You always hear people say that the fastest way to ruin a friendship is to move in together.
I’ve had a number of roommates over the years, both friends and strangers, and my results seem to be split right down the middle. Despite previous bad experiences I have at least two roommates that I’d happily live with all over again who I’d been friends with for years prior, and as of now I’ve been living with my best friend for nearly two-and-a-half years and we’re as close as ever.
But if there’s one thing my life has taught me it’s that with every major hit I’m bound to get at least one major miss, and one of my biggest misses came in the winter of 2004/2005.
My girlfriend Anna* and I were living in Houston at the time, and having been together for several years at that point were finally considering moving in together. It was around February of 2004 that we met Allison* online. We shared a lot of interests and she lived in New Orleans, a pretty easy drive from our fair city.
Anna had always been in love with New Orleans and brought up the idea of us moving there together. After our first visit to check out the city and spend some time with Allison, we’d not only decided to move there, we’d decided to rent a space we’d share with her to cut down on costs.
It may seem like a huge leap to go from meeting someone to agreeing to move in with them over the span of a few months, but online friendships have always seemed to grow faster, more intensely than in-person friendships for me. It’s easier to chat with them all day no matter where either of you are.
Text messages weren’t a major thing yet (I distinctly remember Allison teasing me for being awful at texting) so we mostly emailed and sent each other messages over AIM. We all had LiveJournal accounts that we used and updated religiously, pouring out our hearts and souls about everything that seems so critically important when you’re in your late teens.
Both Anna and I quickly felt like we’d been friends with Allison for years, and our very young ages (17, 19 and 20) made it a lot easier to take the leap.
We sketched out a plan. Allison found a house that would rent to her at an extremely inexpensive rate in a decent neighborhood and Anna and I made plans to move in December. We also had another vacation set aside for the end of that July to scope out the new digs and start looking around the area for part-time job opportunities to help out with rent and bills while I finished up my college degree.
It felt like my life was finally on track, like I had a future of my very own to look forward to.
We never made it to New Orleans in late July. In early July, Anna was shot and killed by a man that was never apprehended. Allison immediately drove into town and got there just in time to attend her funeral service.
I was numb. What was I supposed to do about our future plans now? Did I stay where I was, this place full of memories of Anna or did I try to pick up the tattered pieces of our dreams and move through them alone?
It took a lot of soul searching, but ultimately I decided to take the risk and move to New Orleans anyway, without Anna. I knew it would be rough going, but I also knew that it was something I’d wonder about forever if I didn’t take the chance. Allison still had that house for us and I was told I was welcome to move in whenever I was ready.
As it turns out I was ready that November. With only a thousand dollars to my name and no job, my parents helped me pack up and drive a truck with all my earthly possessions to my new home in New Orleans.
It felt like a new beginning. Here was where I could start my life over and leave the specter of the person who was supposed to be my future partner behind me. But those who’ve experienced loss before know as well as I do now that those ghosts never leave you. No matter where they go they follow you, haunting you until you pluck up the courage to face them.
I had a hard time facing them. Allison tried to help me for a bit, but after a while she got tired of my moods. By December she was done grieving and ready to move on. It makes sense that her grief wouldn’t last as long as mine; she’d lost a friendship that lasted a few months and I’d lost my best friend and girlfriend of over four years.
She started to pull away from me, hinting that she wanted me to move back to Texas. Suddenly I wasn’t invited out with her during the evenings anymore.
Alone and officially friendless, I faced the end of December alone. I had a handful of friends who went to college in the city but they’d all gone home for the school holidays. Anna’s birthday was December 29 and our anniversary was December 27, and originally Allison and I had planned on having a movie marathon of some of her favorite films on those two nights as a quiet memorial.
Allison quietly and apologetically informed me that week that she’d been assigned to work late shifts and wouldn’t be able to hang around. I honestly don’t remember what I did those nights aside from one vague memory of me being huddled in the corner of our hallway, clutching the small urn of her ashes in one hand while crying and apologizing to Anna over and over for every sin I’d never be able to confess to her in person.
The beginning of the end, though, was New Years Eve. Allison’s parents lived closeby and since New Years was my first holiday away from home, I’d been invited to their house to shoot off fireworks.
Allison was supposed to drive by after work so we could get dressed up and head over together. I primped, showered, got my hair done, and sat on the couch to wait. Eight o’clock passed, then nine.
Finally I called Allison. She answered and I asked what time she was going to swing by. There was an awkward pause. In the background I could hear her mother laughing, and the chill of impending rejection clutched my stomach.
“You’re already there, aren’t you? Should I just come over then?”
Woodenly she told me she didn’t think that’d be a good idea. I was hurt, confused. “Why not?”
Allison told me that she thought we needed some time apart, that my being depressed was depressing her and I was a bad influence on her emotional state.
I was watching a television show last week that featured a man who was discussing how he survived the death of his wife. He said something that still resonates strongly with me: There comes a point where you just have to choose to live anyway.
After Anna passed, I think a lot of people were concerned that I might try to kill myself, and it honestly never occurred to me. Not because I’m particularly strong or fought the urge or knew Anna would want me to live on, it just literally never occurred to me until that New Years Eve of 2004.
I had nothing, I realized with a numb clarity. My only friends were slowly abandoning me. I was too sad, too broken for anyone to want to spend any amount of time with me. Anna was dead, my future was dead.
I climbed into my car with Anna’s ashes with my hand and drove recklessly down the poorly maintained streets of New Orleans without a seatbelt on. With the large number of drunken drivers the city usually boasted, I figured New Years Eve was likely to at least double my odds of being it.
