past four years, I’ve held nine different addresses in the United States and in Ireland. I’ve lived with one roommate, three roommates, eight roommates and no roommates. You wouldn’t believe how long it takes for my background check to clear.
My first semester of college, I lived on campus in a one-bedroom apartment with *Suda, an architecture major from Thailand. The first day we met she gave me a keychain-sized purple elephant that she brought overseas for me (the elephant is one of Thailand’s cultural symbols).
A few weeks after we moved in together, the truth came out: Suda was an absolute mess.
Picture food crusted onto the gas stove and dishes piled to the faucet in the kitchen sink. At first I didn’t mind my role as the sole caretaker of our living space. I figured that if I was the only one that cared about the cleanliness of the kitchen and the bathroom, then I was the one who should be cleaning it. She wasn’t a horrible person, she just didn’t care if the house was clean or dirty. And some people can live like that. “To each his own,” my grandmother used to say.
Months later, I decided it was time to have a conversation with her; It didn’t go well. I received a nod and a half-smile and that was about it. Nothing changed. After that, every time I tried to talk to her about the issue she would say something in her native tongue and pretend she couldn’t understand me.
Then there was *Lu, who arrived the second semester of my sophomore year, after my good friend and roommate decided to drop out. Lu was a video game design major. She was also pregnant. Apparently being pregnant was an excuse to leave dishes caked with rotting fruit and mayonnaise in the bedroom and let the unemployed baby daddy spend the night shirtless in our bedroom. The day our lease ended we had words and I stormed out.
The year I lived alone was the best year of my life. My tiny, overpriced studio was on the 17th floor of a newly renovated apartment building in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood; it had hardwood floors, granite countertops and three large windows with a view of Lake Michigan. Granted it was the size of a closet, but at least it was mine and that made it perfect.
One year later I moved to Ireland. I lived in a house with eight women, all of whom were American, ironically enough. Truthfully, I spent more time out of the house than in it. Most weekends I stayed in hostels while backpacking around central Europe. But, the days I did stay in the house were cramped (we had two mini fridges and a mini freezer, in which eight people had to cram their groceries).
My last semester of college, I reluctantly elected to live on campus again and ended up with three really wonderful girls, all of whom understood what it’s like to have a bad roommate. They informed me that their previous roommate was a drug addict who could frequently be found snorting a line of cocaine on the kitchen counter. Granted, we had our issues, but that you’ll never go without.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that in every lousy housing arrangement there is a lesson to be learned. The other day I was poking around in boxes and I came across the purple elephant that Suda, gave me. I kept it, not because we are still friends, but because it was an incredibly thoughtful and personal gesture. Today the elephant dangles from a pin on my cork board above my desk. When I look at it I’m reminded that not every person is all bad or all good. Some days, we are all terrible roommates.
I wonder what they would write about me.
*Name has been changed