Place: A log cabin, Homer, Alaska, Summer 2002
Roommates: Dave and Blake
I spent a summer in Alaska because my boyfriend at the time was from there, and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do, to try an adventure, to travel somewhere that seemed far away and exotic. The landscape was arrestingly beautiful, all rugged mountains and blue-green waters, but the unending daylight of an Alaskan summer nearly drove me to madness. We lived in a three-story “cabin” )that was really more of a lean-to on tall stilts) on the second floor, built on the property of a strange woman named Anne, who charged my boyfriend Dave and his best friend Blake, who lived above us, $400 a month. There was electricity, but no private bathroom, so showers were taken in Anne’s house. I grew to love the outhouse. We slept on a mattress on the floor of a room that quickly devolved into light squalor, full of cigarette smoke, and back issues of the Sunday Times that I foolishly—and expensively—had delivered weekly, in an attempt to stay in touch with civilization. I worked at a fried fish shack on the Homer Spit, where I spent many hours making my boss spritzers of Franzia Sunset Blush and Sprite and picking out worms from halibut fillets in the back room. Everything I owned smelled of fish, and was relegated to the sagging front porch, where they would collect dew and the clean mountain air. To access the house, we climbed a rickety set of stairs, but Dave’s friend Blake could only get through to his room above us via a trapdoor in the corner of our room. One night, I woke up to find my way to the outhouse, and saw Blake sitting on a stool in the corner, an eerie glow cast over his face from the weird half-dusk outside, watching us sleep.
Place: 89 Quint Avenue, Allston, Mass., 2004-2005
Roommates: My infinite sadness; between three and five mice
I found this apartment on Craigslist, and it was over my price limit, but I was comforted by the fact that I’d be splitting the cost with Dave, who was set to move to Boston and live with me. It was a great apartment, with a tiny balcony, a separate kitchen, a breakfast nook, tons of closet space and good sunlight. It was my senior year in college, and I was ready to hole up and make domestic. Dave broke up with me in November, saddling me with a rent I couldn’t afford and an infinite sadness that lingered everywhere I turned. When I called my father in hysterics, he sighed and quietly took out another loan to pay for the rent. I spent many nights in this apartment, marooned on my bed, watching Food Network in the dark and eating Cheez-its, crying and writing a laughably maudlin collection of short stories. One night, I heard a scrabbly noise and saw a plump mouse, calmly picking crumbs out of the rug under the coffee table. I spent a winter living in mortal fear of what I classified as a light infestation, catching at least 5 mice in a span of a few months. I made my friend Greg come over and help me dispose of their bodies, but finally worked out a system that involved wrapping the full traps with garbage bags and old t-shirts, and sprinting to the trash room of my apartment building. When I called the landlord, he sent over a grumpy exterminator who plugged a hole under my sink with tinfoil and told me that we were all set. Two weeks later, cleaning out under the sink, I found a dead mouse, curled as if in sleep, at the bottom of my garbage can and screamed for a solid minute.
Place: 24 Lucky St., San Francisco, Calif., 2006
Roommates: Jacqueline, Catherine, Christine
I moved into this house after months of living on my mother’s sofa, commuting to the Ferry Building in San Francisco to serve coffee and dry pastries to bleary-eyed commuters coming off the ferry from Marin. A coworker, Jacqueline, had found it, and at first glance it was perfect, located on a tiny alley in the pre-tech bro Mission. It was our own, actual house, with a tiny living room and kitchen, and an upstairs with two rooms. I shared a room with Jacqueline, and two of her friends, sisters named Christine and Catherine, shared the other. This was less than optimal, but I was only paying $375 a month to live there, and it got me out of the clutches of my mother, so it seemed perfect. My landlord only accepted rent in cash, and he spoke no English, so we would keep our money in a paper bag in the freezer, and send one of the sisters down the street with $1,400 in cash clutched close to her body. Living with a coworker was not ideal, but for a time, it worked, until I realized that Jacqueline and I were not compatible as humans, friends or people that slept within three feet of each other.
Place: 925 Fell Street, San Francisco, Calif., 2007-2009
Roommates: That girl from college, then Dwayne.
When a friend from college broke up with her boyfriend and needed a roommate, I got out of my previous arrangement as soon as I could. She found the place in the classified section of the San Francisco Chronicle, when it was still possible to do things like that there, and we took it the minute we saw it. There was a backyard with wild fennel, laundry in the building, and the kitchen had an old Wedgewood stove, black and white tile floors and a trash chute. The light came in nicely thru my windows every morning. The apartment was a one-bedroom that someone had converted to a two-bedroom, but each room was massive, with gorgeous picture windows that looked out onto Sutro Tower. I paid less, so I took the smaller room, but it was still bigger than any space I had lived in. We got along at first, but soon things became strained. We had different ideas of cleanliness. I learned the art of passive aggressive cleaning, taught by a master who would leave the vacuum cleaner in my room after huffily vacuuming the hall. She moved out to move in with her boyfriend, after they got back together, and then I found sweet, charming Dwayne, who introduced me to my best friend, installed a transparent shower curtain in the bathroom and was occasionally very late with rent.
Place: 213 Suydam St, Bushwick, N.Y., 2009-2010
Roommates: Jenn and Hot Pocket
I wrested myself from the clutches of San Francisco’s cold summers and strangely hot Octobers and moved to New York, where I ended up in a railroad apartment in Bushwick, before Bushwick was a thing. The rent was cheap, the apartment was nice and came with a robust cable package, a roommate that used to cut my hair in the living room, and a neurotic cat named Hot Pocket, who introduced himself to guests by projectile vomiting off the arm of the sofa. My first three months in that apartment, police came to our door twice, telling us of a spate of robberies in the area, with thieves running down city blocks on the roofs of row houses and breaking in. Our landlord put bars on the windows a few weeks later. My roommate and I inevitably parted ways, arguing, once again, over standards of cleanliness. She wanted the bathroom to smell of bleach after it was clean, and I felt that some Scrubbing Bubbles and elbow grease was sufficient. I left a month before the lease was up, and found a nice man named Gary to move in for the remaining month. He took very hot showers and was particular about his cutlery.
Place: Bedford St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Roommates: a rotating cast, including my sister.
I left Bushwick to move to Williamsburg, in a very cheap and quite nice apartment two blocks away from the subway, on a street that is so busy I want to gouge my eyes out when I try to go to the bodega on the weekends. Still, it’s a nice place. There’s a kitchen island, a roof that is ours, and my room is full of sun, books and cat hair. I have lived with a rotating cast of characters, but my sister and I have lived here the longest. Living with my sister is both very easy and very hard, but we mostly make it work. Our neighbors are a mix of young and old. There’s a blind man named Val who lives on the top floor, and whoever lives above us seems to enjoy moving furniture while wearing hard-soled shoes, because they do it every night, for about three to four hours. Moving is exhausting, moving is expensive, and I will most likely stay here for a while.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.
Top Photo: Shirley Binn