The Worst Roommate

by Amalee Burden, age 16
The Worst Roommate Amalee Burden is a teenaged artist, writer and (occasionally) performer hailing from the greater New York City area. Her goal in life is to use art to depict disgusting people with emotional complexity.

“I had the worst roommate on the planet. You may think I’m exaggerating, but someone has to be the worst, and I genuinely believe it was this guy. The university I’m at has an absurd policy regarding changing your roommate, and if yours isn’t actively plotting to murder you, you’re out of luck.”

 

**CONTENT ADVISORY: The following story contains sensitive content regarding suicide that some readers may find disturbing and/or may not be suitable for younger readers.**

I had the worst roommate on the planet. You may think I’m exaggerating, but someone has to be the worst, and I genuinely believe it was this guy. The university I’m at has an absurd policy regarding changing your roommate, and if yours isn’t actively plotting to murder you, you’re out of luck.

Anyways, on the first day at school, I walked into the dorm and I found him sitting in the fetal position on one of the kitchen stools. He had an unfortunate combination of greasy long hair and a messy beard that did not compliment anything about him. He was wearing a long sleeve, flannel shirt with some ominous stains and nothing else besides some boxers. I paused for a moment but decided that I was nobody to judge and nodded to him. He gave no signs of having noticed my presence, his eyes fixed on the entirely unremarkable wall opposite of him. I went and unpacked my stuff in the room he hadn’t taken and returned to the common area to find him sitting in the exact same position, looking like he hadn’t moved a muscle. I cleared my throat. No response. I cautiously offered a simple verbal greeting. Nothing. At this point, decently creeped out, I slowly made my way over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. His head violently spun around, and he focused his beady eyes on mine. I had no idea how to react, and apparently neither did he, because we sat there staring at each other for a moment. Finally, he broke the silence with a line that I’m now sure he has tried dozens of times.

“Let me tell you about the Jews and their lies,” he said sharply.

What followed was a very uncomfortable and very one-sided conversation about lizard people, the moonmen, the world government, Hillary Clinton and of course, the Jews. I was finally able to make my escape by claiming a need to use the restroom.

“Make sure not to drink the water from the sink!” he shouted after me.

Although it had originally upset me, I was suddenly very glad that my pet lizard was safe at home, being taken care of my Jewish, liberal family, far, far away from this madman. I spent a few moments mentally preparing myself for the year I would have to spend with this man. I stepped back outside into the common room, calming myself with the knowledge that this was probably the worst it would get. Boy, was I wrong. When I had exited the bathroom, my roommate was once again intently staring at the exact same point on the wall as before.

“What are you looking at anyway?” I asked, curiosity having finally got the better of me

“Ghosts,” he muttered.

I decided to end the conversation right there and walked into my room and pulled out my laptop, hoping to find some distraction from what had just transpired. I mainly played video games on a console back home, but I had finally caved into the pressure from my friends and bought a gaming laptop and a few games I hadn’t gotten around to yet. I fished around for the paper with the wi-fi information and password I had been given, and once I connected I started downloading a few games that my friends had recommended. I opened up my web browser and mindlessly browsed the internet while I waited for the games to finish downloading. An hour or so later I alt-tab-ed over to see how the download progress was going and was shocked to see that it had barely downloaded anything. The download speed was abysmal, significantly lower than what was promised by the university. I was annoyed at myself for actually believing the promise of high speed internet when something occurred to me.

I walked out into the common area and was briefly surprised to see the stool that my roommate had been occupying was now empty, but I figured he must be in his room. I walked up to the closed door and knocked on it.

“Who is it?” shouted his muffled voice.

“It’s just me,” I responded.

Labored footsteps could be heard approaching the door, followed by the sound of many locks being undone. When the door was finally open, he had a toothy grin.

“Well, you should have just said so!” he stated excitedly as he welcomed me in. “But for future reference, could you knock three times? That way I know it’s not the police,” he requested as he closed the door behind him and locked it’s many locks.

My feeling of discomfort only strengthened as I entered the room. In only a short few hours, he had managed to make the dorm room that had been meticulously cleaned only days ago look like it had not seen any love in a very long time. The window was covered by a black painted piece of plywood and the lights were off, so the only source of light was coming from a nice-looking computer monitor sitting on the floor in the corner of the room. It was attached to an impressive looking PC with a fan that sounded like a jet engine, and a blanket and some pillows were sitting around the setup with the keyboard and mouse, all strategically placed on the floor in what was most likely the only possible comfortable position. There were a few cardboard boxes lying around, all unlabeled. The only decoration was a bright and happy poster for some K-pop act, which only managed to make the room altogether even sadder.

“You wouldn’t happen to be doing anything bandwidth-intensive, would you?” I inquired, after having taken it all in.

“Oh, yeah yeah yeah! I have a special program that encrypts everything I do online so that it can’t be monitored by an ISP or the government and right now I’m downloading some stuff so it kinda eats through the bandwidth, sorry about that. I set it up for you if you’d like though!” he said, emphatically motioning over to the monitor, where an unfamiliar user interface sat, doing … something. As I looked closer I realized that he was torrenting some file with a name that appeared to be Japanese written in the English alphabet. An idea hit me.

“Hey, I gotta go out to do something, but I just realized that I don’t even know your name,” I said cautiously.

“Oh, you can call me Wiley,” he responded.

“Thanks. I’m Logan,” I said as I started towards the door. I reached for the handle when I realized that I had no idea how to undo the hastily installed extra locks.

