I guess you could say my parents were my first roommates. We lived in a three bedroom house with five people, and were always one bedroom less than we needed. Katie and Allison had the small bedrooms overlooking the back yard. Mum and Dad’s master bedroom faced Java Street. I was born, and spent my first few months sleeping in a wicker bassinet, close enough so mum could hear me breathing.
There was a short-lived experiment where I shared a tiny room with Allison, in bunk beds…but it turns out she had quite the allergy to birch, and the bunk beds had to go. I can vaguely remember laying on the top bunk, hiding small treasures between the mattress and the frame. The bunk bed was sold to our neighbours, and I went back to my parents’ room.
I slept in a closet. This makes me feel like Harry Potter’s long-lost-Canadian-cousin. It’s the stuff that orphan narratives are made of, but can also result in visits from the Children’s Aid Society. I liked my closet, it was cozy and secure and had neat curtains covering the “underbunk” area. Retro circus print, as I recall.
I outgrew the closet, and so the solution was brought to my parents from those Swedish furniture and space solution geniuses, Ikea. Dad made a “wall” of three Ikea wardrobes to separate his and Mum’s portion of the room from my portion of the room. Best part? Climbing on top of the wardrobes and swinging down onto my parents’ bed using the heavy curtains as a rope.
Sharing a room with my parents has given me the ability to partition and re-arrange space (as well as being able to sleep through all kinds of snoring and night noises. Seriously, my Dad snores like a cartoon bear).
When I was eight or nine, my older sisters were moved int0 the basement, because they were teenagers and had homework and would want more privacy and needed to stay up late and other things like that. I don’t remember this solution working very well, as Katie and Allison hadn’t shared a room since they were toddlers, and their personalities didn’t exactly mesh. At the time, I could have cared less. I finally had my own room. And kept my own room….well, until I met Jason.
But roommates doesn’t always mean two (or more) people in the same room. When I moved away to university, I opted for a single room. I now had five other section-mates…two frosh and three upperclassmen. We shared a bathroom. Suddenly, I could hear strangers having sex! Suddenly, strangers could hear ME having sex! We didn’t really bond or do anything as a section, and at the end of the year were awarded the “Section That No One Ever Talks About Or Visits” Award. Second year was better, because four of us had at least chosen to live together. Two frosh lived in our section, a bleach blond rugby player (her room smelled like rotting pumpkin when she went too long without washing her gear) and an awkward boy nicknamed “Coconut Pete”, also called “CP”, “CocoPete”, or “Petey”. I’m not sure how he ended up in our section, since Edward’s House was traditionally somewhat sex-segregated. There were good and bad times that year, although in retrospect I wish I had moved off campus to the sketchy apartments above the student-run art gallery.
I guess you could characterize my Mount A roommate experience as “random chance”, because that’s what third and fourth year felt like to me. Third year I moved from Edward’s House to the Carriage House, a miniature “satellite” residence that had begun its life as a carriage house. Go figure. Carriage was supposed to be the Academic residence, but felt more like the odds and ends from other residences. I had a huge double room to myself. Everyone in the house got on well enough, but there was still this weird tension from time to time. I feel it was more like an artist’s colony than a residence, as we didn’t really have an identity, although there was talk of making the unicorn our mascot. Fourth year finally saw me move off campus with a friend from the Drama Program, although I kind of feel like the reason she asked me was she just happened to run into me at the library. We were friends, but she was a drinker/party-girl, and I…wasn’t. Our other roommate was a Fine Arts student who was often sick and had a long-distance relationship, which meant she disappeared for long stretches of time. The house on Weldon Street looked nice enough (especially my room: ornamental fireplace, bay windows, and crown molding), but the landlord was a bit of a gremlin who seldom did repairs and kept the heat as low as possible. As a result, the house was freezing, and the toilet tilted to the left, and a few mushrooms grew along the rotting floorboards in our bathroom. I didn’t spend much time there. Jason’s basement apartment, though gross in its own ways, was at least warm, and there was free cable.
Jason’s house was the slacker house. He had graduated, but wasn’t really doing much except for theatre and ninjutsu. His female roommate eventually stopped going to classes and when she moved back home, she left most of her belongings in a dump of a room that smelled like vanilla body spray, and the stench of human sweat. His other roommate tried to go to classes…that didn’t work out so well. I think World of Warcraft was his main priority in life. Both his roommates were very nice people, but very nice people are often very crappy roommates. Needless to say, many movies were watched, few dishes were done, and the main source of nutrition came from the numerous fast-food outlets up the street.
After the roommates moved out, I moved in. It was a tough year. The toilet leaked, the oven was broken, the fridge rarely kept things cold, and there was a constant dampness that eventually lead to depression. It was easy to sit on the couch watching trashy cable tv and eating another meal from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Subway. The landlord lived in the apartment upstairs, but he lost his job and had to move into his cottage, which lead to new tenants who enjoying smoking inside the house and not training their dog. We had enough. Time to move.
Thankfully, it was summer, and it was easy to find a summer sublet from friends. Suddenly we had natural light, counter-space, and a functioning toilet. We also had roommates. One was okay, she had a bearded dragon and mostly kept to herself. The other…a paranoid hacker with fifteen computer monitors in his room, who had poor manners and enjoyed loud sex. He had a knack for creating tension. I liked the house, but couldn’t stand him. I think the only time he put on a shirt all summer was when my parents came to visit.
And now Jason and I live in a compact yet clean one bedroom apartment. I would call this our first “real” home, the first place we have shared without emotional baggage, faulty appliances, or sucky roommates. It’s mostly decorated to our taste, and has a decent flow despite the living room being a multi-function space (office, dining room, entertainment area, and workout zone). But there are times I wish someone else was living here too, not in this particular space, but still sharing resources. Certainly it would help with the loneliness factor. Last night we went to a potluck, at an artsy-hippie house with six-to-eight permanent roomies, an assortment of significant others, “almost roommates”, and couchsurfers. The food was excellent, and conversation wonderful, and the laughter abundant. For a few hours, I wanted in. I wanted a sense of community and companionship from someone other than my spouse, and house filled with musical instruments and yoga mats and interesting spices.
And then I thought about chore charts, and food labels, and petty disputes, and clutter, and different tastes in art and music, and sketchy bathrooms that no one ever cleans, and the awkwardness of asking someone to be quiet, and not really having control over your space, except for your bedroom but that’s not always a given…
I’m okay with it being just the two of us. For now, at least…