When I moved back from Detroit, three friends and I rented a house on the dodgy end of Knapp Street in northeast Grand Rapids. We had an alleyway instead of a driveway, a basement that flooded, neighbor dogs that yipped at all hours, and neighbor children that did likewise. It was heaven. Since we were in a house instead of apartments or dorms, it felt like a home. It was a decent house for the rent, too – high ceilings, a big kitchen with a breakfast bar area (emphasis on the “bar,” considering it was next to what I called “the happy cupboard”), woodwork everywhere, and a very lovely porch that was the site of many Porch Nights with friends.
Myself – Manic, recovering mess. We’ve covered.
Miranda – Bless her. Miranda filled the father role in our house. M was handyman, chore creator, yard mower, responsible bill payer, etc. (We never decided who the mother figure was, and Rachel pointed out, “We’re a single parent household.”) Sharing the upstairs loft with Miranda for a while, I quickly was reminded that there are significant differences between the two of us. We have a lot of common interests and that sort of thing, but our basic approaches to life, I think, are drastically different. The major difference seems to lie in the left brain vs. right brain issue. M is stronger than me in so many ways. She’s incredibly focused. She has self-control and an internal monitor. She’s also possibly the most composed person I’ve ever met, and of course I hate her for it.
Rachel – I think I admire Rachel most because she is such a tumble of quirks. Studies Klingon. Conspiracy theorist. Matchmaker…er…supreme. She once spent an entire day using PhotoShop to make wedding pictures of herself with Joaquin Phoenix. I always appreciate people who are “smart but don’t always show it” (ahem, John VanderWeide), and Rachel is very free about being a goofball and yet wielding a philosophy degree at the same time. One night we had a discussion about predestination; the next day, while watching Hitchcock’s The Birds she came up with a theory that the birds were really angry environmentalists who were upset by the fur coats, second-hand smoke, etc. Delightful.
Racie – I had never been friends with Racie before, and it was a struggle at first to get to know her because I hardly ever saw her during the first few weeks. But then came the Winter Olympics 2006. Now, honestly, I couldn’t care less about Winter Olympics aside from jumping on the momentary bandwagon of patriotism, but Racie liked them. So, figuring this would be good bonding time, we watched figure skating, snowboarding (I actually do like that one), ice dancing, bobsledding, etc. I found that it was pretty easy to get to know Racie even when talking about something as unimportant as the scoring system for ice dancing – which, if you can avoid it, do. As it turned out, my personality is probably closest to Racie’s, so that was an interesting discovery, even if I was closer to M and Rachel initially. I also remember being incredibly grateful that she was willing to go get me Gatorade when I had the flu, so maybe Racie filled the mother role in our house.
Amber – When Rachel moved out and we needed a fourth roommate, something pretty cool happened. In one of those beautiful God moments, we realized that Amber, a friend of Racie’s, would fit perfectly because we all liked her and coincidentally she needed desperately to find a new place to live. She’d even asked her mom’s church ladies to pray that she find a new living arrangement, and the next day we invited her to live with us without knowing this. Amber was a great filler of the fourth roommate spot. Since she was in grad school, it was fun to have someone around who had homework again. She was sensible, calm, and also crazy and fun. She had the worst music I’d ever heard from an iPod. She could quote Friends like no one I’ve ever met. She said “uber” before almost every adjective. Amber and I also had this running joke about my unhealthy enjoyment of fire, but that was okay because she liked Paul Walker movies.
Al – When Amber moved out and Racie got married and therefore moved out, Miranda and I tried to live on our own for a while. But after one winter of paying the heating bill, we wanted another roommate. Thus entered Al, who is M’s younger brother. Since Al worked about two miles from our house and often stayed at our place after episodes of Lost, it just made sense for him to move in. Al was… Think basically a stereotypical 22-year-old boy but one who likes to read a lot too. Belching. Toenail clipping. Leaving the seat up. BUT, he also cooked, cleaned up after himself, and fixed things. He was entertaining, funny and witty, and as my friends often pointed out was not bad to look at (though this is creepy when you think of someone as “Other Brother”). Al introduced us to the joys of Rob & Big and numerous other boyish things that we tomboys greatly appreciated. After he moved out to live with friends, I pouted for about a week because I no longer had anyone to watch bloody movies with.
