¡Hola a Todos!
A Spanish girl I had met at an international party I attended in Chicago had, when I emailed every person I knew, suggested Maria and I be roommates. I really liked the girl who suggested this, but I really didn’t like my Spanish roommate, Maria.
Maria isn’t here today. She wrote me a note saying she’d be “out of Madrid” for a couple of days. Freedom and hallelujah! Maybe she took the dog with her, as she didn’t leave him with me, so I don’t know where he is. She wrote something like “be careful with everything,” which could also be translated as “take care of everything,” but I doubt she chose the latter meaning: She’s not nice enough to mean that. She also told me to be sure to “close” the door. Really? I hope she’s getting the therapy she so badly needs.
Let’s back up a bit…
I arrived in Madrid on September 23, and immediately found myself in a quandary: I was a target for thieves in Nuevos Ministerios, a high-traffic train station in Madrid relatively close to the airport and a stop for many unsuspecting foreigners who, like me, have the supreme opportunity to get their wallet and iPod stolen. Oh, the beauty of my first hour in Madrid. Me: A seasoned traveler who, at that point, had already traveled to well over 20 countries and lived in three. Me: A woman who is very careful with my safety and my belongings. Me: A person of the world who was way too trusting of help in a foreign train station because I was incredibly tired, hungry, and disoriented; my back hurt (suffering from lower back pain, which Spain would eventually fix); and I was bogged down with luggage.
When I finally arrived at Opera Station, Maria was waiting for me and came to my financial rescue. Did she really have any choice, though?
The first night we talked some, her telling me her mother had died a couple of years before and how she had lost some friends during the process. I would remember that story as our time together wore on, but my sympathy wore out fast. She gave me some money to get around, I promised I’d pay her (of course, I did) when I got my first check, and she showed me around Madrid one time. Having gotten along with every person I have ever lived with, including my college roommates (a variety of roommates there, one of whom I am still good friends with after 35 years), I had visions of Maria and me making Spanish food together, swilling Crianza, chatting about everything in Spanish and English, laughing a lot, and having a wonderful time. Don’t ever try to predict the future. I learned that in my thirties and forgot to apply my knowledge to my experience in Spain, especially as it related to my roommate. Let me give you a rundown of this person. She…
- Stares at the TV without acknowledging me when I enter the living room.
- Excels at making me feel invisible and unwelcomed.
- Puts my stuff away, although she has stuff all over the counter. Puts my detergent away, my coffee maker back in the cabinet.
- Watches TV every night for hours on end. I never watch TV.
- Loves and caresses the dog, but treats me like shit.
- Opens the kitchen door, lets the dog out of the kitchen, and closes the door again, even though I’m right there.
- Closes the door every time she goes in the bedroom.
- Turns off lights when I’m using them.
- Smiles at me dismissively, when I asked her if she’d seen B at T.
- Never has anyone over and pretty much never goes out, so I don’t know any of her friends.
- Never told me anything when the maid broke my coffeepot and had written a note to my roommate. I just happened to read the note, which was lying on the table and in Spanish.
- Stays here at night: I know because I am often here at night.
- Sleeps all the time.
- Never asks me how I am.
- Responded with “Hallie, no presents!” at Christmas, when I bought her a few little presents. Boy is she ever a killjoy.
- Dog threw up in 2 big piles, and I left her a note. She asked me about the dog when she got back but never thanked me for cleaning up the mess.
- Got mad at me because the dog was in MY room and got my rubber band and ate it. Doesn’t apologize, even though the dog ruined my item.
- Never accepts my offer of dinner.
- Snapped at me “I TOLD you!” when I was trying to understand the electric bill, which was in Spanish.
- Asked me when I was going to move out, right when I returned from Christmas vacation. Nice. (“July,” I told her.)
- Turns off the kitchen light when I’m using it.
- Uses the clothes hanger all the time, as she is constantly washing loads of laundry, so I don’t have the chance to use it.
- Never answers my emails.
- Didn’t have any response about my breakup with a guy (she later claimed she didn’t know we had broken up).
- Never has told me about the girl we have in common, Loreto, who moved back to Spain.
I was an excellent roommate. Other than the wallet-getting-stolen mishap in the beginning and Maria giving me 200 euros, which I promptly paid back. Here’s a rundown of me. I…
- Have always paid the rent, electricity, and cleaning woman (we didn’t need) on time.
- Promptly clean up immaculately after myself.
- Am quiet.
- Never use her things or eat her food.
- Gave her info about Skype and her hp, but she never responded.
- Told her where I was if I was going somewhere, and she never responded.
- Tried to talk to her, but it was impossible.
- Foolishly kept thinking that if I had interacted with her, there was no way that it could be weird or she could be cold and dismissive, but she always was…every time.
What a disappointment she turned out to be. What a bitch. I will never live like this again. I am starting to understand my friends who are unhappy in their marriages and do anything to stay out of the house all day because they don’t want to spend any time with their husband.
Here’s an example of one really enormously fun Saturday. I walked over to the couch and was going to sit down, but she was lying there and didn’t move. We watched TV together for only a few minutes, I pet the dog, and she never offered me a seat at the end. Then to make conversation, which was foolish on my part, I asked her what a particular Spanish word meant, and she said, dismissively, “I don’t know. Something sexual” (she didn’t know?) and proceeded to go to the bathroom, then to her bedroom, saying nothing to me as she passed me on the way, and closed the door. I sat on the couch for about 5 minutes, watching the TV with the dog (much better company than she, though he smelled to high heaven). I kept thinking she was going to come out and finish watching the show, but she never did. Was I responsible for turning off the TV? I didn’t know, deciding to leave it on, and went to my bedroom.
Right before my Swedish friends came to visit me at the beginning of March, Maite told me, “My sister is coming to live with me, so you MUST leave.”
At the end of March 2010, I had the wherewithal NOT to leave the rent money on the table until I returned from Egypt, spending part of my vacation time there looking for un piso (a flat or apartment) in Madrid, as I was eager to flee my living situation the day I returned to Madrid. I arrived at Barajas Airport at 4:45 a.m. and had to wait until 6 a.m., when the trains started running again. I was hungry and bought a bocadillo, coffee, and orange juice and sat and waited. I was ready for the action and ready to change my life. 6 a.m. dawned and I boarded the train with the rest of the early-morning passengers. When I arrived home, I dropped off my stuff, showered, prepared for school, packed more items, headed to school, coordinated my exit with Eva, taught classes. and headed home. Eva came and I summoned her to my room, not knowing exactly who was home: Carlos or Maria. Whoever it was was in Maite’s room and I wasn’t sure what my response would be if Maite came out and after six months of not being interested in talking to me, suddenly decided that now was the time.
Her former roommate, Carlos, was her bedroom — she was at work — and came out to sit at the computer in the living room as Eva and I, bogged down with my stuff, made 3 trips to evacuate my belongings. Carlos and I gave each other a Spanish kiss and spoke briefly, and said “adios” — but I couldn’t concentrate on him: I had too many things to do. I hightailed it out of there with Maria, glad that Carlos hadn’t asked me anything: He probably knew I hated Maria.
There’s one positive thing to say about this experience: I really liked Maria’s former roommate, Carlos — and his dog. Yes, I lived with a very nice dog.
International Girl in Spain
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English
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