Superpower: Smug Designated Driving

You ever see someone from the past, or the not-so-distant past, and just get a BLEAH feeling? Isn’t that funny how a long time later you can still get that?

A couple of weeks ago, when I was kind of hovering between getting over regular flu and lurching into “it hurts to walk” I stopped at the grocery with my sister. There I saw one of my ye olde Seattle roommates. I recognized her immediately–she looked exactly the same. Same terrible clothes, same stumpy self. Just older.

It’s a paradox, really. I find when I dislike someone, they become unattractive to me, no matter how conventionally attractive they are objectively. So of course if I see them again, they are still going to seem unattractive and leave me with a smug and shallow feeling. Of course if I like someone they are quite fetching, even if they have a Nazi penis antler protruding from their forehead. It’s science.

Where was I? Oh yes: BLEAH. I turned down the aisle and pulled a face.

“WHAT?” Morgan asked.

“Oh. Glenda’s here,” I said.

“Her? Christ! You always run into terrible people at this grocery store.”

“I know, and this is my grocery store, so this is really uncool.”

But I was not planning on running into Glenda at all. It would be easy to avoid the aisles she was doing her sinister shopping in.

Glenda was not supposed to be my roommate at all, but she was the best choice among a few bad options. I was being (justifiably) kicked out of my apartment in Illinois and had nowhere to go, really. I wasn’t even eighteen yet. Glenda expressed interest in having a roommate and I jumped to Seattle, turning my upcoming visit with her into a one-way trip.

There was already some bad blood under the bridge, to mangle some metaphors. Before she had moved to Seattle and when we all hung out together, she had slept with one of my boyfriends, basically just because she had felt like it. I never really talked to her about it, because I didn’t know how to handle things like that then. He told me he’d slept with her, and I knew it was his choice as well, and I guess I was just supposed to take it on the chin because it was just sex and now it was over, and hey, wasn’t it great that we were all being honest?

I spent a lot of time crying in secret and plotting revenge, because if there was one thing I was learning from my new older friends and the world of adult work was that you had to pretend you were cool with everything. I learned that the movies were lying liars, and you couldn’t really assume monogamy, and I was the super unreasonable one, not them.

The two of them knew each other before I showed up, and I realized later I was horning in on her unrequited situation. It set this weird dynamic of Glenda seeming to have crushes on guys I was into and dated, and her spending a lot of time subtly negging and slut-shaming me for dating people. I had gotten a weird vibe that Glenda was after him before they slept together, but I didn’t see her as a “threat” because she was straight-edge and acted weird and uptight. My high school boyfriend sleeping with her was just kind of doofusy collateral–he told himself it was just a one-night stand. It meant more to her.

Then Glenda and high school boyfriend drove away together to start a new life in Seattle, while I was left behind, sentenced to one more year of high school. As I watched her car and trailer disappear into the horizon with him in it I had a twinge of jealousy, and a bigger twinge of sadness over missing my toxic friend and ex-boyfriend. I had an image of her as Tantalus–she would have him all the time now, as a roommate, but I was certain that as soon as he entered the limits of a large city with public transit he would become the Hottentot of Twat and she would be just a friend. He moved out again for other reasons, but things were souring, as I heard from both of them separately via whispered conversations on the telephone.

So I had an idea of what living with her was like (terrible, and involved dozens of identical unshared and labeled bottles of sauce), but as I said, I was desperate once I had been kicked out. I was game to make the best of it. She had spent a year living in a big city–I had been disowned by my mother a few months prior–we both had been through some shit and I was sure we’d grown and changed. At least her former roommate and my ex-boyfriend was behind us. We could laugh about that now.

Once we found an apartment together, her number one move was to claim the only bedroom, and to assign me the living room. Reasoning: I was a whorey slutbag, and she didn’t want to be disturbed by the queue of suitors who would be waiting in the hall, clutching onto their paper numbers like in a deli, waiting for me to shout, “NEXT FUCK!” Looking back, I’m really not sure what the thought was there. I mean, she had enough game to sleep with my boyfriend, why was this the agreement? And why did I agree to split the rent evenly in exchange for no privacy?

The other big issue with us was food. Surprise, white girls in the United States having food issues. I’ll bet you’ve never heard this one. I was a french fry vegetarian at the time, which is to say I didn’t know about tofu or beans or vegetables that weren’t canned or frozen. I started branching out a little, and began buying mushrooms (which was a thing that was always canned, limp, and slightly odd-colored when I was a kid) and small onions. Being a lazy vegetarian suited my situation quite well, since it was probably one of the cheapest ways I could have eaten at the time, and I was broke, of course. I bought tiny frozen “meals,” three for a dollar for lunch, and marveled at my sexy protruding hipbones, which were actually saying, “Hey, nutrition moron, you are actually not eating enough calories or protein.” I attributed it to all the walking I was doing, which I’m sure helped.

