The Roommate Who Never Moved Out

I won’t repeat her name here because she was never the point. I thought I’d found a connection with someone special, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that I was serious and to blow me off like one of the jerks that she had so recently forsaken. It was a scene I’d come to know a bit too well for an early twenty-something, but all I’m trying to say is:

I was down on myself and lonely. For the first time in a while, I wasn’t angry or frustrated; just sad over something that had left just as swiftly as it had arrived.

For the first time since I was maybe seventeen, I texted my best friend and high school roommate a quick overview of the duplicitous scene that had just played out. I apologized for the woe-is-me crap, but admitted to the momentary need to vent in the presence of someone I trusted entirely.

Sure enough, he responded instantaneously with something nonsensical and irreverent; a reference to the kind of longstanding joke that persists through the years for reasons only those involved will ever be able to understand.

To the outside eye, his response was rude and insensitive to my situation. He had skimmed over his friend’s feelings, failed to recognize the broken heart in hand, and cut his companion at the knees with a joke.

Actually, that kind of profoundly disrespectful and humiliating banter was exactly what I needed in the moment. And Jake was probably the only person in the world who could give me it.

No one has ever known or will ever know me like the guy who lived with me, alongside me through the thick and thin of adolescence. He’d probably, hopefully tell you the same. It’s one of those relationships that transcends generic labels like “friendship” and “brotherhood” because those words, on their respective surfaces, can’t ever quite capture the bond that we forged in our fleeting, cherished years as boys — not men, but boys — at a boarding school in New England. Somehow, he has always known that at the core of my soul, for better or worse, whatever emotions I’m feeling at a given moment can turn with the flick of a switch.

Because he knows that, he’s always the first one to get me to laugh when it’s the last thing I want to do. He’s always the first one to get me to think about a situation in a radically different way. He’s always the first one to help me home when I’ve realized I’m lost. That’s Jake.

For all its history and prestige, our high school had its challenges. Among other, much more important things, those challenges included handling his unorthodox, disorganized brilliance and understanding my raw, robust emotional intelligence.

People looked at him and saw a smart kid who refused to apply himself, but I saw a kid who understood the world and the fallacies of its rules way too early in life. People looked at me and saw a sensitive kid who involved himself in too many things, but he saw a kid who suffered from an intense love of people and the destructive desire to do right by them all.

Some might say we were destined to battle our frustrations together. Jake would probably tell you it just happened that way. See, he’s an atheist.

It was in the dorm we shared where we aired our sophomoric grievances of the world conspiring against us and urged others to do the same; where this culture of coping with the pain of growth through humor manifested into something so powerful and lasting that I’m just now finding the words for it. It was there, in desk chairs, with pillows on our crotches so that our laptops wouldn’t burn our balls, where we shouted profanities, watched movie after movie, crank-called our housemates, dreamed of who we’d become, and cried over the people that left our lives earlier than we had ever anticipated. Ours was a fortress of unmade beds and dirty laundry; of crumpled papers and scratched DVDs; of brutal honesty and deep commitment to the camaraderie that just kind of happened.

After you live with someone, alongside someone like that; after you watch each other grow from these amorphous blobs of vulnerability into the upstanding people who graduate and go to college and create things and take on the world in the ways they choose, you never really stop seeing the amorphous blob of vulnerability. You never lose the secret code you adapted with them. You never lose the inherent desire to be around them because at some point, some way, your separate identities cling together in a bond that nobody — not even a random flame — can ever truly understand, no less break apart. Sure, you can split up and spend years on different coasts, in different times, and in different parts of the world. But no real time passes.

That’s why I’m so thankful that someone like Jake got stuck with someone like me. In those times when I get lonely and down on myself; not angry or frustrated, but plain sad, there’s a part of him that shows up, in one way or another, to remind me that devastation isn’t worth the time, that there are better days ahead if you choose to make them, and that it’s best to cope with something childish and stupid by laughing it off with something even more childish and stupid.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever find a friend quite like Jake ever again. And that’s fine by me.