Here’s Why Roommates Are Beautiful

What happens when you live with people in locked boxes

Harris Sockel
Human Parts
Published in
3 min readDec 9, 2013

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When I first moved to New York, I did not have roommates. I lived in a studio on the sixth floor of a former tenement on East 78th street. A rectangular lock box above forty-eight stairs.

I was a teacher at the time. After school, I’d come home to that white room and order translucent cylinders of Thai, opening them up and rubbing the contents all over my face and chest until I was a limp carcass splayed on a wooden floor, surrounded by empty plastic bins. There were no dreams in that room, yet. No fears, either. Just me, spooning with some Pad See Ew.

After my initial year on East 78th, I moved downtown. A three-bedroom on 14th street. Three closets. Three humans, drawn together by an economic recession. One toilet. One door to enter, and the same one to get out.

When you live in a place long enough, your dreams/fears/incomplete to-dos start to live there, too. You can smell them. You know when they’ve taken a shit. You can hear them walking around at night, going to and from the bathroom, turning the faucet on and off. Even just one undone to-do will begin rifling through your clothes at night, and you’ll wake up not knowing where all the clean underwear went.

A year ago, I came home from work and saw one of my roommates crying between two potted plants and a hundred unopened packets of soy sauce. Something had happened that day. She’d lost her job. I think. Her face looked like that smiley face toddlers make when they cry. She was holding onto one of the soy sauce packets like it was the bottom rung of a fire escape ladder.

I hugged her and rubbed her back and we picked up all the little packets of Kikkoman. We cut avocados and ate them with spoons that had felt the full force of our saliva for two whole years. We sat on chairs that had been caked in our sweat and dead skin cells for so long that they radiated with a new smell/feel that was more than either of us individually.

And, enveloped by the amalgam of all of our dreams/fears/incomplete to-dos, she stopped crying and started to laugh. The combined force of our disparate pasts and bodies, which had come together by chance, via craigslist and the alignment of the stars, was itself a kind of panacea.

This is what happens when you live with people in locked boxes.

I am still here, with these roommates. We jigsaw ourselves together in the kitchen at dinnertime, alternating between the sink and the stove and the trashcan, unwittingly rubbing our butts against one another. We hear each other in the bathroom or on the phone and tell ourselves that we are quieter or better or harder working. We look at each other when we’ve had a long day, too long, and just need someone to tell us we are okay and we have toilet paper and new hand soap that smells like lilacs, and what did you use this pan for, should I clean it?

The Romans lived in apartments. They fought with each other and laughed about underwear stains and sighed when they came home from work and put their leather bags on the kitchen table. They moved out. They cried in the living room at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Roomies of the world, come under the covers with me. Confess all of your dreams/fears/incomplete to-dos — draw them out on pieces of paper and tape them to the walls of our living room. Tell me how much you appreciate my purchasing the toilet paper. How grateful we all are that we have these seven walls and three beds to sleep in, walking to and from the bathroom each night, just like it’s sleepaway camp. Smiling at one another with our hair all poofy in the mornings, seeing each other in nothing but a few diaphanous fragments of cotton.

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