Glenda generously took me to Safeway with her in her car once a week to shop, for which I was very grateful. She was a vegetarian as well, teetering on the edge of veganism–eschewing dairy and eggs. The fridge was full of “smart” “cheese” and other soy products. We both obtained copies of the weekly coupon circular beforehand and would dutifully tear out coupons we needed. I had discovered before she moved to Seattle that she split checks down to the penny at restaurants, which has never, ever been my way. What I think none of my friends know is that sometimes they will go to the loo and I will SNEAK ATTACK and pick up the bill, in part because of Glenda’s inability to say, “You can make up the difference next time” or “I am not going to make a fuss over thirteen cents.” It was NOT POSSIBLE for her to do this. However, it made me discover that I like treating people, as well as being treated, and I like saying things like, “Next time it will be my turn.”

This annoying penny-splitting propensity of hers carried to the grocery store somehow. We would leave the store and she would demand to see my receipt. What had I spent this week?

“Uh…$47.63?” I’d say.

“HA!” she’d shout. “I spent $46.18!”

I’d look at her, my face nonplussed, but secretly annoyed underneath. What kind of weird game was this? And was the ride to the grocery store worth it?

Then there was my cooking. I was an indolent kid, and sometimes I would scramble some eggs with cheese and then flee off into the sunset. I should have washed my pan, I know. Glenda gave me lots of grief about the torment of having to smell cooked eggs and real cheddar in the kitchen, and how disgusting it was, and therefore how disgusting I was by extension. She did not like meat, eggs, dairy, alcohol, chocolate, or drugs, and informed me of all of this on a regular basis. Then she would retreat to her vestal virgin fortress of smugitude, muttering something about chicken abortions before closing her door and blasting Pearl Jam.

I turned eighteen in that apartment, and Glenda, two years older than me, turned twenty. The summer after high school in Illinois I worked with a friend who turned twenty-one, and she kicked down a still-unexpired ID of a woman from Minnesota, who was a good match for me. We both had black hair and were similar sized, and our faces were close enough. I memorized every detail of it and practiced her signature. I even knew her star sign. Naturally I brought this with me to Seattle, of course, and used it to get into shows. Occasionally I used it to buy a terrible jug of Carlos Rossi or Gato Negro, but that was a rare thing.

One of Glenda’s favorite bands was touring when she was about two months shy of twenty-one. In spite of the fact that she had frizzy blonde hair to my dyed black, and outclassed me by at least 50 pounds, I let her borrow it. It never came back again.

“They confiscated it.” No offer to try to find me another one, and no offer to make it up in some other way. She was mostly mad she couldn’t get in and bootleg the show. Seattle didn’t have much of an all-ages scene then, and suddenly I found myself at home most nights, reading.

I had introduced her to another high school ex-boyfriend of mine while we were still all together in Illinois, and interestingly he had moved away at about the same time she had, but to Phoenix instead of Seattle. I couldn’t really blame all of my young adult friends for fleeing, but it still sucked. Ecstatic to get away from Illinois on my school breaks, I visited him during my senior year a couple of times and he talked about us getting back together after I graduated, but I wasn’t totally keen on this idea. I had heard him drop some racist slurs when he lost his temper on one visit, and I knew we weren’t a great match in other ways. I wanted a fresh start after high school and was hoping to meet some new douchebags in my shiny new future before I ended up in jail or whatever was coming.

After I moved to Seattle to live with Glenda he almost immediately came to visit, hoping to rekindle things. Glenda orchestrated the visit–it really wasn’t really discussed with me. It was made clear to me that she had decided that her friend was visiting her. I expressed my displeasure at having to share close quarters with him. She worked during the day and I was so newly arrived that I was still job hunting. When I was not turning in applications, he spent his visit following me around on the bus and trying to be extra perfect nice guy. I was so, so not feeling it. I wanted to be alone, to explore Seattle by myself. He told me he was considering moving to Seattle. Meanwhile I got the same creepy feeling that she had a huge crush on him, much like with my other boyfriend. They can have each other, I thought.

But he wasn’t interested in Glenda. He spent one of the last nights of his visit talking at me for hours about how we should get back together and how great it would be and how we could get an apartment and make horror films and get tattoos together and by the way could he see my labia piercing? He had heard about it.

NO. NO. Also, no. He went back to Phoenix for a couple of months and got hit by a car when he was bicycling to work, which made me sad, but he was okay. I think that was kind of a last straw for him, because as soon as he recovered he moved here.

“So I was thinking he could live with us for a while until he can find his own place,” Glenda said. “He can stay in my room.” She always had a bunk bed–why? WHY?

“NO NO NO NO NO,” I protested. “He CANNOT live here! We’re not getting along! He’s being creepy right now! He has a HEAD INJURY!” This last part was technically true, from the car accident, but he was acting weird before that. He had pushed me over the edge with his last visit and the four-hour attempt to “wear me down” into getting back together with him.

“Well, I’ve decided. He’s coming to live with us.”

UGH. I knew I had to move out, pronto. I looked around for a second job so I could save some money.

