We shared a four-person suite in Wakefield Hall. I don’t remember my first roommate’s name, but here’s what I do remember: He spent all his time on the computer. He couldn’t carry a conversation and he smelled like a basement. When he used the toilet, he left Jackson Pollack streaks in the bowl and his ass print was visible on the seat.
It was like a crime scene. Instead of his butt print being revealed with forensic powder and a fine brush, it was revealed with fluorescent light and lint, ass-lint to be precise, that undoubtedly clung to his sweaty booty cheeks. It indicated a pair of underwear that needed to be washed, or else booty cheeks that needed to be sanitized and scrubbed clean.
I paid attention after 9/11. When I see, I say something.
After holding my breath while I did my business with the toilet in question, I washed my hands, turned around, and walked into our room. “You need to the clean that toilet,” I said.
“What?” He asked, as if emerging from the bowels of a coma.
“The toilet. You left it a mess. You need to clean it.” Still confused, I guided him back to his art project and indicated the blue lint print and the brown streaks of lightning.
“Oh,” he said, “sorry.”
That night, the lights were off in our room, but everything was dimly visible from the light outside. I was having a hard time sleeping. I really didn’t like this man. On cue, he began to snore.
Ugh. No. Why? Why me? There was static in my brain, but the white noise could not drown the sound of his snores.
I knew it probably wasn’t his fault. I got the impression that no one taught him about hygiene. Wherever he was from, he probably didn’t have chores or, at least, not chores like I did. Maybe his anti-social behavior was related to the fact that no one had ever loved him, or that he was bullied, or worse. How could I show this person empathy and live in harmony with them? Surely, there was some way we could make it through the year. Then, he farted. He farted in his sleep.
It was bubbly and loud. It smelled worse than curdled milk, like a dead mouse, like a family of dead mice, trapped in the wall. “Fuck this,” I screamed silently into the void that had become my heart, mind, and soul, sealing myself – if only hermetically – under the quilt that I had made in high school.
I wrote an email to Mom. The subject line was “RED ALERT,” and I explained the emergency.
Soon, I was able to move out, re-assigned to a new room, a single room, in a suite with two other people. I claimed my asthma and allergies, required me to have a single room. Given the odorous fog that I had just experienced, I almost believed I was telling the truth.
After this nightmare, when I returned from the void, I was blessed. I had some of the most amazing roommates during my four years at Stevenson University. I’m sure they farted in their sleep, but their farts never bothered me because I was never there to smell them. From that point on, I had my own room. The bathroom never felt like a national emergency. Most importantly, though, I felt happy to spend hours upon hours of time in the presence of these beautiful humans who would become my “friends from college.”
When I first met Dustin, there was something about him that reminded me of my sibling. In fact, I had a photo of me, Shea, and Sophie on my dresser and a lot of people who visited my room thought it was a photo of me and Dustin. Perhaps, this was an omen of the friendship to come. Dustin was one of the first people I met when I moved to Owings Mills. We hung out at all the homecoming events. We would eat together, watch movies, and shared a small group of friends.
What I liked about Dustin was that he had (and has) a weird sense humor. One of his favorite shows is Adventure Time, which I never really got into, but if you split the difference between Adventure Time and Spongebob, that about sums up his comedic tastes, which fit perfectly with my own. Not only is he hysterical, he’s profoundly introspective. He waxes philosophical. He’s open minded, but with strong opinions, wielding a discernment for nonsense, but relishing in absurdity all the same. He laughs at nonsense, but he laughs because he understands it. I would say it delights him. Existential horror is a hairline away from existential humor. Few people examine that hairline as closely as Dustin.
Dustin also had a nightmarish roommate when school began. Eventually, he was able to switch rooms. He started living with me and DeAndre. DeAndre was my new roommate. He was very clean, mischievous, and also liked Batman. I was so happy, so grateful to be living with these two dudes. Dustin, though, is the only person from that first year that I keep in touch with. I have good memories of Dustin from Freshmen year. I remember watching all five seasons of Alias with our friend Jess, going to different events on campus, driving to the Towson Diner, playing lots of games, and just staying social. Despite having a different major, unrelated to the arts, we kept in touch the entire four years.
