FCYU124 cover image See all stories from issue #124, Spring 2016

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Roommate Blues
Anonymous
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Names have been changed.

I first met Casey at college in early March. We meshed well: We both had easygoing personalities, and we were weird in a good way. We both smoked American Spirit cigarettes and loved listening to reggae at parties that our school hosted every Thursday. She was Jamaican and Filipino, while I’m a mixture of five different cultures. The biggest difference was that she had kids and I didn’t.

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But when I brought her to my apartment, my brother Saul didn’t like her. “I feel a funny vibe around Casey,” he said. He thought something else was hiding behind her niceness. He said he found her fake, sneaky, and manipulative as well as grimy, a bully, and a control freak.

I got tired of hearing it. I thought he was being too negative. I thought that he was trying to play “Father of the Year” to me instead of backing off and letting me become friends with Casey. I only saw her good side.

One Leaves, Another Arrives

Meanwhile, I was getting annoyed at how long Saul had been living in my apartment—a year and a half. I’d gotten the apartment three years earlier, because I applied for public housing while still in the foster care system. Foster children get higher priority for public housing. I didn’t have a job, so the rent was very cheap—$74 a month—since it’s based on my unemployment income.

My brother contributed to rent, but he wasn’t looking for his own place. We had a tumultuous argument over that: I gave him three months to find his own place because I felt a year and a half was enough. He kept giving me excuses, until one August day I told him he had to pack his things and go. That same day, I let Casey and her two children move in.

Casey had been living with her ex-boyfriend Cornell’s mother, but had just gotten kicked out. She said it was because she’d gotten engaged to a new guy, Kyle, and was pregnant by him. Cornell filed for custody of their two kids, Brianna, 3, and Melliah, 2. Casey told me Cornell filed for custody in retaliation for her not being with him anymore. I decided to let her stay until she got back on her feet. I thought it was the right thing to do. I could relate to her fears of becoming homeless because I felt the same way when I aged out of foster care.

Plus, I was curious what it would be like to live with her. Would it be like the TV show Friends? I wanted to try it.

Casey was collecting unemployment from her last job and looking for a new one. She didn’t go to school anymore because she owed tuition that she had to pay before she could register again. When she moved in we signed a contract in which she agreed to my four rules: (1) Pay $40 rent on the first or second week of the month; (2) clean up after herself and her kids; (3) put food in the fridge; and (4) replace anything she or the kids broke or used up.

Casey agreed and promised me that she would be out before she had the baby.

Burden or Blessing?

My apartment is a one-bedroom. I let Casey and her kids sleep in the bedroom while I slept on the couch in the living room. I got dressed in the bathroom. I didn’t date anyone because of the kids, but also because I wasn’t ready for a relationship. Sometimes I would write in my journal in the bathtub to relax in privacy. I would smoke cigarettes to calm my nerves but never around the kids.

Casey paid the rent with her unemployment check. To get public assistance (PA), she was supposed to go to a job training program. But she said that she was earning more money from unemployment than what she would get from PA.

Most of my friends told me not to let her stay. They said a pregnant woman with two kids who didn’t have a place of her own was a “problem” or a “burden.” My best friend Delana said that Casey was holding me back from doing what I had to do. She told me that I needed to focus on my own life instead of trying to help out a grown woman and her kids.

Delana said Casey was a stereotype who made women look bad. My neighbor told me that I was making a mistake and that I should enjoy my apartment with only me and my two dogs. “Her fat ass should stay out on the bench with her two kids,” she said coldly. I thought all of them, including my brother, were being judgmental and didn’t see the Casey that I knew.

Only one friend and my aunt said that it was a good idea for me to let her stay. My aunt said it was a blessing to help a woman and her kids.

One Great Month

image by YC-Art Dept

September was an excellent month. Casey followed the apartment rules and even prepared meals. We hung out in the evenings. I would play Monopoly with Casey and Kyle and we’d cook and eat together. Sometimes we would play on the Nintendo Wii with the kids.

Everything was fine until Melliah started hitting my dogs. I told her to stop and I told Casey to tell her daughter to stop. But Melliah kept hitting them, and Casey cursed at her kids so loudly the neighbors complained. Casey also lost patience with her kids when they had a temper tantrum or cried. I started to get nervous; the last thing I needed was Children’s Services calling my house about kids getting abused.

I also grew depressed about losing my relationship with my brother because we’d been close since we were babies in the foster care system. Without him, I felt like the milk without the cookies. Between missing my brother and the tension of living with Casey, I even felt suicidal a few times.

I was missing a lot of school because of an ear infection that dragged on from September into December. I would cry in my sleep because the pain was so unbearable. It all felt like too much, and in November, I withdrew from my classes.

After I dropped out, I looked for a job. I felt that Casey could have helped me with my job hunt—she searched listings on Craigslist for Kyle, and she had an aunt with a connection to security guard jobs. But she never offered.

Anger Climbing

Starting in October, Casey stopped cleaning up after her kids. Her kids would write on the walls, floors, and doors. The marks would stay there until I cleaned them up. I told her, “You signed a contract agreeing to clean up after yourself and your kids.” I’d come home late to dishes in the sink. I would shake my head and just do them. My anger was climbing.

Finally, after three weeks, I confronted her. “Why aren’t you washing your dishes?” I asked.

“When I cook, I get tired. I feel that you or whoever I’m cooking for should wash the dishes,” she said with an attitude like she expected to get money from a game show for cooking food.

Whenever we argued about household stuff, she said, “I’m a real friend.” I started to realize where my brother was coming from. If you are a friend, you don’t have to say it every five seconds. I like show rather than tell. I was getting tired of the arguments and the excuses.

I wanted to help her stop smoking cigarettes, drink enough water while taking her prenatal vitamins, and eat better, but she didn’t listen to my advice about her health or about her relationship with Kyle. She kept pushing me away and not accepting my help.

On December 20, I made a list of the pros and cons of living with her. I realized I had to kick her out.

She wasn’t trying to pay off her school bill or look for jobs or housing. I felt that she was trying to mooch off me and not trying to be productive. I felt used and like she took my kindness for weakness. I texted her that she had 10 days to get out of the apartment.

Cake and Tears

I didn’t hear back from her for a while, and a week or so later, she came over with her best friend Renee. They tried to act like they were going to fight me in my house. She accused me of hitting on Kyle and called me all sorts of names, so I called her names. She got so loud and boisterous, I’m surprised that cops weren’t called.

Kyle came over to calm things down between me and Casey. We talked and she apologized. I forgave her, but I was still very upset. My 25th birthday was a few days later, and I couldn’t eat anything except cake and tears.

I still haven’t spoken to Casey since she moved out. I feel like she disrespected me and violated me; all I did was give her rules to follow and ask her to respect my house.

I talked to my brother and he forgave me. I feel relieved that we can repair our relationship. I have learned from this experience to trust no one except God and my wallet. I have also learned to make friends with people who have their lives together.

My ideal future living situation would be with my husband and our kids. Until then, the only roommates I want are my dogs.

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(FCYU-2016-04-28)