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A Room With a View

March 26, 2012

My love/hate relationship with the room I’m living in.

I remember how I felt when I sat on the front porch of my childhood home where my father now lives alone in a spacious four-bedroom house on 30 acres of land when I had just arrived there after “leaving” my husband of 20 years. So much vast space before me and I felt accepted unconditionally by my loving father. The trees, the birds, the big kitchen, the sunlight and fresh air. They were all such a relief from the stifling enclosure of the dark, carpeted, low-ceilinged apartment we had just moved into, with its stingy window that only allowed direct sunlight in twice a day. An environment poisoned by toxins of disappointment, blame and criticism. On the window I had placed a web of glass beads and prisms, making the most of every precious beam of sunlight, forcing it to project rainbows into the darkness. If only I could have done the same with the rare moments of joy and undiluted love that visited our space with far less frequency than the earth’s rotation allowed.

But this, my family home…..my Tara…..was freedom. “Maybe I’ll just live here forever,” I half-joked to my Dad. “That’s fine with me,” he replied. I think he really meant it. Then he too turned into one of them. The petty criticism, the drama that accompanied the smallest adjustments to my presence. The messiness. Grown women who worshiped their fathers as little girls really shouldn’t move in with them when they’re 42 and he’s 73. Here’s a man who once lived with a wife, a son, three daughters and a closeted little gay boy he never really understood. Now he freaks out if you add a soap holder to the shower or put your bike in the massive shed filled with unused furniture and dust-covered tools.

So when I ran into an old college buddy and his little sister at a coffee shop in Lafayette and he mentioned that they were in the market for a third roommate, my ears perked and my hopes rose. I even remembered the house from many years ago when he had purchased the old fixer-uper near downtown and was working on it. Then, I went to see the place. Style: Adorable in a steam punk, half grunge and salvaged wood, half new wiring and appliances kind of way. Condition: Disgusting. Dust bunny colonies taking over. No real living space available because the dirt was overwhelming. The kitchen….again….adorable but a sty in which a pig would feel bliss. It had potential but it needed real work. The room for rent: Similar. Overloaded with crap and in need of cleaning. Worst of all: A litter box in the “laundry room,” a horrible, not well maintained litter box. I’m not a fan of the litter box. Having been raised on a farm, they are not part of my world experience. On my next visit I actually went over and helped them clean up. That’s when the quirks in personalities started to show themselves.

From the little sister, I say little but she’s a grown woman in her late 20s, let’s call her June…..from June came a sense of wonder and amazement at my cleaning techniques which consisted of cleaning objects, moving them out of the way, cleaning under and around them and then bringing them back in a neat and organized arrangement. Revolutionary ideas indeed. June at least was gracious and thankful for the help. My old college-mate, let’s call him George, freaked out in a way no self-respecting, self-defined Buddhist would when I began mopping his 3-inch thick wood floors. Turns out George, Tibetan prayer bead wearing-self-proclaimed Hippie loves the earth so much, he even loves dirt and rotting food, and apparently mold and flies.

So, I had my doubts about whether this arrangement could work for me and the next time I came into town I went on an exhaustive apartment search. What I found made my mind turn right back around and suddenly that filthy little haven became attractive again. The cheapest price for a one bedroom or effeciency apartment in Lafayette is between $500-575/month. George was asking $300/month for his little room with a view, the view being a large pile of junk accumulated, hoarders-style in front of the house and right outside the spare room’s largest window. (Did I mention how much I like sunlight and feel it’s importance to indoor living?) The thing that had not occurred to me before my apartment search was that I was an unemployed, soon-to-be divorcé. No apartment management company was going to rent something to me without a co-signer of some sort. They all wanted me to show that I made 3 or 4 times the rent amount. I wasn’t even getting spousal support then. I had just asked my Dad for money for a lawyer’s retainer fee and the idea of having to ask him or my brother to co-sign a lease was distateful.

So, I jumped off a cliff and moved in with George and June. I tried to make myself a little sanctuary, moved in my things, used creative lighting, filled the space with my favorite music, movies and scents. All this after spending hours moving junk out, cleaning and even adding a fresh coat of paint. Over the past 2-1/2 months, that little room has seen all the emotional turmoil and daily changes that come with getting a divorce. It’s seen its share of tears and a panic attack or two.

Alas, the cleaning standards and practices of my roommates have not changed. The litter box got moved upstairs, though you can easily tell when little kitty has had a recent bowel movement by just entering the house. The 1/2-bath/laundry room has experienced flooding on three occasions. One of which involved a trip to WalMart by myself to buy $80 worth of towels to “save the floor,” and the repetitive wringing of said towels in the sink, tears running down my face, thoughts of “what am I doing here….what has become of me….what will become of me,” running through my head, while George lay wasted (literally) upstairs after a SuperBowl party. These deluges came first from a dying washing machine and then from my beautiful, brand new machine, improperly installed. Yes. George installed it. He has since blamed its matching brother, the beautiful, brand new dryer for shorting the wiring in the house. But, like the biblical one, these floods had a cleansing affect on the little room, flushing out all remnants of the previous litter box and its various contents. With some bleach, febreeze, scented reeds, a little reorganization and added cabinets, it is now a little haven of clean laundry and healthy grooming.

