[Editor’s note: Earlier this fall, Tyee Solutions Society put out a call for submissions asking residents to share stories of the renter life. The results exceeded expectations -- when people wrote about their home, they opened their hearts. The result is this occasional series of stories about life, from British Columbians who are living it as renters.]
I sat quiet and focused at my oversized, heavy old wooden desk. Music flowed lightly into my headphones. It was midterm season, and I was in the middle of it. Fueled by coffee and popcorn, I was plowing my way through scribbled notecards and highlighted textbook passages. I was even starting to feel confident. All was well.
All was well, that is, until the noise came. White laminate cupboard doors slammed with a cheap bang. Plates and cutlery fell, seemingly from a great height, to plates and counters below. Pots bubbled and the fridge door squished open and shut.
My roommate was making dinner. As always, I had a front row seat.
On a normal day I would take this as a cue to stop for a break and join my roommate (who was also my best friend) for a chat and a snack. But with midterms on the line, I had to push ahead.
I tried to drown out the noise with my music, but it wasn't enough. The banging in the kitchen was too jarring, too unpredictable. It was like the sound of a loved one snoring after a night that lasted one drink too long. The opposite of rhythmic. I hung on and pretended to study, but I had become a woman obsessed with waiting for the next inevitable interruption.
And then I lost it.
Ten minutes later my roommate and I stood in shock looking at our apartment's new hole in the wall and my comically swollen purple toe that went with it.
I, previously the portrait of the normal university student, had just kicked a hole in the wall. Me.
How did it ever come to this?
An oasis in a desert of low-ceiling hell holes
Six months earlier, the same apartment that now drove me mad had made me light up with relief. After two exhausting days hunting for a serviceable three-bedroom suite with my two future roommates, the clean, new, basement apartment looked like an oasis in a desert of condemnable, low-ceiling hell holes. Not that any of those hell holes were even still available.
It was a dream, but with one major catch.
"Where's the third bedroom?" I asked.
Standing in the kitchen, our soon-to-be landlord pointed enthusiastically at an old flowered bed sheet hastily hung in the room. It covered an opening between bookshelves filled with thousands of back issues of Chinese magazines. "Here!" She replied. "Third bedroom!"
Pushing back the sheet, she revealed a makeshift room with a bed, desk and TV. All it was missing was a door. And four walls. And a closet.
But I was poor, and it was available, so we took it. And so it came to be that I lived in the kitchen.
Take your fancy-pants doors and walls and shove it
It wasn't so bad to start. I even found it funny when a fiery mishap involving nachos left my room smelling like corn for days. Gradually, however, I noticed the sounds more and more. My ears perked up with every glass of water poured and every piece of popped toast. I became distracted. As the stress of school ramped up, my ability to shrug off the noise began to wane.
My charming, fun roommates and their day-to-day kitchen activities became enemy number one. I grew to resent them for their doors and walls.
One day, I came home to see that my landlord had added an extra tier to my bed. The bed, which originally had one box spring under it, now had two. It was like the leaning tower of box springs.
"Now you won't be so close to the floor!" My landlord said.
The new tier was old and grungy-looking with a suspicious red, rusty tinge along the seams. My roommates and I concluded the landlord probably just needed a place to store the thing. I didn't think too much more about it.
The next day, I awoke to mysterious, itchy welts on my arms and stomach. Showing my friend, she gave me a hopeful smile and suggested, "Spider bites. Definitely spider bites."
I now know this to be code for "Bedbugs. Lots and lots of bedbugs."
Into the fire
The bedbugs added fuel to an already growing pile of emotional tinder -- job applications, dating, midterms, and all of the other things that are devastatingly important in your early twenties. That fateful day, a slammed cupboard door lit the match.
Weeks later, the hole in the wall was patched up, as was my friendship. Best of all, I had found a new place and was moving out of the kitchen and away from the bugs. I was free.
Ten years later with the friendship still intact, I still can't believe that I kicked a hole in the wall.
Just to be safe, I try not to live in kitchens anymore.
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