Rooms I’ve Lived In
The Under the Blanket Room, Colorado, Fall 1999:
I have the second dorm room from the end of the hall, next to the only black female I have ever spoken to in my life. She tells me, “I bet everyone thinks they’re having a diverse college experience because I live on their floor.” Her roommate is a tall blonde who looks like an ad for milk. My own roommate is a hair-swinging hippie from the other side of the Rocky Mountains, who smokes a lot of pot and has already lived on her own. She puts up Alex Grey posters, which disturb me. I tape up a picture of Milla Jovovich over my computer screen because I am determined to never use it. I have the bed next to the window, overlooking a courtyard. I prop my bed up with cement blocks so it’s perfectly level with the window. You could lay in my bed, flush to the window, and experience the illusion that you might roll out of it. I smoke cigarettes in bed and draw pictures of pill bottles and blue colored squares and people kissing. I spend many hours with a red blanket I brought from home stretched over my head, feeling relieved that the world can be brought down to such a manageable size. I listen to From the Choirgirl Hotel by Tori Amos. I read Milan Kundera and Michael Ondaatje and Arundhati Roy. At night I dream that I write all my secret thoughts about myself in red pen on the window, then a friend comes and wipes them all away. I write daily, sometimes hourly, in a green spiral bound journal decorated with a postcard of two children trying to bite a red apple. I am a virgin. I wear an oversized beige sweater that I call ‘the Kurt Cobain’ and a dog collar as a choker. I live here for one semester.
The Hellmouth Room, Colorado, Summer 2000:
I live in a white box with a window overlooking the driveway. I have no artwork on the walls, no furniture of my own, just a small tv on the dresser opposite the bed. It’s the dead of summer, the sun arrogantly perched in the cloudless sky. Pickled by ennui, I take long, lonely drives into the foothills, blaring Not a Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco. I am alone in a three-bedroom townhome. All my college friends are gone for the summer and the town feels post-apocalyptic. The townhouse could easily be the setting for a horror movie; anonymous, beige and evil. I take the upstairs bedroom. The basement bedrooms, during the previous semester, were scenes for the following crimes: 1.) my attempted suicide 2.) my roommate’s assault by a man who broke through her window in the dead of night. We both went back to our families of origin afterwards, paying rent on our empty bedrooms, brains addled with PTSD. But eventually I drive back to this sarcophagus and try to breathe life into it. I smoke cigarettes in bed until noon and watch Gandhi and Doctor Zhivago in the bright, merciless sunshine pouring through my window. I occasionally wander from the TV in my bedroom to the TV in the living room so I can watch Survivor. I have an ensuite where I kneel over the tub to bleach my hair. Everything has a tinge of the surreal. I have no internet or cell phone. It’s the year of reading Sylvia Plath and Suzanna Kaysen. I sometimes wander through the empty downstairs rooms to look at the various crime scenes, as though I am haunting the townhouse. I live in this room for one month.
The Vampire Room, Colorado, Spring 2001:
I live at the bottom of the stairs in another three-bedroom townhouse. I live with Milk ad and the Hellmouth roommate, who is trying to move forward from living at the Hellmouth as much as I am. I have a calendar of Audrey Hepburn, a poster of Jenny Holzer’s billboard haikus and postcards from Bizarre magazine taped to the walls. I read Douglas Coupland. I am kissed passionately, and drunkenly, by a very handsome, pixieish man with a girlfriend. I get the spins and lay down on my bed. He shakes my shoulder a few times in frustration but leaves me alone. I steal the address of a friend of a friend I’ve never met and begin to anonymously send him collages I make. I write everything down in a journal/planner of vintage Harley Davidson posters, though I have no interest in motorcycles. I forget my laundry in the washer for two days and am shocked when I pick my clothes up and they’re stiff. “You have to put them in the drier right away,” Hellmouth roommate informs me. Hellmouth roommate has long curly hair and sometimes we stand in Milk ad’s en suite and “try on” her hair by flopping it over our own heads. We get high and Milk ad tells me she wonders if I’m a vampire because I stay in my room all day and only come out at night to go wait tables. I feel this is an unfair, but accurate, depiction of my lifestyle. I wear a floor length black sweater that is open in the front. A friend observes that it looks like I am “wearing a bathrobe”. I smoke cigarettes in bed and listen to the Sex Pistols and Bikini Kill. I live here for six months.
