Back when my bathroom had a ceiling, it dripped. The drip was intermittent, innocuous at first. But its persistency persuaded me to place a pot under its pitter-patter and call my landlord.
The maintenance man dispatched to solve the issue inspected the bathroom ceiling from one angle, then another. With a grave look on his face, he poked at the drywall, ran his fingers along the water’s path, knocked on the hollow surface twice. It should be fine, he eventually concluded. My upstairs neighbor was probably showering with the curtain pulled open, and water was seeping through the floor. He would just tell my immodest neighbor to use the curtain, and the drip should stop.
Two days later, the ceiling collapsed.
I moved off campus because I wanted my own space. I chose my one-bedroom apartment after a tour of available properties and signed my lease a few weeks later. The move allowed me to bypass the drama of housing draw and choose my own living space without being subject to chance and awkward suite configurations. It also allowed me to furnish the place as I saw fit: When summer ended, I went to Ikea and bought a queen-sized, five-zoned, memory-foam mattress.
But months would pass before I fully grasped the implications of having my own space. When I lived on campus, life related to time in strange ways. No problem was ever permanent. If I didn’t clean up the remains of last night’s Wenzel, someone else would. If I didn’t call maintenance when the radiator refused to turn on in December, someone else would. If I didn’t replace the toilet paper in the bathroom when the roll ran out, someone else would. With some time, problems simply disappeared. And if things ever went south in a big way — if furniture broke, if fruit flies infested the common room, if a jungle juice spill permanently tinged the floor bright red — then, well, there was always next year.
Off-campus life, on the other hand, feels more permanent. Inertia trumps time, so a stationary garbage bag will remain at rest until I take out the trash. Today’s problems will be here tomorrow, and the day after, too, unless I address them.
“A piece of my ceiling just fell in,” I told my landlord over the phone. He asked how much ceiling I was talking about. “About a foot’s worth,” I replied, though any amount of collapsed ceiling seemed sufficient to me.
“Oh,” he uttered finally and told me that he’d have someone over soon.
If I hadn’t called my landlord, the hole above my toilet would remain agape for the foreseeable future. That same permanence applies to other aspects of off-campus life. I’ve learned, for example, that dishes don’t wash themselves, the floor doesn’t sweep itself and my Comcast bill doesn’t pay itself. Importantly, my fridge also refuses to stock its own shelves. Without time to trek to Stop & Shop during last semester’s finals, I watched my nutritional pyramid implode as my diet went from balanced to nothing but Claire’s cake.
Owning a space also demands acceptance for its idiosyncrasies — neighbors, noises, quirks that went unnamed and unnoticed during property tours. Every few weeks, for example, I wake up to find a large, strange man inside my bedroom, who (after I utter all the cuss words in my vocabulary) reminds me that he’s there for routine pest control — which, in turn, reminds me that my apartment requires routine pest control.
Yet when my landlord asked if I’d renew my lease for next year, I agreed without a second thought. Off-campus living is not without its complications, but neither is it without its benefits. Though I’ll starve if I don’t stock my fridge, I’ll never again be subject to the dining hall’s tofu concoctions. Though inertia prevents the trash from taking itself out, it also keeps the books strewn about my apartment opened to the same page. Though pest control men jolt me awake every few weeks, the experience makes for a good story. Despite the implications, I like having my own space.
That being said, I’m looking for a summer subletter. Let me know if you’re interested. Hopefully, the hole in the ceiling will be mended by then.