Everyone in New York has a roommate horror story, and since I’ve had 16 roommates in the seven years I’ve lived here, my chances for getting a bad one are higher than average. But nothing prepared me for Susie.*
When Susie first moved in, my roommate Gina* and I thought it was a great idea. We had an empty room in our three-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, and her co-worker was a frequent enough houseguest that it made sense for her to sleep in a bed rather than on the couch. The first few months were awesome, and the initial problems were small.
One month she was short on the rent, but we didn’t mind fronting her about $100 until her next paycheck. But it started happening more often, and the size of the loans grew. When the end of the month got closer and we’d ask her to pay us back, she’d get agitated.
“I can give you this much,” she’d say while handing us less than half of what she owed, “but now I won’t have enough for the rent check coming up.”
We’d try to talk about her spending habits, but even after not paying her share of the utilities she’d come home with multiple packs of Newports and new clothes.
Shit got real after she met James* at work. He seemed nice enough, and they made each other happy, so I tried to look past the prison-style hand and neck tattoos and that he was living in a halfway house while on parole. (Everybody’s got a past, right?)
At first, he wasn’t around much because his living situation had rules about how long he could be gone before they gave away his bed. But somehow these rules stopped mattering after a few weeks, and she’d make excuses about why he was suddenly sleeping at our place every night.
“Of course he doesn’t live here,” she’d say, while folding his laundry and making their dinner. “He’s not allowed to live here.”
Earlier in the summer, Susie had pitched a fit when my formerly long-distance boyfriend moved in (even though he was paying rent), so denying that James owed any money toward the apartment when he ate, showered, and slept there every night was infuriating. And of course it didn’t matter that there were two people in her room instead of one; she still didn’t have her share of the rent money.
One night, James got wasted and started arguing with a bouncer at the bar. When Gina and I tried to talk him down, he shoved me out of the way and shouldered Gina to the sidewalk. As I tried to talk my boyfriend out of throwing a few punches himself, two police cars pulled up outside. James kept swinging, and decked one of the officers in the face. They tasered him -- TWICE -- before hauling him into one of the cruisers.
He didn’t stop shouting obscenities the whole time. My favorite? “Stop messing up my brand new kicks, you fucking pigs.” (In his defense, they were really nice sneakers.)
You’d think this would’ve been enough, but somehow it was months before it was over. After voicing our concerns about letting someone leave jail only to come right back into our house, Susie gave Gina and I the cold shoulder. When we said he wasn’t allowed there when she wasn’t, she stopped speaking to us entirely.
The happy couple would stay in her room chain smoking, appearing only to use the bathroom or grab something from the fridge. I’d try to hand her a stack of mail -- mostly bills and notices from the IRS -- and she’d ignore me while yelling into her cellphone about her “bitch roommate.” Gina would hear her telling friends how she and James were going to do what they wanted, and we couldn't do anything about it.
Finally, one afternoon when Gina thought she was home alone, she heard noises and smelled cigarettes coming from Susie’s bedroom. The door wouldn’t open -- Susie had started locking up behind her when she left and somehow jimmying the key-less knob open when she returned -- but she knew that James was inside. After knocking for five minutes straight, he finally opened up to claim he didn’t know he shouldn’t be there.
And that was it. Gina and I confronted Susie about it, and she denied everything. She knew we didn’t believe her, but she dug her heels in. So we gave her an ultimatum. Either he paid for his share of the bills, or she could move out at the end of the year. It was only a few days into December, so she’d have almost a full month to decide, but she didn’t need any time to think about it.
“He is NOT paying rent, and I’m not going anywhere. You’re gonna have to evict me.”
Fine. By. Us.
Her name wasn’t on the lease, and she hadn’t been paying bills on time or in full for months, so we had more than enough grounds. After speaking with a family friend who specialized in property law, we taped eviction notices to the doors of the apartment and her bedroom before retreating to our rooms and waiting for her to get home.
She EXPLODED. Screams how we were terrible people to throw her out on the street combined with threats about how we couldn’t do this to her and how she would make us change our minds.
“We tried to talk it out with you,” Gina and I said calmly. “You refused to discuss it. We gave you our terms, you said we’d have to evict you. This is your eviction notice. You have a month.”
“I’m calling a lawyer,” she countered.
“That’s fine, we’ve already spoken with one.”
We didn’t see her for a few days, and then a couple of her family members showed up to cart away her stuff while she was at work. To this day I’m curious about how she spun the story to her family, because they didn’t say a word to Gina, myself, or my boyfriend and looked at us all like we were the devil.
When they were through, her room was almost completely empty, and Gina and I proceeded to ignore the space for the next few weeks.
Christmas rolled around and my family came to visit. When my stepmother saw the haphazard state the room was in she immediately wanted to help us clean. "You're going to have to rent this out to someone," she said "It can't look like this."
We gratefully accepted her offer, and started picking up bits of trash. Dirty underwear was shoved between a bare mattress and the wall, tealight candles had been freed from their metal shells and lit so that wax melted across the windowsill, and a fine sheen of cigarette ash covered every flat surface. A mostly-full 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola sat on the floor next to the bed.
"I'm just going to toss this," my stepmother said while holding the Coke. It had been sitting in the sun for weeks, and the soda had separated into several distinct almost geological layers inside the bottle. We agreed.
A minute later, I heard a shriek. As my stepmother had begun to pour the bottle down the sink, she was hit by a horrific stench that I’m grateful I can only imagine. The whole thing -- or most of it, anyway -- was filled with piss. “You’re lucky I love you,” my stepmother told me. “Because I almost just vomited all over your kitchen.”
The only possible explanation was that since James knew he wasn't allowed in the apartment without Susie, he hid in her room without leaving for so much as a bathroom break. And this went on for weeks. Not only had Susie agreed to this disgusting solution, but she'd willingly slept next to almost two liters of pee until she moved out. (Can you imagine that conversation?!? "It's OK baby, just make sure you screw the cap on tight.")
Her parting gift left Gina and I secure in the knowledge that she'd had to go, and that we weren't being unreasonable. No decent roommate would lie to us for so long when we were scared in our own home, and no decent person would leave a bottle of bodily waste for someone else to deal with. They deserved each other.
Gina and I still live together almost four years later. We've had several roommates since Susie, all of which started as strangers but knew how to pay bills on time and where to find the bathroom. About once a year, Gina gets a request from Susie on some social media channel and we laugh while imagining what she could be up to today.
I hope she lives alone.
*Names have been changed