I’ve shared housing with others, usually strangers, the entirety of my adult life, as I’ve yet to make enough money to afford my own accommodations (especially in Dublin, geez). Because I grew up a military brat, and then became an academic, I’ve moved pretty much every year or every other year my entire life. This means that I have lived with A LOT of different people. The main thing I can tell you from my experience of living with so many different people in so many different places over the years is that we all have our own ways of being weird. I could even be considered especially weird…I mean, a flatmate once had to actually say the words, “SOIMF* get that chickadee out of the house!” to me.
But probably my weirdest roommate of them all was Shirley**. She was my first grad school flatmate and we shared a small two bedroom apartment. When I moved in, she warned me that ticks sometimes got into the apartment, which I thought was strange, but in the hustle of moving to a new city and starting my grad program, I didn’t think too hard about it. Weeks later, I caught a bed bug nibbling on my neck in the middle of the night. I walked out into the main room with the bed bug in my fingers and confronted her, “Shirley, this isn’t a tick, it’s a bed bug! How long have you had “ticks” in the apartment!?” She’d been living there for seven years, and had had “ticks” for several of those, but when I revealed they were actually bed bugs, she moved out for three weeks and left me to deal with the infestation. Only after I was able to eradicate the bed bugs did she move back in.
Of course, that was relatively understandable behaviour…humans are weirdly squeamish about bed bugs, even relative to ticks, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the intimacy: they live in your beds after all.
What was less understandable was her habit of asking me a question and then walking away the moment I tried to reply. At the time, I thought it was just an expression of disrespect, like her habit of patting me on the head and saying, “Oh, SOIMF” in a patronizing way (she was not the first flatmate to do this, le sigh).
At the time, the wireless chip on my computer had died after a summer of field work in a swamp, so I was forced to connect to the ethernet with a cable, which meant I had to sit in the main room if I wanted to use the internet in the evening or on weekends. This resulted in all sorts of strange interactions. She liked to get take-out from Outback Steakhouse (a thing I didn’t even know was possible), and sometimes she would stand in the living room in front of me while I worked on my computer and eat a steak (barely cooked) with her bare hands.
If you think this was uncomfortable, it got worse. After I had been living there for a couple of months, she developed a habit of watching, ahem, “adult” videos on the television in the main room. This was awkward, because even if I wasn’t using the internet, I had to walk through the main room to get to the kitchen, or even to leave the apartment.
Shirley also had two boyfriends, one of which I never met (she showed me photos of him) because she only went to his house, and one of which only came over to our apartment (she never visited his). I thought this was strange, but she informed me that they knew about each other and were okay with it (I didn’t reallly care because it was none of my business). One time I was an unwilling witness while Shirley modeled a gold bikini for her boyfriend in the main room while I was on my computer… (so uncomfortable).
One night at dinner with some fellow grad students in my program, someone asked me with barely contained fascination what it was like to live with Shirley. I hadn’t realized up to that point that she had a bit of a reputation for being odd in her department. Trying not to say anything rude about her, I diverted attention to the boyfriend who came over to our apartment regularly. We’ll call him Hercules** because that was my friend’s nickname for him. He was actually Greek and Hercules was Roman, but whatever.
I liked Hercules, so I told my friend, “Oh…she’s okay. I like her boyfriend, Hercules. He taught me how to say “I don’t speak Greek” in Greek.”
Her eyes widened, “Boyfriend? Hercules?!”
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had inadvertently revealed that Hercules was cheating on his “other” girlfriend in the department. I hadn’t known anything about this, so the revelation was unintentional, but I still feel bad about it anyway.
Shirley and I lived together for two years before she ended up settling for a Master’s degree (after five years in the program) and moved away two weeks before the end of our lease, leaving me to clean up all the junk she left behind.
She had both her boyfriends load all her boxes and furniture into a moving van while she followed them around barking orders in a gold bikini and heels.
**Names changed to protect the innocent/weird.