Creature discomfort: strutting, squabbling and defence of territory

I should have seen the signs when my flatmate showered with the bathroom door open – twice. The steamy pink flesh and torrent of water weren’t about what you think. They were a defence of territory. Him taking back the flat for himself. He’d decorated it for that purpose a long long time ago, with sub-letters coming, dropping their revenue and going.

My other flatmate decided she was leaving a month earlier. More bang for her buck elsewhere and contributing factors she said elliptically, in a manner that might procure symptoms of guilt in anyone ever disposed to them.  All those campaigns to occupy the living room with her posse from a previous flat-share, did little to make her feel more at home. And in less than a month after her announcement – the morning of the second open showering incident, I was to be evicted, leaving my flatmate/landlord to be king of his castle.

A head-scratching, hair-adjusting situation

‘I’m turning 36,’ he said, ‘my dad needs somewhere to stay in town; things are getting more serious with my home-owning girlfriend. I’ve enjoyed living with you, but it’s time to be living alone.’ My immediate reaction was acceptance. ‘Okay,’ I say, knowing that as a sub-letter without my name on the tenancy, there is no way I can put up a case for staying. I swim for a while in conflicting thoughts – on the one hand, the social dynamic in the flat, building works and even a few intrusions have meant it hasn’t felt like a home for a while; on the other hand, it’s the beautiful place where I’ve lived and even worked for a year and a half. The local area and community fit me like a glove. I wait for some feeling of grief and like a ‘due’ 214 on a bus-stop flashboard, it’s imminent but not here.

I think how leading up to this there were squabbles and resentments about heating, food, use of living room space. Always the kind of things that won’t matter in 5 years time, or even in a month, but enough to ruin your day or even your hour.  Everyday things: you might come home expecting to eat something and find it gobbled, an electric heater burning unaccompanied. But then the regular heating starts working again, making fights about electric heaters obsolete; you buy a new jar of peanut butter and hide it better this time. There are distractions – someone goes on holiday, someone starts seeing someone new, someone’s working late. There’s ease where the friction used to be – for a while – until the next inevitable conflict.

The paper sanctuary

I’ve always thought of myself as a stealth warrior. You can get so angry about these everyday things and then that resentment takes up the energy that could be used for bigger picture dreams. So my strategy was to make my bedroom into a sanctuary and focus on long-term goals, whilst tiptoeing round piles of dishes that weren’t mine, Hurricane Sandy mood-swings and the light that creeps through thin curtains. ‘That place isn’t right for you,’ a friend said. ‘It’ll do for now, until I finish XYZ,’ I replied, though I did buy some gorgeous dark green curtains. But then, when on the day of my eviction I fall over and scrape my knee, come straight into contact with the feelings I was protecting myself from, I realise that as humans, we’re not merely idealist entities, but creaturely too.

Just think how often people complain about how their colleagues, partners and housemates are using space, compared with how little they complain about their character. No one really cares if you’re a bad person in the abstract. We’re more like cats, judging people most for banging doors, having bitchy resting face, or taking our food.  Most importantly, if someone is staking a larger claim on your home than you, you might feel un-homed. Like you can’t quite land. And this inability to fully rest inevitably affects how you work and play.

Though it wasn’t my plan, I’ve been forced to put my creaturely needs at the centre, expect more from whatever home I find next.

A different view

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