I fall asleep surprisingly fast, considering it’s my first night in the house. (Although maybe not that surprising considering how tired I am.) D wakes me up at around seven, but I fall asleep again for about another hour before hunger pangs motivate me to actually get up. I was somewhat puzzled by my lack of hunger and thirst yesterday evening: apparently they were just suppressed by my exhaustion, because now I feel like I’m starving. I wolf down a slice of bread with chocolate spread (and then another, and another), refill my water bottle and drain it almost immediately. Freshly energized and rehydrated, I feel ready to face whatever the day may bring.
Which appears to be a whole lot of nothing for a start. For some reason my phone can’t access the internet, and the USB stick D bought last year doesn’t work on either of our PCs. Bereft of the steady stream of newsfeeds and things to read during and after breakfast I’m used to, I finish my breakfast and then wander aimlessly.
The shadowed parts of the porch are still cool, and the occasional breeze not entirely welcome, but the sun-warmed planks feel hot beneath my bare feet, and the sunlight itself is warm enough to burn whenever the effect is not compensated by wind. The world around me is thrumming with green – grass, moss and trees – , buzzing with insects and utterly quiet elsewise, so quiet I am unsure whether I hear cars in the distance or just the wind rustling through leaves.
I retrieve my book from inside (“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sacks) and sit down in the narrow shadow of a wooden pole, angling my body so my pale neck is protected from the sun and the pages in front of me rendered comfortably non-blinding. The absence of noise and motion is strangely distracting. I keep looking up every few minutes, listening to nothing but birds and insects, and frequently get up to wander again for a bit, trying various different sitting spots around the porch and the yard.
I’m sure there are some smug thinkpieces to be written about that: look at today’s youth, such short attention spans, so used to their electronics they get twitchy without them, their hands itchy to move cursors and press keys to switch tabs every five seconds!
They wouldn’t exactly be wrong – I am used to switching tabs a lot, to reading short posts and updates on a wide variety of topic and smoothly move on to the next, to a constant flow of external input and stimulation. My brain gets nervous without it, searches for something to happen, something to do. I’m just not convinced that’s a bad thing: sure, it can be a challenge in lectures (which demand a lot of sitting still and listening to someone talking at a much slower rate than I read), but it makes me quite efficient and working through a lot of information quickly, and that’s most of what I do. People act as if the ability to sit still for ages is somehow essential to individual happiness, but they’re simply wrong – I can find joy in mere moments of intense, active engagement with my surroundings, and swiftly moving on doesn’t lessen it.
(I’m also not at all convinced I get less done just because I fire off a quick chat message in between two thoughts on a particular topic. If the topic truly demands all my attention, it’s typically also enough to keep me occupied all by itself for longer timespans anyway.)
In the afternoon, we visit a public library to use the computers there. It’s not quite the same (continuous engagement does not replace quick five-minute-stints, or the ability to research anything on my mind immediately), but it gets me some interesting material to read and the opportunity to chat with my friend and roommate S to let them know I arrived safely (and don’t have internet access at the house).
In return, S lets me know that my other roommate R – the one with the dogs – had her application for emergency housing declined, and suddenly a world collapses.
We’re a three-person household in which two people do all the shared housework and the third person, despite being responsible for most of the filth, leaves her dishes to grow mold in the kitchen sink, her laundry to block the washing machine so long the whole machine starts to smell, and one of her dogs to terrorize all of us and probably some of the neighbors with frequent bouts of barking and/or howling, day or night. Whatever agreements we enter regarding the housework she inevitably breaks, no matter how much we bend over backwards to accommodate her. S moved out after a little over a year and constant fights, R vetoed all replacement candidates until I grit my teeth and compromised on an issue that was actually extremely important to me, and then the new rommate was driven away by the noise and the filth in less than a year (that was the year R got her new puppy, and after weeks in which the entire hallway was frequently sticky with dried urine R failed to clean up properly or at, the barking terror started). S moved back in, having had some time to paint the past in fond nostalgia, and has since asked me countless times to finally kick R out (and why I don’t).
R is mentally ill. R has a whole list of diagnoses, and a whole pharmacy just to keep her breathing, and disability pension as her sole income because she’s mentally ill enough even for the state to recognize it. R has no family members that could even temporarily support her, no savings, and debts. R tried to kill herself last year. R is no happier with the living situation than we are, and has tried to find a new place to stay, and the only offers she could get at all came from a guy who wanted her as unpaid caretaker for his elderly mother (a demanding job for even the healthiest people, and laughable as a suggestion for someone who can barely take care of herself) and a few who wanted sexual favors in return (hilarious to read, in case of a certain middle-aged gentleman with impeccable grammar and spelling who used the informal you while very politely asking for blowjobs, but rather fucking horrible to think about).
So I lay in bed at night as tense as a coiled spring mentally begging for the fucking dog to quit barking, woke up at one or four or six or multiple of those for more barking, sat in my room rocking back and forth with my hands covering my ears waiting for him to quit barking, walked through the forest for hours with a fever just to get away, crammed a kitchen cupboard and some hot plates into my 9 m² room, wracked my brain trying to think more and more desperately of anything I could possibly do to improve the situation, tried to keep myself sane, and did not kick R out.
When R applied for emergency housing, I stayed cautious at first. I told myself to keep living day to day, not to think of the future, because imagining months of the same was too hard too bear and hoping for something better might be disappointed.
But it just seemed too unlikely they’d reject her – if anyone needed emergency housing, it was her. Surely they’d see that. She had literally nowhere to go.
