andrea lee christensen
The morning sun makes me squint uneasily as I attempt to make my way to the subway, carrying leftover Thai food and trying to hide my au naturale face from the synagogue security guard who usually yells, “you made my day” when I pass by. I had a gigantor pimple that upset the balance of my features, and it was just too much. I know he might still tell me I made his day, but also know it would be half-hearted if he saw the monstrosity, so I cross to the other side of the street to avoid the whole ordeal. But honestly, it’s all just a distraction from the real problem nagging at me. The closer I get to home, the more my colossal zit feels like the least of my problems — or at least number two or three.
At the moment, my apartment is not the home I’ve tenderly dressed and nurtured over the past two years. It is a battlefield. My beautiful cow rug that has been with me since my high school trip to Brazil—mercilessly covered by an ugly stool destroying the delicate mise-en-scène of my living room. My dutiful gray futon and turquoise satin pillows now share space with a disgusting fringed Cynthia Rowley pillow that has somehow shedded its fringes from bathroom to bedroom, though it has been near neither. The electric toothbrush I finally splurged for? On the floor of the bathtub, probably peed upon.
“Who could have done this? Who?” you cry. “Certainly not your roommates Keah and Colette, the two freshman girls at Hunter College who seemed so nice when you first met them from Gypsy Housing?”
It is indeed they who are the culprits, who have made a war zone of the apartment I hold dear.
With a heavy heart, I trudge onto the subway back to my apartment, afraid of what I’ll find there. Or what I won’t, because they’re probably going to rob me of everything I own with nary a text of where they went.
Keah got back from a two week cruise yesterday. Within hours, I’m slapped with an accusation and unable to return home until I reply. I froze in the middle of Bed, Bath, & Beyond when I got her text — "I know that you have used some of my towels so that's why I'm asking if you took some." This is an accusation I can deny but I don't know how to disprove. Her text had it all: she thinks I used her towels, and now they’re missing. She’s asking me if I took them, playing nice. Anger bubbles up — she was accusing me of taking something of hers? Part of me wanted to relish in the fact that she felt uncomfortable at the thought of someone using something that wasn’t hers. Maybe now they won’t go into my room to take my speakers without asking every night. I also wanted yell at her (and all of Bed, Bath, & Beyond) that maybe, just maybe her little friend Colette took them to the cleaners because the smell of mildew and body odor that clung to her precious unwashed towels had pervaded every corner of the cramped bathroom during the past three months. Instead, I just replied that I didn’t have them.
As the subway car moves from station to station, I feel like I’m hurtling into enemy territory.
I replaced the trash can yesterday for a whole $54.89. I fear the same fate will befall my new beautiful bin as the last: infested with fruit fly larvae, dead and alive, whose older brothers and sisters still learning to fly swirl around my hand as they sense a sentient in their midst. When I got home in the wee hours Saturday morning, I nearly cried. In the kitchen: dishes and plates on all surfaces, a cutting board and opened bottle of cognac atop the refrigerator, a sheen of oil shining over it all. In the living room: two shirtless strangers passed out from the evening’s festivities, the speaker plucked from my room still lazily playing some awful French pop band. Colette had told me she was throwing a dinner party, but before I left that evening it became clear that only three of the nine confirmed guests would shown up. This did not stop her from using our full set of cups and plates (and the forks! all of the forks!), as if all nine had arrived. Yesterday morning, four days later, the kitchen looked the same— I was informed by text that Colette had returned home to Connecticut. Flies buzzed about. In the same text, Keah had written a note about the “general cleanliness of the apartment” and how “we” needed to “do our dishes” because it wasn’t her “responsibility.”
“Responsibility”—I wondered if either of them knew the meaning of the word.
I open the door to my building, hesitant to climb up the steps to my home. Will I find a dead silent refuge, empty of signs of life? Or will they be waiting for me, sitting on my couch, again using my thermos cup as an ashtray? When I previously requested they refrain from doing that, Keah said that I could have "just washed it, but whatever."
Or will I find yet another two anonymous nude bodies sprawled out on the futon, unfolded to max comfortability, the remains of last night's vices evident on the coffee table? I steel myself to brave the worst.
I gingerly step across the threshold and was greeted by… silence. The apartment looks untouched from the day before, save Keah's pink patent leather Coach sandals perching neatly atop her two suitcases where they had been scattered haphazardly yesterday. I walk into the kitchen to microwave the Thai food that I'm still clutching and almost immediately turn back around. The dishes are piled high from Friday, untouched. Fruit flies buzz around lazily. Or frantically. I can't really tell with fruit flies.
A mouse scurries across the floor. I yelp and retreat to my room, where I resign myself to eating a breakfast of cold Pad Kee Mao.
The fat of the cold pork had coagulated in the bottom of my takeout container and I can take it no more. I stomp into the kitchen, letting the mouse know it isn’t welcome here. I throw my Thai food into the microwave and slammed the door, in case Colette or Keah were home.