I stay away from upstairs as much as possible but the kitchen in unavoidable. When George is out of town, it’s not too bad. I don’t mind cleaning up after June. I wash her dishes and regularly give the whole area a top-to-bottom scrub. But when George returns the disgust expands exponentially. In his desire to reduce his footprint, he composts every scrap of food waste possible. Now, when I say he composts, I’m not saying he puts the food items in a container with a cover and then dumps that container out in a properly built compost pile, in a properly built compost containment. He puts his food wastes, tea, coffee, banana peels, vegetables, avocado shells etc…in an open bowl and leaves it there…………for days……then adds more to it…..and leaves it there……..for…….days. Fruit flies and mold don’t deter this habit. Smells don’t motivate him to take it out of the house or to cover it. The fact that he might be leaving for weeks and there’s a pile of food on the kitchen counter is also not motivation enough for him to remove the rotting food. Our neighbors have a properly prepared compost pile, contained in a non-smelly, properly built compost container. They have graciously offered us the use of it and encouraged our adding to its contents. And when I say neighbor, I mean the pile is a few feet away from the center of our kitchen, very easily accessed. But George prefers not to use that pile. He likes to take his stash and throw it out into the front yard. And when I say front yard, I don’t mean the kind of yard I had as a kid. He doesn’t walk several yards down a hill where the racoons like to meet at night. He walks out of the front door, takes a few steps and throws rotting food into the uncut grass. So, when you walk up to the house, you are greeted with the stench of rotting food. The price of liberalism? The cost of loving the earth? No. I’m not buying it. I believe you can love the earth and be clean at the same time.

So, needless to say, I’m in the market for alternative living arrangements. As it happened I was having a glass of wine at my favorite tapas bar the other night and by way of coincidental conversation turns, the girl sitting next to me told me she was looking for someone to rent a room in the house she owned. I gave her my number and in a couple of days I was walking up to her house. I walked into a neat, small home, very tastefully decorated, a sunlit room with one wall painted a lovely, happy yellow, clean and uncluttered.  A cool, little kitchen, fenced in outdoor living space with landscaping and plants and bench. Wood floors free of dust bunnies, despite the little dog that followed me around as I looked. Upstairs was the potential living area. The bedroom was about the same size as the one I’m in now, but filled with light and adjacent to what would be my own bathroom. Just for me! No more washing my hair in the sink just to avoid the filthy bathroom upstairs with its torturous shower head and shower curtain contraption that falls down every time you breath on it. Best of all is the neighborhood. A lovely, slightly upscale, unique piece of land with only about three streets and filled with adorable little houses tucked amongst old growth oak trees. It’s right on Johnston Street and just behind the ULL Campus. It’s heaven. And I could still easily walk downtown. If I go to graduate school, which I really hope to do, I could walk to the history department. So, I spent an hour talking to…..let’s call her Vivian. We shared our values and living habits, told compact, five minute versions of our life’s stories, or at least where we are today. Smoking: No. Drinking: Yes. Drinking and driving: Absolutely never…..etc…etc…I left feeling very excited about the new prospect. I thought I might want to move in as soon 15-20 days later. But, there’s one big problem. This room is a whole $250 more than the one I’m in now, with not much more actual space. Over the following couple of days, the dramatic increase in cost with no major increase in space  started to chip away at my excitement and desire to move out.

So, as I returned to my little haven in the house of filth, I came up with a crazy idea. A conversation with June created the spark for it. The day before, over chips and salsa and beer June was relating her disappointment that her boyfriend, with whom she has spending almost every night and much of her time, declined her offer to bring her cat (and its litter box) into his small, trailer home. June feels like she’s not spending enough time with the cat and shirking her responsibilities as a cat mother. She’s considering finding the cat a new home. With the litter box situation gone, the possibilities opened up. Then I started thinking. George needs the money that comes from the rent. With June and I as renters he makes a profit on his house note. I need my rent to stay low. June is gone all the time. What if George and I traded rooms, leaving June and I to rule upstairs including the bathroom and the little extra living space up there. In exchange for that and some other drastic changes, I offer George $100-$150 more in rent. I could ask him to fix some things, move all his stuff downstairs, cut the grass outside, use the proper compost pile and do so in a timely manner, clean the hoard outside so we can put a chair and a table and sit outside once in a while and generally clean up his act a bit. In exchange he makes more of a profit and I get more space.

June thinks its a great idea. I could present this to him as an either/or. Either he agrees or I move out. However, he’ll probably react the way he does to any level of criticism. Pound his fist. Get defensive. Attack. Criticize and in general take on an air of superiority and make all possible attempts to belittle us, his female peers (or enemies). I’ve seen him to it to his mother, his sister, his girlfriend and yes, I’ve allowed him to do it to me. Shame on me. If he reacts thusly,  I’ll just move out and bite the bullet and pay the money.

Win-Win.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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From → Rantings

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