If I was hit it was obviously mean to be.
My recollection of this night is odd because it’s both frighteningly clear and impossibly foggy. I remember feeling like this was the most sense my life had made in months, but I also don’t remember most of the drive itself.
A friend later told me that she’d called me and I ranted and cried to her for about an hour. She talked me into pulling into the back of a Wal-mart parking lot where I woke up the next morning.
Things with my roommate got worse. I tried to back off and give her space while showing kindness where I could manage it without being intrusive. One day she sent me a message saying she’d had a bad day at work and was likely just going to retire to her room and pass out after. I was about to head to the grocery store, and while I was there I picked up one of her favorite snacks – a packet of peanut M&M’s.
By the time I got home her door was already closed, so I quietly taped them to her door with a small note saying I hoped she felt better soon with a smiley face. I didn’t hear from her the rest of the day, but later that evening her friend sent me an instant message warning me not to be a creepy stalker.
Confused, I asked what I’d done. He referenced the note on Allison’s door, and said behavior like that was unacceptable and made Allison feel uncomfortable in her own home. She was going places in life, I was told by all her friends. She was wealthy and couldn’t afford to be held back by someone like me.
To this day, I don’t really know what made her freak out so much. My best guess is that the two of us didn’t really have a ton in common to begin with, and she was ready to move beyond grief that I couldn’t seem to push past. Having me around reminded her of things she didn’t want to remember.
She came home one day wearing a bejeweled Star of David necklace, informing me that she was converting to Judaism because she liked Jon Stewart a lot. Her tone when she informed me of this was snide, like the way a rebellious teenager would address their parents, daring them to disapprove.
I had no real emotional legs under me at the time and my self-worth was already in tatters; it was easy to feel like I must have done something wrong to make Allison so upset with me. I took her strange forms of emotional abuse both because I thought I deserved it and I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
The cool thing about going to school in New Orleans is that you get two spring breaks: spring break and Mardi Gras week. I’m not much of a drinker, so after the main weekend parades I decided to use the rest of my break to drive home to Houston.
Spending time with my family and friends there might give me the strength I needed to work past my issues with Allison and come to some kind of solution. I was determined not to let this friendship fail.
Late one night I was browsing LiveJournal with the same religious fervor as I always did when I stumbled upon an account that seemed strangely familiar on the entry of a mutual friend of Allison’s and I’s. I clicked on the profile, and to my horror I discovered that I had stumbled upon an alternate account of Allison’s that I hadn’t been invited to.
Entry after entry was filled with how miserable I was to be around, how I was like a walking black cloud that she couldn’t wait to ditch. According to her most recent entry she’d been planning to move out the next weekend without warning me, leaving me alone with a house’s worth of expenses to cover on my own.
As an adult, I can see the red flags as clear as day, but at the time I was in no place to have been keeping tally. It felt like a blow to the gut that came completely out of left field, a betrayal I hadn’t seen coming. It was one thing to be aloof, it was another to decide to abandon me completely.
A series of frantic emails to her confirmed my worst fears – she’d been harboring this seething and secret hatred of me almost from the moment I moved in. I was heartbroken.
I went down to my parents' bedroom in tears, begging them to let me move back home immediately. I didn’t want to go back to New Orleans and face anyone. They agreed to let me move back in, but only after the semester ended.
I reluctantly drove back up to New Orleans and signed up for an on-campus dorm for the remainder of the semester, spending the rest of my break packing up my belongings into another truck to be driven back to Houston.
Most of Allison's behavior I could write off as her just not being emotionally mature enough to handle a really serious situation. After all, who’s equipped to deal with the murder of their friend at such a young age? Then add to that the constant presence of the ever-grieving partner and it’s not hard to imagine that my friend may’ve had a hard time coping. Sure, Allison made a lot of questionable and bad choices, but most of this I could forgive as the mistakes we make when we’re very young.
We only spoke one more time after our email flurry in late February, and that too was via email. Allison sent me a lengthy email in which she said she understood our friendship was over and was sorry about the way I found out about the whole thing, but since we weren’t likely to talk again she felt she “owed it to Anna” to tell me a few truths about our relationship that I didn’t know about before.
She told me that Anna had been planning on leaving me shortly before she died because she hated being with me, that she confided in Allison that I was ruining her life and the only reason she hadn’t left me yet is because she needed to use me for rent and food money.
It’s hard to say why I believed her. Maybe because it’s so easy to believe the worst about yourself after a tragedy. You recall all the awful things you said and did and can never apologize for and let yourself be beaten up by facts you can’t change. It took me months to gather the courage to ask mutual friends if she’d mentioned anything about it because I was afraid they’d tell me that Allison was right.
Finally I remembered that I’d taken a copy of all of Anna’s chat logs off of her computer to distribute to friends who might want them after she passed, and after another handful of months I worked up the courage to pull up hers and Allison’s.
There wasn’t one mention of any of that kind of talk. In the thousands and thousands of lines of chat texts, the only time I even came up was a mention that I was coming over or planning for a trip.
As their conversations happened exclusively over instant messenger or LiveJournal, I now had definitive proof that Allison had made the whole thing up. It was needlessly hurtful and required a level of cruelty I’ve never been able to reconcile.
At that point I gave myself permission to let go of any remaining doubts or guilt I had over the end of our friendship and moved on with my life. I have an amazing support group of friends and family, a budding career and Anna’s adopted cats.
The last time someone absently filled me in on Anna’s life I found out she’s still living with her parents and was sweeping floors at a hair salon. I don’t usually let myself feel superior over someone’s living situation or station in life, but I gave myself permission to this time. Just a little.