I like to say that the only good roommate is a non-existent one. Actually, I prefer to say a dead one, but that’s too dark, and besides, was already the basis for a forgettable Mark-Paul Gosselaar movie. But even in the best case scenario, roommates exist. And their existence means less space for you and your shit – in the refrigerator, the cabinets, the rooms. Their existence means you have less opportunity for privacy, for peace and quiet, for solitude. Living is a zero-sum game.
I have been fortunate to experience my share of legitimately great roommates in life. These are the people who provide furniture, who contribute to the maintenance of the home, who mention (or even ask!) when they have a guest or two coming over. These are simply people who are attuned to the notion of shared space. See, to echo the familiar refrain of reality show contestants, I’m not here to make friends. Now, I’m friendly with roommates, but I prefer to maintain some boundaries, and I’m certainly not looking for a hostel or guesthouse-type situation.*
*Hell, I’m not looking for those situations when IN a hostel or guesthouse.
Of course, I have had my share of shitty roommates as well. The guy who subscribed faithfully to the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” school of thought (worse, his girlfriend did too). The guy who took my game controller from the living room without asking and kept it at his friend’s house for months despite my requests to have it returned (he finally did, with the batteries gone). The guy who told me on the day of that his mother would be visiting from China and staying for over a month. And the dormmates.
Still, each of the above, each small scar of my withered faith in the idea that people are good and kind and considerate, pales in comparison to the worst roommate I ever had: Jeremy. That Jeremy was book-ended by one of the best roommates I ever had did him no favors. Brian was nice and quiet and neat and friendly. He had a girlfriend who came over but not too much and not for too long. Other than the fact that he lived in my room (Westwood is expensive, so we had four people in two rooms), he was perfect.*
*He did drink a ton of Perrier, which I initially mistook for alcohol bottles, leading me to conclude he was the most incredible – and incredibly functional – alcoholic of all time.
But Brian went to study abroad after our junior year. We both found subletters for the summer, then I returned in the fall to share our room with his subletter (found online) for three months. That was Jeremy. As a preview of what was to come, I came back to a disgusting bathroom, which I started to clean that evening. Jeremy’s response? “Oh wow, so you’re like Mike.” Mike was another (neat) roommate. Jeremy did not mean the comparison as a compliment. He then proceeded to stand over me and cheer me on sarcastically as I cleaned, until I asked him to leave me alone. That was night one.
Every day, Jeremy woke up around midnight; he went to bed around 3 or 4 p.m. No, he didn’t work a graveyard shift: he played computer games just about every hour he was awake. Naturally, he turned the lights on and off with his bullshit vampire hours, pointedly overriding me when I switched them on or off, which meant I spent three months under the covers in a bright room from dusk til dawn, and working in darkness from the afternoon on. He claimed to be a student, but rarely left the apartment, and never with school supplies.
Jeremy was dirty enough to attract ants to our second floor bathroom. He left his clothes – clean and dirty – strewn all about the floor. He never took the trash out even though the chute was literally 20 feet from our front door (this was the last straw). There was other stuff too, though the ten years that has passed has thankfully robbed my memory of the particulars. But the worst roommate I ever had has come to be defined not by any of the aforementioned behaviors, but by one story: the toilet paper saga.
Brian had provided a Costco-sized package of toilet paper the first year we lived together. I forgot how many rolls there were (20? 40? A million?), but a substantial number remained (at least 20) when we left for the summer. However, in the course of cleaning the bathroom my first day back, I noticed that we were down to 4 or 5. I was flummoxed. I even asked Mike, and while he knew of the mysterious disappearance (hearing about it from my subletter), he had no clue as to why, being safely confined to the second room – and attached second bathroom.
A few days in, I had an answer of sorts. Every morning when I woke up (after Jeremy had been up all night, as per usual), I would see that the once-full roll of toilet paper had been whittled away: about a third of it gone. There’d be traces of toilet paper in the toilet bowl, but no clues otherwise. The entire roll would be gone in a matter of two or three days. So that was the answer. Of sorts. The only way Jeremy could have gotten through that much toilet paper in that amount of time was if he flushed for sport.
Already feeling a major apprehension about my new vampire roommate, and befuddled by the situation, I decided not to broach the subject. Instead, over the course of the next week, I watched as the remaining toilet paper stash disappeared in rapid succession. By this point, he wasn’t even using the holder. Half rolls were going down the toilet every night. Jeremy’s war on toilet paper was in full effect, and the battle hit the same beats. I slept with toilet paper intact. I woke up with toilet paper gone. Our Costco bag was no more.
Feeling insanely generous, I decided to buy a small 6-pack of toilet paper from the supermarket across the street. I don’t know why I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, I figured, Jeremy only wanted to avenge the Costco brand of toilet paper. Only Costco had killed his mother and raped his father. Instead, I soon discovered that it was one and the same to him. Toilet paper was meant for disappearing. Within a week, it was all gone. In maybe two or three weeks, he had gone through at least 10 rolls of toilet paper.
I drew the line. I decided to hold back from purchasing any more, a fair choice, I feel like. But the situation quickly became dire for Jeremy. A box of tissue appeared in the bathroom when I woke up. That too disappeared in a day or two. A roll of paper towels – I kid you not – became the next victim. Then, nothing. The empty paper towel roll stayed in the bathroom, standing on the counter. Was the war over? Had he given in? A day or two later, a miracle. Toilet paper in the bathroom!
So Jeremy had finally purchased toilet paper. I thought I had won. Without even thinking about it, I moved the roll from the counter and put it into the holder. I wasn’t claiming the toilet paper as mine, but rather putting it in its rightful place – for shared usage, naturally. But when I woke up in the morning, I found it back on the counter. Defiant. Jeremy didn’t have to say anything (and he didn’t; by now, I barely saw him when he was awake, and vice versa). But I got the message. HE bought this toilet paper. It was HIS.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Jeremy had made a power move to reclaim his precious roll of toilet paper*. As if I were the one going through roll after roll of toilet paper that someone else had purchased. As if I were literally flushing toilet paper down the toilet – or doing god-knows-what with it – every night for weeks on end. As if I were the fucking reason that we had gone from 20+ rolls of toilet paper to a fucking tissue box and paper towels. What? WHAT? Are you fucking kidding me?
*When I tell this story, this is the part where I start yelling.
I never did confront Jeremy about the toilet paper. Instead, around this time, I almost got into a fistfight with him about not taking the trash out, after seeing a game of trash Jenga manifest on top of a full kitchen bag (I had left for the weekend). I kicked his clothes – all over the floor, as per usual – and yelled at him about being lazy and contributing nothing. A roommate intervened, and we sat and cooled down. I lied and agreed we both had things to work on, and that we needed to communicate and work on our living situation. Meanwhile, I seethed.
The near-fight took place in October, less than three weeks into my three-month stay with Jeremy. He didn’t change anything. And I decided he didn’t exist after that. So despite sharing a small room with the guy, I didn’t say anything to him, nor acknowledge his existence, for over two months. Not a single word. I thought it was pretty impressive. I ended up buying my own toilet paper, and stashing it in my desk. I would bring it into the bathroom when I needed it. And I lived like that for three months, thanks to Jeremy.
I still want to punch him in the face.