Memorable Points –
- Once, we had to push Rachel’s car out of the muddy driveway only to discover as she screeched down the street that she’d had her parking brake on the entire time.
- One night, hopped up on watermelon, Miranda and I were playing in the backyard in the dark when I looked over and saw a black, small animal scampering across the alley to our house.
When it paused in the yard, I called, “Here, kitty, kitty.”
It turned its head, revealing a white stripe down its back.
I yelled, “Oh, that’s not a kitty!” and we ran quickly into the house at is started coming our way.
- We created our own version of the game “Apples to Apples” that turned out to be “Inside-Joke/Dirty Apples to Apples.”
- Our house became the gathering site of our college pals. We had several “parties” where we sat around drinking and playing board games – oh, the wild parties of English majors. (I could have done without pickle juice being spit on our floor, but oh well.) At one party, there was a bit of confusion as Buddy was leaving and I asked if he wanted a Blow Pop. The question alone wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t made a hand motion in front of my mouth to “clarify” what I meant. Any reference to Blow Pops became a running joke.
- When Rachel needed help moving, we loaded up a few vehicles for the drive to Ann Arbor. While trying to squeeze Rachel’s mattress into the back of Amber’s Blazer, we had to fold it, and the best instructions for how to do this were “Taco it!” It made sense, but the box springs simply would not fit in the Blazer. This meant we had to tie it down to the top of the vehicle, and Rachel somehow managed to completely tangle herself in the rope. As the rest of us fell over laughing, Rachel danced around in the rope, only making it worse.
Amber, trying to get Rachel out of the tangled rope, asked, “How do you exist without killing yourself?”
- Dan, Racie’s fiancé, would often stay with us for a week at a time. Really, I only remember him during this time as that guy who stayed on our couch. And he had good music taste (which really always means someone has your music taste, doesn’t it?) But whenever he stayed with us, for some reason M and I would pretty much stay upstairs in our room the entire time. Maybe we were just trying to give Dan and Racie time to themselves, but we certainly could have made more of an effort. Especially since, it turns out, Dan is one of my favorite spouses to enter the group. Why? Because pictures like this happen:
- Al more than once came into my room after shaving his head and would spin around with his head down, asking, “Is it even?”
- For a Super Bowl Party, Al strategically arranged 3 TVs in the living/dining room so we could watch the game from every angle.
Lessons Learned – To paraphrase Arrested Development, a much beloved TV show in our house, “Sunny was getting life lessons all over the place.”
- Having had my own apartment in Detroit, I had to learn once again to deal with other people on a regular basis, even when I didn’t feel like it. It’s no secret that I am very into “me time” and it was good for me to have to spend time with other people, step outside myself, and stop being so self-involved. I tend to want everything to be my way, and this just doesn’t fly when three other people have plans too.
Late one night, while a group of guests cavorted downstairs, I lay on my bed moaning as Miranda read on her side of the room, and I finally realized my stupidity and muttered, “I’m crabby.”
Miranda laughed, “You think?”
- This is what I appreciate most about living with others: You learn how to get along even when you don’t want to, because these people know where you sleep. It’s a favorite saying of mine that you should never let an argument last longer than the milk in your fridge (even when that milk has fermented beyond all recognition as belonging to the dairy family…hypothetically). Patience with others is not a virtue I keep in my back pocket, but I had to learn how to breathe rather than…ferment. I think, by living together, we all learned to settle our differences in healthy ways.
