With Stephanie gone from my life, I had expected a rush of freedom. Instead, I was now sharing an apartment with her daughter, which was turning out to present its own, slightly different type of claustrophobia.
Knowing someone was interested in when I was coming home made me wonder if I’d made a deal with that mythical horned creature who had loomed in the shadows of my childhood, blamed by my parents for holding too much sway in my heart. I had exchanged my privacy and freedom for a larger, more luxurious apartment and the promise of upscale furniture. I’d traded psychological comfort for physical comfort.
For the most part, I was still content, but I was constantly aware of Eileen’s presence. Before my race to escape from the curious eyes of Kent, to escape roaches and damp and stifling heat, I should have considered how different it would be from my previous shared living arrangements. Those relationships had been transactional, but now I was sharing space with someone who viewed me as a friend. We were sharing our lives, as she liked to say, sending chills down my spine, conjuring images of shackles around my ankles and cuffs around my wrists.
Within two weeks of moving in together, it became clear that we needed a more detailed discussion of boundaries. But when I suggested a meeting to hammer out the details of our agreement, she turned it into a party. She held up her laptop and showed me several open windows, telling me we could spend part of our roomie meeting viewing furniture and discussing our tastes and vision for the apartment. Then she told me she would make a lasagna and salad. She asked me, but it sounded like a directive, to pick up a fresh baguette and a nice bottle of red wine. I smiled and lied—no problem.
The dinner sounded delicious. The furniture selection would be fun, but I wondered how I was going to weave in my boundary conversation while we sipped wine and drooled over creamy leather sofas and sleek, well-constructed dining tables and chairs.
She’d assured me it was her intention and pleasure to cover the cost of the furniture. I’d told her I didn’t know how long I’d be staying in New York, which was true but also not quite true, because it implied I had definite plans to leave at some point, which I did not. Still, I was happy not to weigh myself down with a bunch of enormous objects. So we were in agreement. Except for the constant togetherness. And the expectations.
Eileen had assumed that when we were both home in the evenings, we would watch TV together, or eat ice cream and talk. Our weekends would include pre-planned visits to museums and galleries and spontaneous shopping trips. When she suggested we should go running together, I felt as if someone had thrown a plastic bag over my head, shutting off my oxygen supply.
An excerpt from The Woman In the Shadows, now available on Amazon.