“I almost woke you up in the middle of the night and asked you to take me to the emergency room. I thought I was dying,” she said with a wicked smile. “I swallowed more than 60 pills.”
Jerking her head as she talked, my roommate attempted to hide the gouges on her nose and cheeks. She had been picking apart her 24-year-old face for weeks.
I listened to her ramble on about how much money she’d spent on Adderall and cocaine. It was thousands. She seemed to take pleasure in her confession, lifting her sweater proudly, “Look how skinny I am.”
Finally able to speak, I urged, “You need help.”
“No, I’m good now. I was just in a funk.”
I had met Laura* through a friend of a friend and took a chance. It was my first Manhattan apartment. The move driven by my desire to escape the hurt of a failed relationship coupled with a draining daily commute from Long Island. At 29, I had lived with more than a dozen different roommates — how bad could she be?
We bonded over an intense housing hunt and hit the jackpot with a 1,500 square foot, three-bedroom in the heart of the East Village. We never got in each other’s way because I was getting ready for work when she was going to bed. As long as her rent was paid, I turned a blind eye.
My easygoing nature began to crumble when I returned home from a weekend away to find an apartment that I thought had been burglarized. I dropped my suitcase in a kitchen covered with empty pizza boxes. The sink was sky-high with dishes and overflowing ashtrays. In my room it looked like she had suddenly fainted, landing on my bed. I lowered the volume on my blaring TV. It was 4 p.m. I shook her awake.
In the living room, she had overturned a snack tray and balanced her paintings on it. The glass on the coffee table was so glazed with grease it was no longer transparent. All the hangers in her closet were empty, their contents contributing to a mound of dirty, perspiration-soaked laundry that carpeted the floor.
“This place is disgusting!”
“At least I’m not 30 and unmarried. You better go freeze your eggs now!”
She had been popping Adderall like Tic-Tacs. She had also been selling them. I woke one night to hear her haggling in the kitchen with a stranger over the price of a bottle. The prescriptions were easy for her to get; she would see as many as three different doctors a week.
The morning after her confession when she hadn’t awoken by 3 p.m., I pushed open her bedroom door. She grumbled something and pulled the covers over her head. At least she was breathing.
My mother, a recovering alcoholic, was adamant when we spoke: “You have to call her parents.”
“I’m scared. If I call them, she will freak out on me!”
“Are you worried about you — or her life? Do something!” she pleaded.
On the fourth, heart-pounding ring, Laura’s mother picked up.
“Listen, this is hard for me, but I had to reach out to you … ”
She cut me off instantly with, “We’re on our way.”
When I met her parents downstairs, her mother paused painfully, “Do you think she’s been turning tricks?”
“God, no!” I responded. I knew she had pulled some scams, but prostitution was beneath her.
“Then, where do you think she’s been getting money from? She hasn’t closed a real estate deal in months.”
“We’re going to try and get her in a program.”
“You’re a really good friend,” her father said as he crept up the stairs. I gave him a weak smile.
As they entered her cave, I unloaded the dishwasher. Shrieks followed. “I don’t want to go to Connecticut! I have stuff to do. I have a boyfriend!”
Her father came into the kitchen. “I’m going to get a pizza. She’s very skinny. Want anything? Pepperoni?”
“I’m not hungry,” I said, eying him incredulously.
I walked into my room, but not before catching her eye in the hallway. “You called my parents? Are you kidding me?!” she attacked.
“I was worried about you. What did you want me to do?”
She pounded the walls with her fists. “Get away from me! I hate you! I will kill you both!” She ran into the bathroom. I pushed the door open and she pushed it back, shattering the glass. Her mother started sobbing, hitting her head against the wall.
Our new third roommate peeked her head out of her room. “Call the cops, now,” I mouthed silently, eying the sharp shards.
I heard a siren’s wail and soon three EMTs and two cops were on my stairwell. Because an accusation had been made that she was on drugs, they had to take her to the hospital for an evaluation. “You can go out like a lady, or you can go out in cuffs,” the head EMT told her.
She laughed maniacally and said, “Arrest that one, arrest that crazy girl!” pointing to me.
Her father returned with a piping hot pie. He looked at me with sad eyes. “We’re good people, we don’t deserve this. You know, she’s bankrupting us. My son … he’s at MIT.”
As she walked out with the crew of uniforms, her father asked if she could take a slice of pizza. I ran after the officers. “Wait, where are you going?”
“You can go to the station tomorrow and file a complaint. For a restraining order, you have to go to court.”
“They took her to the hospital. She’ll be there until at least the morning. And don’t change the locks — that’s against the law,” one of them told me.
I called an emergency locksmith as visions of being bludgeoned to death danced in my head.
Two hours later, I was finally starting to breathe again when I heard a key unsuccessfully turning in the deadbolt—the new one. I looked in the peephole, and there she was. It was like a scene out of “Single White Female.”
“Let me in! I’m going to break down this f**king door!”
I threw her purse over the fire escape and told her to grab it before someone else did. She returned with her father, and he begged, “Please just let her in to get clothes. She’s not staying.”
I couldn’t leave her outside. New York City laws protect tenants. You must give a sub-letter 30 days written notice, and if your roommate is on the lease, like Laura was, you have no choice but to ride it out. She could have called the cops on me. Once I opened the door, she wouldn’t leave. My parents came and made me pack a few bags. I shoved a carton of eggs in the freezer with the words “DO NOT FERTILIZE” scrawled across the lid before I left.
When I showed the landlord the police report I filed, she let us break the lease. I found a studio apartment and stayed in the neighborhood, paying $700 more a month to live by myself. For a while, I used to look over my shoulder when walking home at night, scanning the crowd for her face.
The last I heard she had been arrested for selling Adderall to an undercover cop. I do not know if she has since gotten help, but at least I know it’s not on my conscience anymore. Understanding addiction is something I continue to struggle with, even with my mother who has been sober for five years. The weirdest part is sometimes I miss Laura.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.