Sometimes our friendship waned, as these things happen. I remember there was a time after I broke up with Jess, our mutual friend and my last girlfriend, when I felt kind of awkward. I also remember that when I came out, I was hesitant to tell him. It gave me a lot of anxiety, as it did with most people. It took me a while to find the courage to talk openly about my queer life. As it would turn out, my fears were misplaced. Eventually, I felt like we could talk about anything, not unlike how I felt when we first met.
In 2019 Dustin got married to Kelsey, his girlfriend from high school, who I had met many times. He asked me to be one of his groomsmen. Weddings always make me cry, but I was particularly moved by this one. Being a groomsmen reminded me not to take old friendships for granted, or to think that old friendships are friendships that have ended. I was so grateful to be invited. It reminded, in many ways, about how love endures.
Two weeks ago, when I started this series, Dustin read the first post. Well, actually, Kelsey read it and sent it to him. He’s not on Facebook. For him, it’s one existential horror too far, but he immediately reached out to say hi. He and Kelsey treated me to tacos as an early birthday celebration. And that’s Dustin, in a nutshell, an incredibly kind, thoughtful, and brotherly friend who will buy you tacos and ice cream; who will share his heart; who will make you smile at the nuances of this cartoonish hellscape that we call home.
Jimmy reminded me of this guy from high school named Sean. He was goofy, albeit more subdued, and spoke in a similar cadence. Although the similarities were superficial, it made me want to be his friend, but it would take two years for that to happen.
We had a few classes together. Theatre History with Linda Chambers was the one where I decided that I really liked him. The first two years, we had worked together on some small film projects and collaborated with the TV station.
Towards the end of sophomore year, I decided that I no longer wanted to live on campus. I wanted to get a better feel for living independently. Over pizza, I asked Jimmy if he wanted to be roommates. He said yes and we moved into the Morningside Apartments.
Our apartment was one of my favorite places that I’ve lived. It was on top of a hill, in a huge complex with a nice of the view of the sky. We never needed to turn on the heat, even in the winter, because the sunlight was so powerful. To be frugal, we decided not to pay for internet or cable. Our apartment was like a time capsule from the 90s, and barely furnished too. We had this huge living room with nothing but a small, boxy television and two fold-out chairs stuck in the corner. I like to consider myself a minimalist now, but I don’t think I’ve ever lived quite so ascetically. Also, I didn’t know how to cook, so most of my meals were oatmeal, eggs, rice, and beans.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t come out to Jimmy until after we moved in together. I guess I thought, if he signed a lease, then he couldn’t back out. He couldn’t say no. (Folx, when I tell you that my communication skills have increased leaps and bounds, please believe me.)
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. He was extremely cool about it. He was affirming, one of the best allies that I’ve met. Since then, he has always been there for me when I needed to talk about my feelings or the unfolding drama of my love life.
Jimmy met someone and, after graduating, moved to New York to be with her and join the film industry. I missed him so bad when he left, but I was happy that he was following his dreams, living that creative lifestyle.
Jimmy was in his late 20s when he decided to become a filmmaker. Before then he was a bartender and wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do with his life. I was always so inspired by that story and I still I am. It’s never too late to change your life and do something radically different. I was grateful for his courage, for his choice to do something true and exciting, and I was happy that his choice brought him into my life. That man is an artist. Half the fun of living with Jimmy was talking about creativity, story, and the politics of film. The other half was being goofy. Jimmy and I can shoot the shit about anything, walking the line between hilarity and cringe, which is my favorite line to walk. When we talk, Jimmy and I constantly pitch the other ideas for shows, podcasts, webseries and the like. Our creations are the best content never written. I would say it’s a hallmark of our friendship: dizzy ideas headed straight for the dumpster.
When Jimmy left for New York, I honestly wasn’t sure if we would keep in touch after graduating. Time has taught me that some friendships are for seasons, but some, some are for life. Ours is the latter.
