HOUSE OF HORRORS: HOW I SURVIVED EVIL ROOMMATES, WHITE PRIVILEGE, AND A MULTI-THOUSAND DOLLAR COUCH IN MY FIRST MANHATTAN APARTMENT

My bedroom in the “House of Horrors!”

{Names marked with an asterisk* have been altered out of respect for privacy}

Be careful, she tells you—and she’s absolutely right.

After all, you’re her baby. It’s your first time living on your own after college; in a major world city no less. And you’re not totally clueless, of course. You’ve just completed a four-year program at a university in Manhattan’s backyard and accepted a job at a major news network. The world is yours to conquer.

But that feels like a long time ago.

One day you wake up to find yourself unemployed, burning through your savings account at the speed of sound and living in an apartment filled with enough emotional baggage to qualify as a city landfill.

No, wait. That was me.

It began when I was lucky enough—blessed, really—to land a job at the place of my senior year internship roughly two weeks after graduation. It was stunning. I received the call exactly as I was lamenting the state of my joblessness and utter lack of daily routine now that I no longer had to worry about classes or homework.

Surfing the net for job applications from everywhere to the Huffington Post (ironic, no?) to the Dollar General down the street from my rural home, the buzzing of my phone made me stir from the listless spell I had fallen under.

It was NBC. Nightly News needed something called a Digital Researcher and would I be able to come in Wednesdays through Sundays? Once the conversation with the HR manager was complete I barged into my mother’s room with what I assume was a very puzzled look on my face.

“What happened?” my mom asked, looking quite bemused.

“I think I was just offered a job.”

***

I’m smiling to myself even as I write this because I can practically hear my mom’s anxious voice in my head while I prepared to move from my cousin’s Harlem apartment into my very own… with roommates of course.

(Because really, who can afford to live in New York on their own straight out of college?!)

At the time I brushed her warnings aside, chalking it up to typical parental worry, but I quickly learned that she was right after a few months of living with Anna* and Winnifred*.

The apartment was a lovely three-bedroom, one bathroom with an office, and I was shown the space by Ryan*—a friendly man in his late twenties who showed me the space and introduced himself to his current roommates: three women, also in their late twenties. Ryan lived in the small area that was the office, but appeared to be as thorough as possible when posting the advertisement for the room on social media.

It read:

“Room not very big, but you will have access to the rest of the apartment. I live with three women… they’re nice people. One of them likes to cook often and does!”

When I saw the room, I noted that Ryan did not lie. The space, was in fact very tiny. He outfitted his office/bedroom with a futon and dresser with a TV on top, and had curtains hanging from glass-windowed double doors for privacy.

As I was new to the city, apartment hunting, and about to start a job, I didn’t have time to be picky. I needed to get out of the hair my generous cousin and her roommates after what was supposed to be a weekend visit turned into a three-week stay with intermittent trips back to Pennsylvania to prepare for the forthcoming move.

“I’ll take it,” I blurted.

“Great, I’m really excited for you,” Ryan said with a genuine smile.

I met the rest of the girls about a week before the July 1st move was to take place, and they had many questions.

“Where do you work?”

“NBC.”

“Are you okay with the LGBTQ community?”

“Yes.”

“What are your hobbies?”

“Yoga, reading, writing.”

“Will you be doing yoga in the living room? Are you clean?”

“No… and absolutely.”

After they seemed satisfied with my answers, I left and said I would see them later.

When July 1st came, I moved in relying on my own strength of will and the kindness of strangers. My new roommates, however, acted like they had no idea what I was doing there.

“Ryan never told us you were moving in…We would have liked to have more say in the type of roommates we have living with us,” Kathleen* and Winnifred announced.

I was already feeling unwanted… and also confused. Hadn’t they known Ryan was moving out on July 1st? The man had another apartment lined up for months! From that moment on I struggled to keep calm when it was made clear that I was not welcome in the girls’ space… I was just there to help them pay the rent by contributing an equal portion (not to mention legally replacing Ryan’s name on the lease) of it for a space not even a reasonable fraction of the space the others occupied.

The first time I truly felt like a stranger in my own home was when I found out Kathleen was moving out of the apartment to live with her girlfriend and that there was someone new moving into the space within the week. I hadn’t even met her!

