If Myles had not been in the basement listening to the pseudo-sitcom ridiculousness going on upstairs, he might have seen what some of the roommates looked like in the flesh for the first time ever. He would have caught Sarah and Gertraud in a real unanticipated bonding moment, the kind of relationship-strengthening exercise that only comes along when people wind up living together, and isn't always wanted but always winds up happening through roomie proximity.
The thing about vulnerability and closeness is that if you're happily in love with someone and them happily in love with you, your partner gets a certain privilege of receiving all kinds of warm affections and the really great, romantic and caring parts of you. But above all else, and what makes it all the harder to keep with someone is the stuff only they get to see. All the besmirching, gross imperfections and peccadilloes of your character. If it is a good love, it cracks their ventral plate just as wide-open as yours and you see the same in them. Then that warm and gooey bilateral sense of trust and feeling known too well comes in and you start to feel comfortable farting around them, or crying into their chest, or resting the crutches of your arms on their shoulders when the day-to-day mundanities and extremes start to whittle you down to your un-pretty and whining core. If you have that sense of security and stability that comes with all the I Love Yous and sharing a blissful life with someone, you gradually feel less and less like you have to hide the fact that you like to actually prefer Miracle Whip to real mayonnaise and slather pieces of raisin bread with it at 3am when you're feeling peckish, or that you rub deodorant on your chest secretly during the swift motion from one armpit to the next, or that it takes you until about Christmas every year, when the festively wrapped milk chocolates swoop in as a suitable replacement, to get over the bite-sized Halloween candy bars, so you stockpile boxes of them in your closet and no one else knows.
But you don't make that choice when you're living with someone you maybe don't even want to live with. The difference between people you split the electric bill with and lovers is you don't want to share any of that with them, but it happens, time and time again, right there in the hallway or by the fridge red-handed when it's not quite morning or night. And the difference between roommates and friends is that you can always leave a friend's party out the back door, or politely and subtly kick them out by finding a very understandable and absolutely bullshit thing to say about work tomorrow or studying tonight that tricks them into thinking that they're leaving on their own accord when you're starting to feel like you need to have a heartfelt session with Dawson Leery, the kids of Capeside and a chocolate ice cream tub that's basically an oil drum.
It gets to a point after a while where people's territorial bubbles just start Venn-diagramming into one another's so much sometimes, that on rare occasions like this one here, Gertraud's (Need To) Shit is now, for the moment, Your (Need To) Shit. Pretty surprising because Gertraud's never so much as walked out of her bedroom without that chin-high sense of purpose and determination from Point A to B, and a cultivated sense of independence that comes from unsupervised liberal arts college studio hours, DIY ethos and a wish to be taken seriously by her peers, so to be helping her out feels strange and presumptuous, like helping a world-class runner tie their shoes.
And you get something like this: Sarah fireman-carrying Gertraud down the stairs shouting that she was going to get her to the nearest bathroom STAT and immediately running outside outside, sans shoes, clad in evening's streetlight and the biting cold, pajamas and all. Gertraud focusing on her breathing with her head bashing into Sarah's lower back and her hair getting caught in her belt, heaving and panting, sweating massive beads, trying not to break concentration and keep her sphincter contracted like her life depended on it. Then Sarah tossing Gertraud into the bottle guy's bottle-collecting shopping cart and pushing it like a bobsled up to the turn for Isleville and hightailing it towards the Hydrostone, almost decapitating the neighbourhood dog Spot, rattling Gertraud in her cart-cage to the point where Gert thinks she's about 20 rattles away from letting go of all hope, life and bodily functions, yielding her spirit to whatever saviour could handle the stench and meeting her maker with soiled flannels and a look of absolute relief.
The new chapter of Half-heard is published in The Coast—newspaper version—every Thursday. One week later it is published here online. So it's easy to catch up online, but best to stay ahead in print.