So I allowed myself to dream, tentative at first and more and more later, seduced by just how happy it made me: I’ll come home to silence instead of angry barking. I’ll go to bed and know I’ll be able to sleep. I’ll be able to go get a drink or use the bathroom at eleven at night without holding my breath and being as quiet as humanly possible so I don’t set off the dog. The floors won’t be covered in dog hair every morning anymore – I’ll have an hour more each week that I spend sweeping. I won’t have to clean the bathroom sink and pick dog hair out of the drain before using it almost every time. I won’t have to spend fifteen minutes trying to clean dog hair out of the washing machine every time before I use it – and there will be no hair at all stuck to my fresh laundry. I won’t be able to smell in the hallway whether she’s recently opened her room’s door anymore. We’ll actually be able to have her room’s windows open sometimes – no danger of dogs jumping out, nobody to be afraid of wasps getting in, we might even be able to catch a bit of wind during the heat! There won’t ever be an hour of barking and howling because she just had to go to the dentist or to the grocery store or wherever and neglected to organize a sitter again. We’ll be able to do our dishes in the kitchen sink instead of doing them in the bathroom sink and accidentally chipping it. I might even be able to use the kitchen, it could stay clean enough!
Small dreams. Petty dreams. Dreams that, after weeks and months and years, made me feel light enough to float away with bliss. Dreams that kept me going for the past few months whenever I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. (The day she woke me up in the morning, high as a kite and hallucinating, and I ended up locking myself in my room with my stomach in anxious knots because she had occupied the hallway with the dogs, talking to nonexistant people and completely unpredictable and unresponsive, and I could only hope that the dogs would not destroy anything important despite the lack of supervision and they’d leave before I really needed to go to the bathroom.)
And now the bubble burst. My chest feels like it’s getting crushed between giant pliers.
“Fuck”, I reply. “Fuuuuuuck.”
I force myself to keep breathing evenly, thinking that’s bullshit at the part of my brain panicking that I can’t breathe, and I blink a few times and focus very hard on the screen in front of me to stop the way my vision is starting to swim and go black around the edges. I can’t do anything about my heart, hammering against my chest hard enough to hurt.
It’s just until December, I think at myself in an attempt to soothe myself, but it’s seven months until then and six more than I expected and I feel dizzy and shaky and the world seems very distant and unreal and I can’t-
I distract myself and read some more stuff online, focusing on the comforting reality of words on a screen, thinking “that’s interesting” and “I’ll have to come back to this article later” to myself very deliberately.
There’s some good news about the living situation too – R’s psychiatrist has somehow gotten the state to agree to pay both the deposit and the broker’s commission for her if she finds something on the private market.
I ask about that in the group chat, and R leaves it without responding, and I remember other times she’s done that – gone incommunicado to avoid being asked to get her laundry out of the machine or to return at least some cutlery she had hoarded in her room to the kitchen so someone else could eat or whatever else anybody needed to talk to her about – and I just. fucking. can’t.
We go grocery shopping before we return back home from the library. It’s good, gives me something to do, and food is actually a good thing to have too, even if I can’t quite get myself to care about anything right now.
I put my groceries away, D leaves for a walk, and I just sit down in a chair with my head full of cotton and don’t do anything.
The chest pain has been happening more and more frequently: when there’s some sort of conflict, some immediate issue, and lately even when I just think about the whole situation (which is also more and more frequently, despite all my efforts to the contrary, simply because it rules so many details of my daily life). It’s deeply unpleasant, and sometimes it lingers for hours. It used to leave me feeling drained and listless; nowadays, it often leaves me helplessly angry at having to deal with all this crap. Sometimes I fantasize about exploding, taking all the little things I’ve been doing my best to let go and throwing them right back into R’s face. Sometimes I think through all my options again without hope. Either leaves me feeling defeated, bitter about past mistakes, and unhappy with myself for not being stronger and better at dealing with everything.
Today there’s only static and the feeling of no and I can’t.
If I just left-
The lease would end with me, leaving R just as badly off. It would benefit noone.
Maybe if I just hold out a little bit longer-
Then what? The situation will magically resolve itself the way it’s failed to do for the past, oh, year and a half maybe, or two years and a half?
Think rationally, I tell myself. I’ll be here in Sweden for another two weeks or so, and later in August I’ll be gone for another week, I can bear ones in between, maybe if I do it afterwards, right now she’s already reeling from the rejection…
I’ll have to wait for two months anyway, though, it’s in our contract. I will need the weeks away even if I do it right now, because she’ll still stay until September. She’ll stay longer for every day I wait. And it’s not like there’ll ever be a good moment to get kicked out.
So I’m going to do this. Render someone homeless just because I don’t like noise and messiness. Just be straight-up fucking evil.
I don’t think I’ve been actually good for a long while now anyway. Too much anger and spite and resentment, no matter how much I’d like to pretend otherwise, and it’s all bleeding out. Turns out I’m only kind if it doesn’t cost me too much.
She could give the dog away, you know.
“I could slice open my belly with a knife and see how much intestine I can pull out before I die” is technically just as true as “I could eat another cookie”, but they’re not actually equally doable. I think this is more in the realm of the former than the latter.
Where on the spectrum is “I can continue living this way”?
I don’t know.
I type up the termination notice on my phone. I hate it. I put in a line asking her to tell me if I can help in any way and end it “best regards” as if that matters, as if regards could buy a flat or even food, and I roll my eyes at my own hate because what is it if not self-pity in disguise? (“Look at me, I am a Tragic Figure, I do not want to be evil.”)
I resolve to send it next time I have internet access so I can’t chicken out again.
The shaking and unreality and tightness have stopped. It feels calm, like the eye of a storm. Heavy, but an anchor rather than a burden. The cotton is gone and my head empty and clear.
I’ve made my decision. Whatever I may feel about it now won’t unmake it.