In the span of 48 hours, my roommates—acquaintances I moved in with when my best friend, their former roommate, moved out—and I have all been sent home from our jobs to our 950-square-foot apartment in Bed-Stuy.
Inherited Roommate No. 1 is a bartender. I appreciate that she is a deep romantic with lots of feelings. Our only fight was not so conveniently last week, when she showed up at my birthday and suggested the possibility of voting for Trump if her candidate didn’t win the primary. I screamed a bit.
Roommate No. 2 is a different story. We’d already been living in a semi-stable state of passive-aggressiveness. Shortly after I screamed at Roommate No. 1, Roommate No. 2 poured my bottle of wine down the sink. She likes to establish lots of rules for the apartment (like, apparently, Chardonnay will become Drano if left out for an hour), but doesn’t see the need to follow them herself.
Roommate No. 2 decides to go live with her boyfriend at his inherited condo in the West Village. She’s made it clear that she has the most important job in the apartment, and Roommate No. 1 and I were already fretting over the possibility of a work-space showdown in the living room. Roommate No. 1 and I celebrate her departure with southern recipes from my mom’s cookbook. We play Yahtzee and drink beers stockpiled from the bodega. On the weekend, we turn to liquor and text all of our exes. We make TikToks, we make martinis, we make fun of Roommate No. 2’s Instagram posts with her boyfriend. We eat a gigantic box of Goldfish. I consider going to my parents’, but Roommate No. 1 insists I’d be fucking her over, so I unpack my suitcases.
Roommate No. 1’s boyfriend starts spending a lot of time at the apartment. He is the kind of Brooklyn straight boy who likes to ask me, the queer roommate, about Grindr and blow jobs. He makes Roommate No. 1 livestream his video-game sessions, where he talks with his bros about other girls’ “tits.” She makes him dinner, then he critiques the dinner she’s just wrecked our kitchen to make. (“It’s too tough,” he says of the boeuf bourguignonne. “That’s not the right way to defrost shrimp,” he barks about the scampi.) Late in the week, he makes her shave off her bush.
We’ve spent at least five hours a day watching Survivor. The magic of watching the contestants squabble and compete in ridiculous competitions is that at the end of every 40-minute episode, the group rallies tiki torches around someone to vote out. I realize that if anyone else was on this island, I might have the numbers to kick out the boyfriend. Roommate No. 2 texts twice asking about her Bon Appétit subscription. She doesn’t like other people to read it before she does.
The world feels bleak, but Roommate No. 1 and I manage to find things to do that create a sense of normalcy, even fun. We take “walktails” and Rollerblades to the park, and, like old Wasps, break out cocktails and Yahtzee promptly at six o’clock. My room has begun to feel stuffy for an eight-hour workday, walking two feet from the place where I sleep to my makeshift work desk pushed against the wall. On the other side of the wall, though, is the living room, where Roommate No. 1 watches very loud episodes of dating shows and plays video games for ten-plus hours a day. We jokingly call the living room her office, and as I am an assistant, I call her the assistant’s assistant. She FaceTimes friends from the couch and acts disturbed if I come out of my room to make lunch or use the bathroom.
The Bon Appétit arrives. Roommate No. 2, at the height of the pandemic in New York, takes an Uber over to grab a few different outfits to wear at her boyfriend’s place.
We have about a month left on the lease, but Roommate No. 2 comes to move her stuff out. She brings four people from the outside world and takes the kitchen table, all the drinking glasses, baking sheets, pots, pans, and a three-quarters-used bar of soap by the sink. She takes Roommate No. 1’s face wash and leaves in its place trash and dust bunnies. As she’s leaving, she says she wants us to be friends despite our earlier problems, which she carefully associates with my wrongdoing. She kisses me on the cheek and says everything is okay. I go to the store the next day to replace the things she snatched from the apartment.
Without the drama and gossip of our normal social lives, I begin deep-reading every two-sentence exchange, every object moved, and every hair I eye suspiciously in the bathroom drain. Everything seems like a personal affront. I try to consider that the coffee rings I leave on the counter or the incense I burn in my room might be equivalently microaggressive to Roommate No. 1. Since we finished Survivor, walking on eggshells made up of problems that are not important has become our pastime. She leaves a list of things for me to pick up at Duane Reade.
Some nights, Roommate No. 1 stays with the boyfriend. He hasn’t been coming around as much after I pointed out that during their video-game sessions, he likes to refer to his wins as “skill” and hers as “luck.” When she’s away, I work outside of my bedroom. I’ve been getting to know my neighbors from a distance: the film kids from Italy on the floor below me and the trust-fund bro who bought the brownstone next door for $1.8 million. We have drinks on our respective balconies and gossip about our neighbors. There’s a woman down the street who I chat with from her porch when I go to the bodega and my barista at the coffee shop that has remained open for takeout. My pot dealer sits six feet away and tells me what it’s been like to live in the neighborhood for 11 years, and the girl next door comes over to help another neighbor who has locked himself out of his apartment. I love all of these people who I never knew before but now talk to weekly from a physical distance. I wonder if I’d like them all so much if we were living together instead. Probably not.
It is Roommate No. 1’s turn to move out, and we spend our last nights trying to be happy in each other’s company. It’ll be sad to see her go—the boyfriend not so much. He sits in the van and tells us which box to bring down the four flights of stairs next. She looks at me, hand over her heart, and says, “I’m so glad he’s here. We wouldn’t know how to do this without him.” That night, I catch her boyfriend explaining to her why feminism isn’t a useful concept anymore and what trans feminism means. Two cis kids celebrating their post-gender world.
When it’s my turn to move, Roommate No. 1 and I reunite to play a final round of Yahtzee on the roof. Both roommates have left bags and bags of stuff they didn’t want to deal with in the apartment. I tell them I’ll meet up with them this weekend to move it all out, but after days of cleaning out their shit myself, I’m not sure I’ll show up. If the city stay-at-home orders have been an experiment in caring not only for the people we live with but also the communities we live within, I can’t help but feel that we didn’t pass the test, at least in my apartment. On my first night in my new apartment, I stay awake for hours gabbing and laughing with my new quarantine partner. We’ll see how long it lasts.
*A version of this article appears in the June 22, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
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