Once upon a time (circa 2000) in a far away place (University), the heroine of our story (me) lived with a
bat sh*t crazy emotionally unbalanced roommate.
I had made every attempt to make a careful roommate selection. She met my two very exacting criteria: 1) Responsibility – She’d formerly been my dorm RA (resident assistant), so the University itself had deemed her responsible. 2) Availability – She and her existing roommate (another former RA! Win!) had a room to let. The bargain was struck and I moved in to my very first apartment.
Little-by-little, over the course of the next school year, I began to suspect that maybe the University had missed a few steps in their clearing process. I submit the following evidence:
1) She set fire to the carpet.
This is a pretty big red flag on the face of it, but she was fairly subtle about it. She simply lit a match in the middle of the living room and dropped it. She then waited to see how long it would take me to notice.
Thankfully, I was in the room at the time and noticed burning carpet smell pretty quickly. “Are you not getting enough attention??” I yelled.
“Nope.” she replied.
2) She didn’t clean.
Like at all. I mean, she pretty proactively collected trash. She hit a fast food joint nearly every day and carefully (or not – how can you tell with trash?) piled it up in a gentle slope from the edge of her bed to the door of her bedroom. It was a health hazard – I was seriously in danger of throwing up in there. Thankfully, we had separate bedrooms. Oh, and despite of her eating habits, she was a skinny-mini.
3) She was compulsive.
With decisions, purchases, fads, you name it. On a whim she got a tramp stamp of cat’s eyes so that when she bent over it looked like someone was staring at you over the top of her pants. She thought it was hilarious.
When we were considering whether to rent out our fourth bedroom she asked if she could have it. She wanted to turn it in to an painting studio/hang out room…for a girl who’d never picked up a brush before. But, not really wanting a fourth person sharing the bathroom anyhow, we relented.
She excitedly outfitted the room, buying throw pillows, art supplies, and lamps. In the end I think she produced 2 paintings, but she kept buying things. Sometimes they were for the room, but more often then not they just went in the room, still in their shopping bags, never to be seen again.
4) Her driving made bumper cars look well mannered.
To get a rise out of her passengers she would pretend to swerve into oncoming traffic. “Pretend” is generous – people would pull over on both sides of the road to avoid her. They probably assumed she was a drunk driver. While she was not, she certainly wasn’t any safer than one. I used to will a cop to pull her over, but there’s never a traffic stop when you want one.
5) She didn’t pay her bills.
Her bills were magically paid by her parents; credit card, utilities, rent, you name it. The clearest disconnect between her and the grown-up, money-doesn’t-grow-on-trees, world was probably the night she woke up cold.
She wandered over to the thermostat in the middle of the night and cranked it up to 90 degrees. She went back to bed, but not long after she woke up hot. So, rather than turning down the heat, she opened the front door to cool off and then compulsively decided she would go to the 24 hour grocery store.
I woke up a few hours later and ran down stairs, confused and sweating. Just as I was taking in both the thermostat and the open front door, she pulled up in her car.
“Why is the thermostat at 90 degrees?”
“I was cold.”
“Why is the front door open?”
“I was hot.”
“Do you hear your crazy??”
6) She collected stray cats.
Yup. She did. One day I walked passed her hoarding room art room and noticed a smell coming from inside. I opened the door and…cats. Lots of them. I could see six in plain sight, but this was by no means a tidy room.
“Please don’t be mad!” she blurted out.
“I…Whose cats are these??”
“Mine? Maybe? They were just out there and they like me. See? Can I keep them?”
“No. These are not your cats. Some of them have collars!”
She let (most of) the cats go. But, she still collected randomly in secret. She’d pick one up and keep it for a few days before letting it go again.
7) She had a penchant for midnight ER runs.
She would wake up in the middle of the night complaining of a stomach ache and insist we go to the hospital. We’d put on sneakers and spend some quality time with the late night crowd of College Town, USA. Then, be sent home with a “sorry we couldn’t find anything” diagnosis and some antacids. She was always super perky on the ride home. Annoyingly so. Then she’d go to sleep and I’d drag myself to class.
It all seems pretty amusing to retell, but living through it was actually very stressful. I recall at least one breakdown in the bathroom at work. She was the one who had guided me through my freshman year; the adult on the floor, the level head. Here she was acting like an unchecked toddler.
Somewhere in the last semester that year she woke me up for an ER run and I knew it had to be the last time. I think she knew it too, because before she got in the car, she reached down and scooped up a cat for the drive to the hospital.
I tried to argue the cat. “I need it.” She said, but with such conviction that I – not necessarily believed her, but seriously worried about telling her “no.”
We drove to the hospital in silence. When we arrived I explained about not taking the cat inside; how they wouldn’t understand that she needed it. She let it go in the parking lot and it immediately hid under the car.
She checked herself in and when they took her back, I went back outside to check on the cat. It was circling the car, waiting to go home. I joined him. I was mad at her. Mad at her for stranding a cat miles from his home. Mad at her for being irresponsible in general. But mostly I was mad at her for not being the role model I thought she was.
I went back in and the doctor asked to speak with me. Her frequent ER visits had flagged her. Had she been behaving strangely? Does setting carpet fires and driving off the road count?. Self-medicating? With cats and shopping, yes. In the end he told me she was depressed. He told me to just be supportive and encourage her to talk to a counselor on campus.
I went back to see her and saw her curled up on the bed; red eyes, wet cheeks. I rubbed her back like a mother would; still selfishly resenting the role reversal.
“Is the cat still out there?” she asked.
“I’m sorry I took him. He must be scared.”
“He’s a trooper. When you’re ready we’ll take him home.” And we did.
Over the next few weeks, she hardly left her room; just a closed door in the hallway. I’d knock and she’d just cheerily shout through the door that she was ok. After awhile I called B.S. on that and walked in anyway.
“You need help with this. Whatever this is. More help than I can give you. You also need a trash bag and possibly a shower.” She laughed. “But seriously, promise me you’ll talk to someone.”
She promised. I left. And, that’s how I remember her: knees to her chest, sitting in a pile of trash in a dark room.
I’m not sure what happened after that. I remember talking to our other roommate and we may have called her parents. Eventually, though, the school year ended and I moved. We may have hugged goodbye.
She remains the most…dramatic…roommate I’ve ever had. She’s also the one I feel like I let down the most.
But someone told me something my first year at University:
“You can care all you want. You can try to help all you want. But, sometimes you are not enough, and that’s ok. Sometimes they need more help than you can give and the best thing you can do is step back so that can happen. Sometimes you need to step back so you both don’t need saving.” ~ My RA, aka The Roommate