Also, this experience helped me learn how to deal with people I didn’t live with too. Since my roommates and I had the same friend circle, some individuals I didn’t particularly care for were still around from time to time. Pretending such individuals don’t exist doesn’t exactly work. But the truth is, you aren’t going to like everyone, no matter how hard you try. Some personalities are just different and will not jive. Try as you might, you are simply not going to see eye to eye with some people. The dance here is finding how to coexist without letting the lack of affection turn into dislike that turns into something darker.
Then this hit me: Saying you don’t like someone is pointless, really. Where has not liking someone ever gotten you except somewhere bad? So, to stop this before it gets bad, how do you resolve the tension of not particularly liking someone? I am convinced that even Christians (or maybe especially Christians, in my experience) are not always going to like each other. What to do? Shake hands and part company? Or just be bland acquaintances with surface, casual relationships? Maybe. (I can’t pretend to be the perfect adviser on the topic of interpersonal relationships.) BUT, we can’t let relationships get to the point of distaste, because, like I said, where does that get us? That chest-tightening dislike thing doesn’t work with that whole Christian love thing. And it leads to ulcers. “Fester, fester, fester. Rot, rot, rot” may be my favorite Meg Ryan movie quote of all time. No good comes of bottling anger. But we shouldn’t blow it out, either. It becomes easy to release tension by venting with others about the person you don’t like. THIS IS NOT LOVE! Even if the person you don’t like never hears about it, constantly bitching amongst ourselves is not going to help resolve tension. It makes it worse. It will still eat at you. This resolves nothing.
So where do you go? I guess the only thing you can do when there is no connection between people is to just let it go. Ignore the dislike. Forgive it. Start over, or at least with a clean slate in your own mind. Try. At least be neutral in your opinion of this person. Then, you might be surprised to find that there is something there after all, underneath the ignored and forgotten dislike. You might never be best buds, but at least there will be some level of love there if you try.
- Living with people, you get better at seeing what others need. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also brings understanding. You become more sympathetic. When one of my roommates might be hurting or struggling, I knew them well enough to know the kind of advice or encouragement they needed.
It took me a bit of time to figure out how to help in some situations. I tend to have a laugh-it-off approach to pretty much everything – the Somerville motto is “If we’re going to laugh about it later, we might as well laugh about it now.” But this doesn’t work when people of other temperaments are crying or angry or hurting. So, of course, to really help someone you have to know them. Doing what would help you does not always help others. So you have to find what works for them. Living right with someone, you’d better know them well enough to help, or else what are you doing?
- “I would date the cookie monster; we have similar interests.” – Rachel
- “I want a sailboat when I grow up. Not that I know how to sail, but that’s what the servants are for.” – Rachel
- “23 and single is not the time to have stuffed animals on the bed.” – Racie
- “True or False. Rolz Gold Pretzels give other pretzels penis envy.” – Racie
- “Taste like something!” – Miranda, yelling at her taco
- “Hide it under a bushel. No. Let it shine. That is my advice to you.” – Miranda
- “If you sing arguments from now on, I will let you win them.” – Miranda
- “No, you’re more pathetic because you’re self-aware!” – Miranda to Me
- “You know, you pretend to be the normal one in the house, and then things like this happen.” – Me to Miranda
- “I don’t want to marry a mongoose!” – Me
- “Men are gross. This movie is making me want one less and less.” – Me, of Rocky
Personal Quirks I Stole –
- Thinking before speaking – Miranda
- Not thinking before speaking – Rachel
- Tapping my nose while thinking – Racie
- Saying “-ity-doo” after every verb – Al
- Because of Miranda I don’t immediately disregard folk music
- Because of Rachel I read Steven King
- Because of Racie I know how figure skating is scored
- Because of Amber I appreciate that Paul Walker cannot act his way out of a paper bag
- Because of Al, I developed an appreciation for Rob Dyrdek
I suppose I should have some sort of closing point to all this, but really I just have to say that this whole time period at The Knapp House was a blessing. It gave me time to chill out and enjoy where I was. Who can ask for more than a roof over one’s head, friends to laugh with and learn from, and enough ice cream in the freezer to feed a small army?