“Sorry, I’ll get that for you,” Wiley said.

When I was in the common area, I took out my phone and Googled the name of the Japanese file he was downloading. It was anime porn.

***

“What!?” I spat.

“Can you prove that you have been threatened or are in danger?” repeated the annoyed-looking lady in the campus dormitory offices.

“Well, no, I just got here. He just creeps me out, okay?” I responded.

“If you can’t prove anything, we can’t do anything, got that?” she said, rolling her eyes.

“He said that the Jews are controlling everything! I’m Jewish!” I said, bewildered.

“Well, that’s just his opinion, okay? Now, if you’re done complaining, I have work to do,” she said, turning her body away from me and making it very clear that the conversation was over.

Feeling defeated and offended, I returned to the dorm room to find Wiley in the common area setting up a TV that had probably been impressive a few years ago. It was connected to a very long cable that snaked over to and under his door.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s you! I was thinking that maybe we could play some video games!” he said excitedly, motioning over to the couch where a wireless controller was sitting there waiting for me. I was going to just head back to my room without saying a word, but when I thought about how much time he had put into setting up the TV, I decided to indulge him for a bit and sat down on the couch. He started up Portal 2, one of the games I had attempted to download earlier and had always wanted to play. He selected the co-op mode and we started playing the game. It was fun. A lot of fun, actually. At first neither of us said much, but as the puzzles ramped up in difficulty, we were forced to communicate and actually ended up with some decent banter and jokes and ate some pizza. Although many of the jokes were somewhat offensive (most notably when he referred to the game’s villain as “what happens when you have more chromosomes than IQ points”), he mostly seemed to be in good fun. Thankfully, he never brought up any of his conspiracy theories, although he did examine the pizza for an unnecessarily long time before allowing either of us to bite into it. When I finally got to bed, my face had taken on a smile.

***

“So there’s this girl in one of my classes, and I think I might be interested in her,” I said during a lull in the gameplay. It had been several months now, and us playing games and talking about unrelated things had become a fairly regular occurrence.

“What’s her name?” Wiley asked in the same monotone voice he always spoke in.

“I haven’t talked to her yet, but I believe her name is Rochelle,” I responded.

“What’s she like?” he asked.

“Well, as I said, we haven’t talked yet, but she has this adorable smile and laugh, and she seems super nice and likes a lot of the same music as me,” I said, barely concealing my excitement.

“I see,” Wiley responded in the same cadence as before.

***

“Listen, he’s just creepy, okay?” my girlfriend Rochelle said.

“Look, he’s not that bad once you get to know him, and besides he doesn’t have the long-term planning skills to murder someone anyways,” I said.

“That man is a school shooting waiting to happen, and you know it,” she retorted.

“That sounds like something that he would say,” I teased.

“Shut up!” Rochelle said, with an embarrassed smile on her face. She continued, “Going back to the topic at hand, do you want to come over tonight or not?”

“Yeah sure, but I already told you that I’m going back at 10. Wiley and I have plans to finally finish up Castle Crashers,” I responded.

That night I had found myself cuddling with Rochelle when I suddenly became aware of the time. It was 10:45.

“Oh fuck,” I muttered, mostly to myself. “I gotta shoot Wiley a message to let him know that I’m busy.” I hammered out a basic text message saying that I was with Rochelle and that I was busy. I then put my phone back down and slowly drifted off to sleep.

I woke up and reached for my phone to check the time. It was dead. I had forgotten to plug it back in after I sent the message to Wiley. Shit. I checked the physical clock on the wall and saw that I was late for my engineering classes. Shit. With no time to charge my phone, I quickly threw on last night’s clothes and ran to my class.

Wiley wasn’t in class that day. Not that him skipping class was an unusual occurrence – in fact he he did it more often than not, but I was eager to see him in person to apologize. When class ended, I dashed back to our dorm room to find him. I found a small, handwritten note on the common room table.

“I’m sorry that I wasn’t good enough for you. It was nice to know what it felt like to have a friend. Goodbye Logan.” the note read.

Terrified, I looked around for him. His door was closed. I reached for the handle. It was unlocked. As long as I had known him, Wiley had never had his door unlocked, whether he was there or not. With a massive sense of dread, I slowly turned the knob, pushed, and stepped into the dark room.

A great roommate leaves you with a friend for life. A good roommate leaves you with a friend for college. An average roommate leaves you with nothing. A bad roommate leaves you with a pain in your ass. The worst roommate leaves you feeling guilty for the rest of your life.

After his suicide, I was invited to Wiley’s funeral by his parents where I learned a lot about him. Wiley wasn’t his real name. His family was Jewish. He had a very similar upbringing to me. He suffered some kind of head trauma when he was seven, seemed to have developed schizophrenia and began to suffer from intense paranoia and anxiety. After that point, he rarely ever left his house and didn’t have any friends. I was the only person outside of family at the funeral.

Personality seems so constant, so baked in, but is it really? I wonder if the only true difference between the two of us was that he hit his head as a kid and I didn’t. Was the only deciding factor between a decently happy college kid and a paranoid suicide victim random chance? I’ve come to the realization and accepted that any moment anyone could die, but I’ve always looked at it from the point of view of the person dying, not the others. What does it feel like to watch your child reject everything about himself and isolate himself from everyone?

Wiley was certainly crazy, had an abrasive personality and was sometimes an asshole, but I cared about him. He was probably the worst roommate on the goddamn planet, but he was my friend.

 

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