Hamsters

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I shared a room until I was 18.

It’s a great recipe for insanity—one I plan to gift my own hypothetical offspring.

After all, with all this talk about future generations growing far more entitled, information being far more accessible, and the interwebs rendering state boundaries obsolete (and thus, expanding the pool of people you might meet in real life), there remains the one thing I still can control: physical space.

And in this space, its inhabitants will learn as I did, early and quite often, that what’s mine is not necessarily just mine,

what’s normal for me is probably weird to others,

and, most important,

that I have to share my fucking space whether I like it or not.

Just how these things can be achieved will be quite murky, as the great Space Enforcers (aka Mom and Dad) will be way too busy with their own shit (aka paying the billz) to hold anyone’s hand.

But achieve them everyone must if they want peace in Bedroomdonia.

Plus, for you skeptics, there are valuable life lessons to be had: ones about collaboration, compromise and, perhaps the one most conducive to succeeding in this modern world, subterfuge.

Because hell hath no fury like a sister scorned.

In the embattled landscape of my space-deprived youth, the lone desktop computer was a coveted thing. So was the blowdryer. The lone television.

Bathroom privileges hinged on the desirability of the anticipated activity. Most mornings it spawned the Bowl of Pasta special: fighting to the death to see how long we could stay burrowed in our beds until our dad ran into our room screaming because we were running late for school and, by extension, making him late for work.

Our most epic fights played out in ridiculous bloodbaths via a stab of the fingernail, bitch fits and, for the worst of the worst, The Silent Treatment. Couples on the verge of divorce are notorious for the last thing, but I suspect the ones who do it best shared a room with a sister.

It all taught me the art of tolerating interpersonal differences as a form of survival. Dealing with subsequent roommates became a breeze.

It did something else as well.

Even now in large spaces, I feel swallowed whole.

Just recently I had an entire house to myself while working in a different city. I felt like at any moment, someone could kill me and get away with it.

Perhaps that’s the paradox of it all.

I like my own space. But not too much.

I want to know I can read in a corner, undisturbed, and still have someone within earshot to listen to my favorite passages or, at the very least, rescue me from closet monsters.

Of these corners I’m very territorial.

For a while I’d even accepted I was meant to live my life like a hamster, hoarding all my shavings, marking them with my scent, dissuading intruders from trespassing, and biting a chunk off repeat offenders.

But once in a while, as I learned through years of owning 30 hamsters simultaneously (More on that some other time), a second hamster can be introduced to an occupied habitat and peacefully coexist.

And, if the first hamster permits, colonize somewhere new together.

IMG_0404IMG_0407IMG_0428_whiteoutIMG_0434IMG_0443IMG_0445IMG_0483IMG_0484IMG_0494Note: Pictures taken shortly after moving in. Don’t worry, we’ve cleared the crap since. For the most part.

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In five months

“I’ve got something to tell you.”

“What?”

“I might have to move.”

It came as a surprise to me, who, just three months before, had uprooted myself from a whole two stops away. The shock lasted all of three seconds.

After all, in New York, people move about as often as they do laundry.

My awesome roommate and I eventually bid farewell, though I have a feeling we’ll see each other just as much as we did when we shared a wall. Which was almost never.

I’ve been a ghost.

Before Ground Zero, it had been five months since I last wrote.

In that time, I moved to a new apartment, was promoted, lost a roommate and found a roommate. I rediscovered the art of writing too quickly, of staring too long at a blank Word document and of furiously researching, interviewing and writing before lunch only to do it all over afterward.

I’ve gotten lost in the Supreme Court, have been to DC more than I’ve been to Richmond or Baltimore, and have read enough court decisions to know there’s much more to know.

I’ve developed a routine, finally. It took being far too busy to go anywhere to finally acknowledge that yes, this is New York, and yes, it’s just another day here.

The novelty is wearing off, the excitement of the new has been replaced by the excitement of a rare weekend of nothing. My longing to be out is superseded by my need to stay in.

The city’s long train rides and days and nights have forced me to be conscious of time.

An extra hour lingering at a bar could mean the difference between a subway ride home or, if it gets too late, a $20 cab ride. An additional minute fussing with my hair in the morning could mean a longer wait on the platform after just missing the last train, setting off a series of missed transfers and scheduled calls. A Sunday afternoon in bed means putting off laundry another week, which means wearing my already questionable jeans another day. Or two.

Buns are key. So are flats for sprinting on the subway. A bag on a Thursday should be big enough for Manila folders but not too big to lug around for happy hour.

Around 5 o’clock on a Friday, as if on cue, women line the bathroom sinks to brush their teeth and whip out the eyeliner. There’s no such thing as stopping by the apartment to freshen up. Appointments with friends, six months in the making, wait for no one.

Somehow, there’s routine in unpredictability.

Nobody knows why the train is late when it’s late. It’s best to double the time you think you need to get somewhere. A dinner reservation actually means “We’ll seat you… eventually.” A sudden late night at the office turns into the takeout of your choice. Chinese? Italian? Something cheese-intensive?

In five months, I moved from a painfully small room to a painfully even smaller room. I learned to lock the window after weeks of leaving it unlocked, study the workings of a once obscenely loud, now comforting radiator, and discovered that some things are better recycled than discarded.

My new roommate moved in last weekend.

So far, all I know is where he works, last lived and what soap he uses. So far, he’s nothing like the last one.

I’ll probably tell you all about him later, in five months.