For the past two months, I've been sharing an apartment with a stand-up comedian, who is the best roommate I've had so far... not because he makes me laugh (he does) but because his nocturnal schedule means I have the apartment to myself most of the time.
On weekdays, I head to work around 7:30 a.m., just a few hours after he rolls in from a night on stage. I don't know what time he wakes up or what he does during the day; he's almost always gone by the time I get home around 7 and doesn't return until long past my bedtime. On the weekends we bump into each other from time to time, but we're both busy, and for the most part we operate on opposite schedules.
This is significant in any living arrangement, but more so in a dense city like New York. As long as I've lived here, I've spent an inordinate amount time considering how my actions affect other people, and stewing over those who don't do the same for me.
For five years I've literally started each day tip-toeing around, conscious of sleeping roommates, quietly closing cabinets, and strategizing over where I should blow dry my hair.
On my morning subway commute I shrink myself down, tucking my belonging onto my lap, carefully turning the pages of my paper, occupying as small a space as possible. When I arrive at my Midtown stop for work, I walk in the sidewalk's invisible right lane and avoid sudden stops and about-faces. Dashing outside to take a private call, I try not to speak so loudly that everyone around me is subjected to the argument I might be having with my insurance company or mother.
The worst is that when I head to the park for a run -- which should be the most liberating part of my day -- I find myself behaving more like a vehicle than a person intent on blowing off steam. I stay in my lane and check over my shoulder before I cross a divider. When people cut me off, I have to suppress the road rage that surges up inside me.
The antidote to all of this should be a peaceful home, but there is little peace to be had when living with roommates who are home all the time. There's nothing peaceful about being awakened at 1 a.m. on a work night by booming voices from a television set. One pair of former roommates, both teachers, conditioned me to dread any dead president's birthday or holiday that would give them a day off and a reason to stay up late when I needed to get some sleep.
My life is so different now. While I still have to be quiet in the morning -- which in itself isn't a big deal -- I can make and enjoy my breakfast without anticipating the entrance of a bleary-eyed roommate who wants to put on a pot of coffee and engage in small talk while it brews. When I return from work, I can throw my things down wherever I want (I'll have a good five hours to clean up my mess before the roommate returns).
I can make and eat dinner without feeling like I'm in someone's way, put on some music, pace around while I chat on the phone, sing if I feel like it -- all things that have made me a much, much happier person.
And I'm sure my current roommate is as happy about the arrangement as I am. The few times I've returned from work early and walked in on him cooking or blasting his music, I've felt awful about it, as if I'd broken my end of a very important deal.
But that rarely happens and overall, the arrangement has made for quite a pleasant relationship between the two of us. When I do see my roommate (considering it's not one of those occasions when I feel like I'm invading), it's a genuinely nice surprise and I find myself talking to him like I might a former acquaintance I'd just run into. "Hey! Haven't seen you in so long! What have you been up to? How's it going?"
I'm so grateful for what I perceive to be our mutual understanding (that daytime is his and evenings are mine), that I always try to show my appreciation by being a better roommate.
I'll never leave a dish in the sink, I'll try to buy more toilet paper before he does, and when an apartment issue arises and we need to confront the landlord about a leaking roof or some such matter, I'll volunteer to handle it. "No, let me call!" I'll insist. "You do so much for me. You have no idea."
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