Head First

Elise Foley

Ray Whitehouse/The Daily Northwestern

There are times when you realize you’re about to hit a new low. It’s like the moment after you trip but before you hit the ground, or when you see you’re headed for the tree, or when you’re careening off a cliff. You see that something terrible is going to happen and you are unable to stop it.

This is how I felt the moment I realized I was going to have to share a king-size hotel bed with my brother and his girlfriend.

How did I get to this point? It’s hard to say, but I think that it all started with a long-standing disconnect with the need for shelter. After undergoing more than a year of temporary housing situations, I became pretty nonchalant about where I would rest my head. Since sophomore year, I’ve lived in Evanston, Aspen, Denver, Paris and Washington, D.C. – all in three-month increments. My things have been shuttled between four apartments, four houses, and one lovely facility called the Young Women’s Christian Home. I’ve slept in at least 31 beds – and, for one month last spring, spent all my nights on a couch.

Perhaps this isn’t so impressive. But the kicker in all of this is how many of these places I’ve stayed in for free. The key to being a good squatter, in my experience, is to know people with multiple houses and to appear pathetic enough to elicit compassion. This summer, I split most of my time between two rent-free houses, one of which I shared on weekdays with a full-time caretaker (dubbed “your butler” by my friends). Sure, I was living in a small, windowless room in the basement. But this was the kind of house so nice it prompted tourists to snap photos (really, I had to ask one to move aside so I could get through the front gate once). The other house, though a longer commute, was almost better. The owners – who my father met in a YMCA, promptly befriended and convinced to take me in – said they’d be thrilled to have me back after I begged them to let me stay there for my final week. “Drink the beer that’s in the fridge, too!” one of them urged. “We don’t want it!” Helplessness has never tasted so refreshing.

It’s also good to be flexible. When I moved back to Evanston for spring quarter, I subletted half of a bedroom from a friend and promptly moved my suitcase into her closet. For the next month, however, our bedroom remained almost exactly the same: One bed, one dresser, one desk, all hers. I wanted to buy a bed, sure, but that would have required getting a ride to Ikea, something I was not willing to put much effort into finding beyond dropping a few vague hints among car-possessing friends. When I finally bought the bed, putting it together proved difficult, but what’s another week on the couch anyway?

That doesn’t mean there aren’t pitfalls. When my butler-hiring family friends returned to town, I was asked to clear out, meaning I spent one weekend traipsing around D.C. unsure where I’d sleep. I crashed with a friend one night, but the next night I realized I had used up all my favors. With most of my friends out of town for Labor Day weekend, I only had one place to turn: my older brother, who was in town with his girlfriend and insisted that I could stay with them in their hotel room “the whole weekend.” Never mind the room only had one bed, or that the hotel was out of cots. Neither of them seemed to care, or to understand my horror. As I climbed into the bed and huddled as far to the right as I could without falling off, I finally learned my lesson.

Sharing a bed with your brother and his girlfriend? Maybe it’s worth paying rent.