We had a talk. I understood that Ryan may not have been upfront with them about my moving in… but I was in…and had thus far done nothing to disrespect them in any way. I couldn’t believe they would keep me from crucial decisions in the apartment, and I had every right to know who I was going to be living with.

The girls shrugged it off and said they would be better in the future… but they weren’t.

Things were not easy for the new girl after too long, we formed a camaraderie around the fact that we were essentially prohibited from utilizing any space outside of our rooms. Thank God for Breanna*, or I may very well have found myself in a true “House of Horrors”—the kind that exists in a person’s mind when they’ve been broken by a what appears to be an ever-present cloud of negativity settling over their life.

Breanna felt it when, like a child, she was scolded by Anna for “not properly washing HER pots.” Oh, I hadn’t mentioned the couch yet, have I? Anna didn’t want us to sit on it, really, because she paid a couple thousand dollars for it and didn’t want us to mess it up.

Actually, she didn’t want us anywhere in the living room because she had purchased “99 percent” of everything in it and spent “way too much money on these items not to be able to use such amenities” whenever she wished—especially the television.

The rules she set didn’t seem to apply to Winnifred, however, who often had nervous breakdowns whenever Anna was away for a lengthy period of time (Eg: a weekend). The co-dependency the girls exhibited would become very alarming at times… but I felt strange developing an “us vs. them” mentality with Breanna and I on one side… and our “oppressors” on the other.

If it were not for Breanna, I might not even have placed a racial element into the situation. But Anna and Winnifred were in fact, white…while Breanna and I were not. But was that the real reason they appeared to become bent out of shape when we refused to clean up spaces that we really were not permitted to use? To this day, I don’t have an answer.

In any event, the pair had formed a tight union in which the apartment was theirs, and Breana and I did not have access to common spaces just because we lived there and paid rent like responsible adults.

Probably one of the worst parts about the situation was not being able to entertain. The girls had company over regularly—usually spending the night on the couch without a word of warning, while the one time I had a guest over (and provided a decent amount of warning), the girls could not relinquish the common area. They made lunch, ate it… and proceeded to make soup for the next two hours and sprawl out on the couch so nobody else could sit there.

Embarrassed, I took my friend out to a local restaurant.

***

“YOU PEOPLE ARE SO UNGRATEFUL!”

“YOU PEOPLE? ARE WE GETTING RACIST NOW??”

Tensions exploded one night after Anna demanded Breanna return the lamp she let her use in her room because she did not feel comfortable with a stranger in her room to fix a broken light while nobody was home.

Everything was laid out on the table. Anna and Winnifred were tired of washing other people’s dishes when Breanna and I mentioned that we took care of our dishes the same night we used them and suggested that maybe they were unknowingly washing one another’s since they did the most cooking. The girls also had problems with us needing to bathe while they commandeered the bathroom hanging clothes they would line-dry all over the bathroom with absolutely no warning.

Most shocking was Anna’s accusations that Breanna and I were ungrateful because we didn’t go around thanking her for the use of her silverware and cooking utensils on a daily basis (made while swinging a rather large chef’s knife in her hand).

Winnifred had enough of the conversation and went to her room, slamming the door behind her and Anna was upset because all she had wanted to do was enjoy a nightly dinner with Winnifred, but she had left because of the discussion.

When the incident ended, I went back to my own room/office—stunned. From then on, as per Anna’s orders, Breanna and I stayed out of all common spaces save for the bathroom, because we our rent “did not give us access to the entire apartment.”

The apartment was no longer beautiful to me. The environment was dirty, lifeless and hostile…and in it I was just one of two women who didn’t know how to clean or bathe properly.

***

After moving out and taking the better part of a year to heal from the trying experience (and many others tied to it—I just couldn’t seem to shake them for the life of me!), I have found happiness in another part of the charming Harlem neighborhood to which I had grown accustomed. I even retained a very good friend—a member of my “soul tribe”—whom I met while living in my first apartment.

We decided to go out one evening and I met him in the apartment building we had once cohabitated only to find out that my former roommates were gone. Things didn’t go well with the roommate they brought in after Breanna and I had left, and they had to leave the apartment they once treasured so dearly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s