I have a new roommate. He was evicted from his home two weeks ago for non-payment of rent. He owes over $3000 and when he was informed of the necessity to vacate, he didn’t clean the apartment, thus effectively forfeiting his deposit as well. Now he lives with me. He doesn’t pay me rent either. It’s ok, I don’t want him to.
My roommate didn’t simply default on his rental obligations. Not too many years ago his wife left him. She told him he didn’t love her and walked out. He almost didn’t survive the rejection. In the divorce, he gave her everything, including all of their mutual savings and furniture. He spent the next three years living in an apartment big enough for two, but with barely more than a table and a pair of mismatched chairs to furnish it. Every moment spent inside those walls reminded him of his wife and the memories were torture. He spent his rent on a golden salve commonly sold in bars and known to work wonders in the moment, but to wear off quickly. He took out loans and spent those in a similar way. Torturous as it was, though, he couldn’t leave. This is the state I found him in.
Eviction may have ended the accrual of his financial obligations, but it also wrenched open the growing crack in his wall of protection against reality. It broke my heart to see. I actually saw the moment he said goodbye to his past life and his past love.
Many would say to me I’m crazy. They would tell me that I open myself up to financial and physical loss by allowing this man that I hardly know into my home. At least charge him some kind of rent! He wouldn’t stay if I did that, though. It doesn’t matter how much I charged him, or how little, he would stay only as long as his pride could bear it, and then he would disappear into oblivion too ashamed of the mess he’s made to ever pick himself up again. I would become to him another landlord to tolerate and pay lip service to until he could find a safer place to hide. I know this even without him having to tell me, and so I ask nothing of him other than a little help with the chores.
What I get in exchange for a little, indeed hardly noticeable, financial investment on my part is indescribable. I was writhing in anguish from protracted loneliness. I could barely move in the mornings and I would come home exhausted from four hours of work. I would give myself pep talks, building mental hoops and carrots and sticks and cookies and slides and all sorts of complicated psychological apparati just to be able to empty my mailbox. I wanted to quit my job and run away into the wilderness because the overwhelming pressure of being successful all alone was killing me. Certainly I’ve looked in the past for someone to help me in this struggle of living in civilized society, but as a woman with a Bachelors and a PhD. both from Ivy League institutions, one who walked out on a marriage many would envy because it suffocated her sense of self determination, it’s been difficult for me to find any partner both willing and capable of carrying me when I fall apart.
Money has never made me happy. After experiencing a childhood where I fed myself on barely ten dollars a week at school and never having an allowance, I somehow found that I attract money. Not knowing how to spend it myself, it’s hardly even a sacrifice to give it away to someone else. So in exchange for something I have in so much excess that it simply piles up outside the edge of my conscious awareness, I receive enthusiastic and selfless help with all the things in my life that were weighing me down. It isn’t just housework, it’s comfort. It’s knowledge that I’m ok because there’s someone else who thinks that I’m ok. It’s instruction in the things I don’t know how to do (where do you buy a trashcan in Japan?), intense interest in things I do know how to do, and fierce defensiveness against anything he sees as a threat to me. In exchange for a little bit of money, something so useless you can’t even eat it if you’re starving, I have a life partner whose every intention is to make my life as happy as possible.
At first I was afraid. I didn’t know how things would work out. I still don’t know. He drinks a lot still and has shown an eager willingness to give the world the finger when he thinks it’s shitting on him. However, it’s been two weeks now and my life feels fuller in these two weeks than it has in months, maybe even years. We have trouble communicating precisely because my Japanese is still only mediocre, but our feelings are quite clear. I can see his gratitude and I can see his protectiveness. It’s so sincere and genuine that I find myself growing defensive of him, too. The world shit on him for real. He got dealt a nasty hand and in making the best of it he hasn’t grown cynical or cold, but instead he’s learned how to smile through all sorts misery. He has a way of not worrying about the future that inspires me. He gives me the courage to face the uncertainties in my world because I know that if I make a mistake and things go to hell that there is someone I can go to for guidance who knows exactly how to navigate the lowest dregs that society can dish out, and who can do it with no credentials, no recognition and no insurance of success.
How powerful it is to let go! My roommate is proof that the world does not operate on the basis of selfishness, competition and control.
When I heard of his eviction I was presented with a choice and no time to deliberate. I could operate within the rules of reasonability and self preservation. Inside this narrative my roommate’s fate was in my hands and I was in a position of power over him. Helping him meant hurting myself and should I be unfortunate enough to land myself in his position then I would have to hope that there was some human out there who would find use enough in me to make his or her risk worth the return on investment. Alternatively I could operate inside a wholly different Story of Humanity. Inside this other story people are fundamentally good. When in need, they help each other even if there is no benefit in it themselves because that’s what people do. This Other story is so much more beautiful, hopeful, and even comforting because suddenly none of us is alone any more. Our success obliges us to help those who lack it, and our failures need not be borne alone. My choice was not whether or not to admit a broken man into my home but rather whether or not I wanted to live in a world without hope or love or forgiveness for a bad draw. Viewed from this perspective the choice was easy.