I have a roommate.
Not the four-legged, furry kind (“freeloader” would better suit those, as dear as they may be), but a real human. My best and oldest friend is in town visiting for the weekend, and is even now asleep in the bedroom. I slept on the futon in the living room, an arrangement necessitated by the ridiculous hours I keep.
On the rare occasions that someone comes to stay with me, the living room is converted into a second bedroom, furniture rearranged and futon unfolded. Even before I became physically incapable of folding it and unfolding it myself, I had gotten into the habit of simply leaving it unfolded for the duration of my guests’ stays. It gives the apartment a dorm-like atmosphere, even when neatly made. It gently suggests that two people live here and face the whims of life and fate together.
Although I closed the bedroom door shortly after I
awoke got up to keep from disturbing the precious occupant inside, I am still tip-toeing around, careful to be gentle with plates and saucers, to speak softly to the cats, to watch the timer on the dryer so I can catch it before it ends with a buzz so obnoxiously loud that it’s audible to the surrounding apartments. While it might feel like an imposition if I had to do it every morning, today I go about my soft business cheerfully. It’s surprising how much comfort I derive from the knowledge that there is a companion asleep in the next room.
I’ve talked about it before, how chronic pain is an inherently solitary affliction. Before last autumn, I often took solace in my quiet home, grateful for the space to relax and stretch out the wrinkles pressed into my idiosyncrasies by keeping them wrapped up in public. But as pretty and welcoming as it is, this place has grown increasingly oppressive as the months have worn on, stifling and cavernous all at once.
An aura of resentment hovers menacingly in the corners, threatening to overtake it, and me, particularly in the early mornings as I putter around, doing light chores and tending to the freeloaders, with no-one to hear the noises I make. The silence is almost palpable as I wade through it; it swallows incidental sounds and amplifies repetitive ones, the clink of a mug lost behind the cacophonous tick of the living room clock.
My friend offered to stay in a hotel, but I insisted she stay here with me instead. Even if I weren’t to sleep as well on the futon (although actually, that wasn’t an issue; it was firm but quite comfortable) my sleep quality has been so poor anyway that it seemed a small price to pay for having another person close by. In return, she has insisted that I utilize her for as many physical tasks as possible, despite her own issues with her hips and neck.
When she arrived last evening, I was in too much pain to make dinner and we ordered take-out instead. I apologized for being such poor company, forcing her to sit in the apartment with me instead of going out for dinner or a drink. She affirmed that she almost never gets a day off and was enjoying the opportunity to simply lounge about and do nothing. I was grateful; I said as much, although my words seemed pale in comparison to the depth of feeling behind them.
I am so happy to have someone with whom to share this place, to soothe its sharp edges. I was overwhelmed by her kindness last night as she insisted on clearing plates and tidying up the kitchen, even bringing over the heavy water pitcher to top off our glasses. She is especially altruistic; she always has been, unlike me, who came late to the realization of how fulfilling it is to be helpful to those around me. I am reminded of her essential sweetness, of the comforting quality of her presence that sheltered me during my tumultuous twenties. I have missed her. The pain, the lack of sleep, the burning in my stomach, it is all easier to bear when I have her to lean on, even if only for a smattering of days.
It is like balm on burned skin, this opportunity to let go and be caught and held by friendship, by solicitude, by love; to have a partner to help hold down the tarp as the storm of my injury rages on.
For now, I have a cohabitant, not just for my apartment, but for my affliction as well.