Jimmy and I talk every few months. It’s always a long phone call and one that flies by. We manage to talk about everything and anything. Whenever in New York, I make a point to see him. Whenever, he’s in Baltimore, he makes a point to see me. We remember each other’s Birthdays and occasionally send each other cards. He sent me one a year or two ago that made me cry. I really feel that he loves me.
Lately, Jimmy has gotten into improv, and I am devilishly happy about it. Welcome to the cult, Jimmy! Can’t wait to get older, and even weirder, with you.
I met Joe through Jimmy towards the end of junior year. Jimmy was graduating and I needed a new roommate. Like a gift from the bearded white man in the sky, Joe came into the picture, and I thought, “Yes, that guy!”
I don’t know why; I just liked Joe instantly. He was also a filmmaker. He was quirky, but understated; Type A, but kind. He had a good sense of humor and we both loved tea, so what could go wrong? Plus, unlike Jimmy, I told Joe I was gay and he was cool with it from the jump, so we became roommates and rented an apartment.
The first few mornings I woke up to discover Joe unreasonably cheerful. “Good morning Tavish!” he would say in a sing-song voice. I was not a morning person. In the morning, I was a grouch.
One morning, I woke up to discover him standing on the balcony, in the frigid autumn air, watching a squirrel. “I was watching a squirrel,” he said cheerfully.
“Who is this guy?” I thought. I had to confess, “Joe, I don’t know where you get this energy from,” teasing him for his unbridled crack-of-dawn enthusiasm. We laughed and laughed. It became a thing. In the morning he would greet me like camp counselor hopped up on Adderall. In return, I would offer a grunt, a groggy and bitter acknowledgement that a new day had begun. He thought it was very amusing. I did too, but I never stopped being a grouch.
Fortunately (or unfortunately?) Joe’s charisma waned throughout the day. When we would meet again at the apartment in the evening, it was like we switched places. I became a neurotic, Seinfeldian goof and Joe was my George Costanza and Elaine rolled into one. We spent a lot of time bitching and moaning about everyone and everything. We were hypocritical cynics laughing at the idiosyncrasies of others. It was easy to make Joe laugh, and he had a way of playing into whatever outrage I concocted. It was a comedy of manners. We were pretentious loons, constantly challenging each other’s ideas of right and wrong, towing the line between uncouth snobbery and gleeful rebellion. I loved talking with Joe, and I loved living with him too.
Unlike me and Jimmy, Joe and I had furniture and technology. Joe refused to live without them. He went to Ikea and made our place look like a swanky bachelor pad. Me? I hung some posters on the wall and kept the kettle hot.
It didn’t take long for Joe and I to bond on a deeper level. We talked to each other about our family struggles and challenges with our mental health. He was the first person who I opened up to about my suicidal ideation. Not only could we make each other laugh, we could make each other stop and think. Whereas Jimmy and I would brainstorm clown-car ideas peppered with surrealism and dark absurdity, Joe and I would dive into the human condition, sharing our thoughts on composition, healing, and grit. Joe liked my ideas, and he asked me to collaborate on his senior thesis, a short film called Sonder. I was honored, and I was grateful for how seriously he approached the task. I wrote and acted in it. He shot and edited. (There was a whole team of other people involved too, but this isn't about them!) The final product was beautifully shot, edited, and scored. It even won a prestigious award.
Joe and I kept in touch the first few years after college. We went camping. We went to visit his family. We would just hang out. Then, we fell out of touch in 2018. I don’t know why we fell out of touch. Maybe we just started to grow in different directions? That’s how I chalked it up anyway. He joined the corporate world, making commercial film projects. He also became passionate about craftsmanship: automotive, interior design, and wood working. It seemed like things that were right up his alley and I’m glad that he has continued to discover himself.
I think about Joe every now and then, but the last time we spoke was 2020. I remember when I moved to Baltimore City, I often thought, “I miss Joe.” He was such in a good roommate. Now, I don’t feel his absence as much, but Joe, in my early 20s, you were one of my best friends. Thank you for being so fun and adventurous. Thank you for being so damn opinionated about everything. I hope you’re still a morning person, and I hope you still take time to watch random squirrels in the autumn air.
Dustin, Jimmy, Joe & Me