Living with him did not go well. Sometimes we would sit on my bed and read comics together. Other times there was so much tension we would literally fistfight (I won). I was so stressed out I was getting weird and would do things like drunkenly roll around on hallway floor, singing PJ Harvey at the top of my lungs, no doubt picking up loose kitty litter while my fake eyelashes fell off. (I was going through kind of a a Dorothy Vallens from Blue Velvet thing then.) (Token goth.)

A good thing that happened was that Glenda began to keep her door closed at night, after my ex began sleeping in her room on the top bunk. This meant she could no longer wait until I’d gone to bed to call Nietzsche into her room and keep her there with treats so Nietzsche would sleep with her. That’s NACHO CAT, lady. I would lay in bed and steam as I would hear her call, “Here kitty, kitty” so softly. I was such a doormat then.

In the midst of all of this tension, the three of us were all still attempting to be friends. We still hung out and went bowling and talked, and did other pre-dotcom hip urban grungy Seattle youth things with other local Seattle youths. My relationship with SeaFed was coming along, though no one knew he was haranguing me about marriage, so I saw that there was an end in sight of living with Glenda, at least.

One day she called me from work about something and we chatted for a few minutes.

“Did you still want to borrow that Henry Rollins book?” she asked. “I’ve finished it.”

She told me it was just under her bunk bed and I could go into her room and grab it. I was rarely in her room at that point and I felt kind of weird coming in. My ex was going out more, and had found a job, and was preparing to move into his own place, finally. I knew he had spent the last night out at show and that she and I were alone in the apartment. I didn’t immediately see the book. I walked to her bed, got down on my knees and took a look.

I saw it there–the corner of it, and reached for it. The book was surrounded by some kind of trash, I noticed, which surprised me. Glenda was a packrat but I didn’t think of her as a person who would keep garbage in her room. Then I figured out what it was. Fast food wrappers, dozens of them. Wrappers for burgers made with real beef, egg sandwich wrappers, all with congealed American cheese stuck on them. Next to that, giant bags of bulk Valentine’s chocolates and empty foil wrappers everywhere. I pictured my quasi-vegan roommate, alone in her room, chowing down on burgers and chocolate, two things she claimed to despise. I thought of the months of grief I’d gotten for scrambling eggs and shamed for being indulgent enough to buy half of a pudding cake on sale at Safeway. I suddenly felt very, very tired.

My perspective changed then and became less combative, more compassionate. I didn’t really understand what was going on with her, but it was obvious there was a lot of conflict there. I don’t believe for one second that Glenda wanted to be me, but maybe she wanted to be a little freer. I have often thought over the years about how she surrounded herself with people who used drugs, often hard ones, who drank, who smoked, who enjoyed chocolate and sex. I know what when we’re young we often find ourselves with people who are bad matches (case in point), but I still wonder about her weird guilt/vicarious living thing.

I hope she’s happy now, and can do what she wants without guilt. Maybe she grew up into not-an-asshole, but I wasn’t going to find out. I kind of lingered around the grocery store, letting her go through the line first, and then we spied on her like creeps from inside as she loaded her groceries into her car.

“She looks so old,” my sister observed.

“I know, it’s weird, isn’t it? She’s only a couple of years older than me.”

“Really? Wow.”

“Well, it’s our evil genes on Mom’s side that causes more of a contrast,” I said, patting my unlined, petal-like cheek.


“She was a bad friend to me,” I said, watching her drive off. But it was complicated.

12 thoughts on “Superpower: Smug Designated Driving

  1. So well written SJ. I enjoyed every line. Hopefully we all improve with age or at least stop hiding things we enjoy under the bed!

  2. That is a great and sad story. It made me remember those 90s years in Seattle–I think I moved there a few years before you did.

    Do you think some part of her wanted you to find those wrappers and things? She must’ve known they were there and that you’d see them when you went to get the book.

  3. Why is it I only delurk to tell you how amazing you are? I feel like a creeper. … I can see all this in my head; you are so able to reach the heart of something with your writing. OK … … going back to lurking, now …

  4. Els: I wonder about that. I really think it was just a slip up. But who knows what secrets lurk in the hearts of our subconscious.

  5. Also, thanks for the nice words. I’ve felt like I haven’t been writing super cohesively with the drugs/pain so thanks for the nice feedback.

  6. Wow. I find it cathartic to look back and see the progression I have made, but it also comes with the backlash of UGH WHY and you put that feeling perfectly into words.

  7. I’m sad we didn’t grow up together. I’ve had my share of “friends” who were shitty, so reading your history with this girl makes me want to punch her in the throat. On the other hand, binge eating is a legit disorder (that can manifest in different ways) and I hope she grew up and was able to break free from those shackles. Maybe that was part of why she was so awful to you – it’s hard to watch someone else be happy and not struggle with the same issues.

    I hope you’re feeling better.

  8. Loved this. LOVED IT. You have a book full of these, man. SJ’S MEMOIRS, I will read them!

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