I squeeze the soap bottle of its innards onto a sponge and clank around loudly washing each dish, throwing them down onto the dish towel they had accused me of stealing. A million searing thoughts run through my mind as I scrub all the wine glasses I own, most of them along the lines of how to threaten the girls and keep their security deposit. When I get to the utensils, I’ve entered a mindless rhythm, turning over again and again in my mind how three people could have used twenty forks, twenty spoons, and twenty knives. Unless they wanted to personally spite me, I think, absentmindedly while putting a spoon under a scorching hot stream of water, soaking my shirt and reigniting my anger. I stomp back through a cloud of fruit flies to my room and sit for twenty minutes, seething with rage. The last time I really let myself get angry, I had dizzy spells for two weeks. I weigh the pros and cons—feeling lightheaded: is it worth it?
In the end, I sigh and remind myself I still have to live with these losers until the end of the month. I text them a message of peace, feeling pretty much as compassionate as the Dalai Lama. No one knows sacrifice like I do! My heart pounds as I type "it's all about communication and respect," hoping that they might, somehow, feel the same. I screenshot what I write and send it to three people. 15 minutes pass and there's no reply nor stir from their room. No indication whether they were dead or alive.
A part of me wonders if Keah is purposefully ignoring me because she still hasn’t paid me for this month’s Con Ed though I asked her for it two weeks ago.
My heart rate is just beginning to slow when I finally get a text back from Keah: “Andrea, I wasn’t trying to accuse you.” Fine.
Colette, proving that bleaching your roots every two weeks really does affect your brain, clearly did not “get” the tone of the text message (which I modeled after the emoji-filled wonderland of Chelsea Manning’s Twitter) texts back something about me “not telling them” when I had thrown their comforter over the bed in advance of a potential subletter’s visit. My body fills with adrenaline. I feel like a Transformer or Sailor Moon, undergoing a significant shift from docile creature who did her stinky roommates’ dishes for them to an otherworldly being, here to destroy and conquer... or to save the world. I don’t yet know which.
My mind was races. My heart pounds. I think of a million things I want to say, and type a few:
“Hey, remember how you let your random friends stay over on our futon three times a week and once they actually stole my expensive body wash I just bought? Should I be expecting payment for that or can I just take it out of your security deposit?”
“Hey, remember when you police-style banged on my door at 3 AM so you can borrow my speakers to belly dance with your underage friend in the living room?”
“Hey, remember that time you were going to leave a passed out “one of LA’s top marketing executives” on my couch to barf all over my white shag rug and possibly die while you went out to party some more?”
But I delete them after. My mind flashes to yesterday’s conversation with my mother while I was ravaging the sale section at Zara. “I hate them so much,” I said, in near sobs but also quietly so the salespeople wouldn’t escort me out before I found my deals. My mother responded with a slew of motherly responses like, “I told you so,” “Don’t say hate,” and “I need to pay my mortgage.” Most importantly, she said I needed to work on my anger issues and to “try to understand where they’re coming from.” Thinking about this makes me angrier.
Aaron Eckhart once said, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
I am at the great crossroads of my life.
I swallow my anger. I can still feel it there, ricocheting around my chest. With shaking fingers I resign myself to taking the high road. I close my eyes and whisper my mantra, I don’t want them to steal my stuff. I don’t want them to steal my stuff. Their security deposit would only pay for one of my valuables, and I don’t want to have to choose between my laptop or my Chanel. I want peace, I remind myself—enough of this war. I try to make this unambiguous: “I’m trying to extend an olive branch here,” I type. “I only went into your room to make your bed because I couldn’t show your fucking pigsty to potential subletters the way it was.” I send the text, only I changed “your fucking pigsty” to a meek “it.” I sigh. My work is done—now all I can do is wait.
I feel like I’ve overcome something big, or ran a marathon. I shake my fist at the sky and thought-shouted, “Not Today, Satan!” My body shakes with adrenaline yet again.
A text! A text from Colette!
Was this only the beginning of the war, or the final, merciful end? A lone iMessage hold the answer I sought.
I opened our group chat and there it was.
And that wasn’t even all! Her apparent understanding is followed by “Thank you for doing all of that” (!!). She even acknowledges that it was her “responcibility.” She may have spelled it wrong, but I am too blissed out at the admission to care.
Could this be the start … of something new?
That thing happens where I try to go into the bathroom but someone is already in there so I have to awkwardly backpedal to my room. When I return five minutes later, the light is off. Just as I’m about to enter the bathroom, Keah bursts forth from its dark innards—I scream. She takes it in stride. “Do you need to use the bathroom?” she asks calmly. I nod. “Go ahead, baby,” and she strides off.
Baby, I ponder to myself.
When I go back into my room and lie down, a glimmer of something golden on my pillow catches my eye. I pluck it between my fingers and hold it up for close examination. A single strand of long, bleach blonde hair.