Jimi and Dr. Handsome had lived together for two school years before I moved in with them. They’d already learned to deal with one another’s idiosyncrasies. I was still getting used to them. I’ve realized now that hating Natalie became a positive amongst the three of us. It united us against a common enemy. Before joining the fight against Natalie, we directed our social frustrations and boredom at one another in the form of childish nitpicking. This drawn-out prodding reached its apex with Jimi and I almost fighting at four in the morning, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Dr. Handsome had told me stories about how, when they lived together before, Jimi would leave lights on outside his room, knowing it would bug Dr. Handsome enough to get up and turn it off. Jimi would also squeeze the toothpaste in the middle instead of rolling the tube up from the end. This made it difficult for Dr. Handsome to extract the toothpaste remains when he was low on funds and, more importantly, didn’t have time to run to Wegmans because he needed to study.
Though annoying, the lights and toothpaste were trivial, inconsequential, to the really important things in life. For Dr. Handsome, when school was in session all other life ceased to exist.
I’ve already told you Dr. Handsome was home-schooled. Home-schooled kids tend to be oddballs, but Dr. Handsome is rather normal in every facet of life--probably moreso than myself--except in regards to school. Homeschooling seemed to foster an inadequacy within Dr. Handsome which led him to believe that he needed to maintain perfect grades. And this need led him to extreme study sessions. With the seriousness he took his studies, you would think Dr. Handsome grew up under the tyranny of a Tiger mom.
Jimi and I could always tell when a test was approaching because Dr. Handsome would be locked away in his room studying. He’d head out the next morning looking like he’d been stricken with pneumonia, the result of having spent the past 15-20 hours pounding Nos, taking notes, and cycling through flash cards. On top of that, the amount of discarded Kleenex made me think he’d reward himself with a quick rub-out after finishing a chapter and then get back to work. Once he arrived at the college, he’d throw up from a combination of nerves and hunger then go take his test. After the test he’d rush home to collapse in bed for 8-12 hours. I remember many nights coming home to what-seemed-to-be an empty apartment. But then I’d hear the faint sound of Bieber’s “Girlfriend” coming from Dr. Handsome’s room and realize Dr. Handsome was in his room, recovering from the previous night’s rage against the textbook.
Jimi, in their past living situations, saw Dr. Handsome’s studies as the perfect opportunity to mess with Dr. Handsome. He recalled his failed attempts to distract Dr. Handsome with a triumphant smile.
“You can’t interrupt him,” Jimi said. “I mean, unless you physically go and touch him and move his books, he won’t move. He probably would’ve hit me if I did that. But, otherwise, he can’t be distracted. He just lays there on his stomach, turning pages.”
I smiled, listening with some disbelief.
“I used to stand at his door and call his name for fifteen minutes straight. He’d just keep reading. Once, I sat in his room and just bounced a ball, waiting for him to ask me to stop. Still, he wouldn’t flinch. If you don’t believe me you can try it.”
“Yeah, alright Jimi.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it, though.”
I should’ve seen it coming. Jimi began his antics shortly after we moved in together, but this time they were directed at me. Recalling how Jimi told me about when he used to bug Dr. Handsome, I approached Dr. Handsome to figure out how he dealt with Jimi’s nonsense.
“Dude, I can’t keep dealing with this,” I told him. “He comes into my room while I’m sleeping and just starts talking to me. The other day he came in, turned my light on, and started talking. I woke up and gave him a dirty look.
“Then he was like, ‘Oh, my bad. Were you sleeping?’ How did you deal with this shit?” I asked.
Dr. Handsome smiled. He was almost as amused that Jimi had gotten to me as Jimi himself.
“You’re probably not gonna like this answer, but you just have to ignore him. You can’t let him know he’s bothering you. That’s exactly what he wants.”
“I don’t know if I can do that, but I’ll try.”
I didn’t like Dr. Handsome’s advice, but I was going to give it a shot anyway. I also unscrewed my lightbulb from the ceiling to make it a little more difficult for Jimi to bother me. This seemed to motivate him more. Since he couldn’t just open my door and flip the light on, he’d come in and stand in my room, saying my name until I responded. This lasted for a few days but I stuck with the ignoring strategy and that, too, further motivated Jimi.
After a couple days of ignoring Jimi, he finally pushed me far enough to provoke retaliation. The funny thing is, this last nudge may not have been one hundred percent intentional. On most occasions I’d be napping after work and he’d come in around six or seven PM to wake me up. But this night was different. He’d already woke me at the usual time and I revealed I was upset, but didn’t say anything.
Later-on that night, I woke up to my door creaking open. I looked up to see what it was and saw Jimi peak in, then walk back down the hall. Still pissed from earlier that night, I began brainstorming ways to get him back. It came down to either confronting him the next day, or vindictive revenge. I chose the latter.
First, I waited about a half hour to try to let him get back to sleep. Usually I’d fall back asleep and not worry about it, but for some reason I couldn’t let it go. I was full of self-righteous indignation. He had no right to wake me in the middle of the night. How dare he! I thought. Once this time passed, I went into the living room and turned the lights on. In most apartments, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in our apartment this room was located just outside Jimi’s bedroom. He was fast asleep and the light didn’t wake him so I turned the TV on to a channel with white noise and turned it up just loud enough to disturb him. Then I sat on the couch and put my headphones on so I wouldn’t have to listen to the fuzzy channel.
At first Jimi just layed in bed, trying to ignore my provocation. After fifteen minutes to a half hour he couldn’t ignore me any longer and started saying my name, trying to get my attention. I didn’t flinch, pretending my headphones were too loud to hear him.
Laughing on the inside, enjoying the Fugazi in my headphones, I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around, already aware of who it was.
“Oh, hey Jimi. What’s up?”
“Zack, what are you doing?”
“Can you go in your room?”
I agreed, but with hesitance, upset he wasn’t showing a reaction and that our tension hadn’t actually been resolved.
“Jimi, can you just not wake me up when I’m sleeping anymore?” I asked before entering my room.
“What, are you angry?” Jimi asked, his anger increasing the volume of his voice.
“Well, yeah, kind-of.”
“Alright. Then let’s fight,” he said, taking his long-sleeve off.
My fight or flight response kicked in and I had an adrenaline dump.
“What?” I asked. “I don’t want to fight you.” My body was trembling. Jimi was my friend and I didn’t want to fight him because of that, but I had an even bigger motivation to avoid fighting him: he would’ve kicked my ass.
“Don’t ever come out here again and try to fucking wake me up,” he yelled.
I went to my room and sat in my bed, shaking. The adrenaline made it so I couldn’t sleep. About an hour later Jimi knocked on my door and came in to apologize. “I haven’t been getting much sleep,” he said. “I’m really sorry, though. I should’ve never tried to fight you.”
I told him it was alright. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t angry at him at all, I was loathsome of myself. His reaction was perfectly human, and I deserved it. All this time we’d spent nagging one another, letting our unhappiness express itself in passive aggression, increasing the tension within our friendship, and he finally let that tension burst. He finally confronted the situation the way I should have when he first started bothering me. Instead I tried to hold in my reactions, thinking it would go away. But of course, like any other problem you ignore, it didn’t go away. It just built up and became something bigger than it ever was.
I should’ve fought him. I should’ve let him beat my ass. Sorry, Jimi.
Live and let learn I guess.