The Ghost Room, Minnesota, Winter 2002:
I live in a large hall closet inside a huge but unkempt apartment. I live with my friend the Swede and his friend from high school, who never speaks to me, but does lend me his copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I loan him Culture Jam by Kalle Lasn in return. It is our only interaction. There is a huge window inside my “room” that looks out over an immaculate Victorian mansion, so it is not too bad. I have an Egon Schiele poster above my bed, though I don’t know who Egon Schiele is, and think maybe he’s some kind of graffiti artist since his style looks very modern to me. I smoke cigarettes in bed, ashing into a silver dragon I bought in Thailand. I look at pictures of food inside of a cookbook instead of eating. One night in my bedroom, I suddenly feel the ghost of my Grandfather next to me. I put down my book and say, “hello?” but nothing happens. I listen to Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams. My friend with Cleopatra hair spends the night and we see a blue ghost/spirit/demon inside the Victorian mansion across the street, but it turns out just to be a man jerking off to porn on his laptop. I write in a fuzzy fabric journal with red embroidered flowers from Urban Outfitters. Sometimes Cleopatra and I go into the Swede’s room, which he has painted bright red, and request that he play songs on his guitar that we can sing to, like To Be With You by Mr. Big. The Swede tells me I should try Gmail and invites me to join. We share a computer in the dining room. There is almost no furniture in the entire apartment. I call it ‘the dance studio’. I keep everything on shelves built above my bed. I read Kurt Vonnegut. Every day I wear a denim jacket with an army surplus hoodie underneath, jeans and sneakers. I live here for six months.
The NYC Loft, Colorado, Fall 2003:
I live in a loft over my kitchen. When people come to visit and say, “this is like something you’d see in New York!”, I think they’re saying that my apartment is very metropolitan and trendy, but what they’re actually saying is that it is small and insane. I’m roomates with Milk ad again. She lives in a loft above the living room. You can’t stand up in our lofts, only crouch. You crawl up to them on an unsafe ladder. There is no smoke detector. The apartment is part of a historic, dilapidated mansion that looks like someone split up a Scooby Doo set with a hacksaw. The owner is a crazy person who asks me to read his hand drawn comics. Milk ad and I throw a party with the other tenants where we tour each other’s bizarre apartments. Through the wall of my loft, I can hear my neighbor practice singing; he is an aspiring folk musician, who once helped me figure out the most effective way to sell my klonopin to some coworkers. I cut up old songbooks from the 1920’s and paste their forlorn chanteuses up around the rim of my room. I smoke cigarettes in bed and listen to Parachutes by Coldplay. Milk ad and I host a women’s book group and our friend brings bon bons from the chocolate shop she works at. We read Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christanne Northrup. I buy an old dresser, paint it pink and line the drawers with fabric that looks like Cookie Monster. I wear a red A line skirt with a black skull on it and a black halter top. My roommate comes up my ladder, takes a sniff and says, “You do know you have to change the sheets every time you have sex, right?”. I had been too in love to worry about it. We scream at each other because she eats my food and I never do the dishes. We do not have internet, so I walk to campus when I need to check my email or write in my Livejournal. I feel as fragile and bright as a bell. Life is slowly smuggling in lessons to me about adulthood, like wrapping a pill in cheese so your cat will eat it. I never hurt myself going up and down that ladder drunk, which is something of a miracle. I live here for two years.
Elinor Abbott has previously published by The Hairpin, Human Parts, Bright Wall/ Dark Room and other publications. Her chapbook, ‘Is This The Most Romantic Moment of My Life?’ is forthcoming from Banango Editions. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and blogs at littlethousand.tumblr.com.