How My First Female Roommate Taught me the Power of Emotions

It was February 2011, and I had just finished working at my hagwon – private English academy – in Gangnam (yes, I lived in Gangnam before it was cool.) The hagwon, as many other hagwons in Gangnam, is the kind that leads to workaholism and alcoholism. I simply realized that I would not be able to handle another 300+ hour work-month without driving myself to a fermented, watery grave, so I left.

Most English teaching jobs in Korea come attached with housing, so if you leave your job, it also means you have to leave your apartment. Fortunately, March is the start of the school semester in Korea, so a lot of people are looking for housing. I no longer wanted to live wherever my new job decided to send me. Instead, I wanted to live near Haebangchon, the foreign district; the closest thing to home in Korea.

Finding housing for March wasn't difficult. All I had to do was talk to my friends at the Wolfhound Alcoholic Emporium, telling them to put the word out that I was to be homeless, and soon enough I got a text from Maria; she also needed a place come March.

Of course, I thought about what it would be like to live platonically with a female roommate, but figured that as long as I treated her like a dude, everything would be fine. And indeed, it just so happens that for the first three months we drank nearly everyday, shared everything, and had no substantial arguments or fights.

During those three months, I had also been seeing Barbie; we were in an open relationship and it was no secret. I enjoyed Barbie's company, her ability to drink at the same level as me, and the sex. The sex was some of the best I had in Korea, so I had difficulty letting go of her. We didn't click intellectually, and she had used my credit card without permission, and had also gotten me in trouble because of her shoplifting problem. I thus knew that it wasn't something that was going to last beyond Korea, that it wouldn't be able to go beyond casual, but I failed to make it clear that there would be no upgrade to our status. In hindsight, I should have ended it the minute she stole from me, and casually shrugged it off as a simple mistake. But the sex was good, so I let it go.

Maria and Barbie were relative strangers to one another, and it was through me that they developed a strong emotional bond. When Barbie wasn't in my room, she was hanging out with Maria. Barbie, in the same way that she treated my credit card, also treated my house. She began to let herself in whenever she pleased, and Maria would simply let her because they were “friends.” I didn't want to argue and demand that she not let Barbie into the apartment without asking me, since Maria told me that she saw that as overstepping friendship boundaries.

Fast forward to June, and I find myself in bed with Juliana, my neighbor. The only rule Barbie and I had was: if we went out to a bar together, we would go home together. That night, I got pretty drunk, lost Barbie, and Juliana took me home. No matter how I phrase it, I did break the “don't leave the bar without me” rule, but I didn't give it much drunken thought.

Come 9, 10am, and I hear a banging at my door. At first I tried to ignore it, but it grew louder and harder. After perhaps two minutes, I feared that the door was going to be knocked down, so I roll off bed, put on a robe, and proceed to open the door. I open, and Barbie simply barges in without saying anything, pushes me aside, and jumps into my bed.
Barbie yelled at Juliana: “Get out! It's not you, it's him!”
Juliana walks out, nearly in tears.
After Juliana walks out, Barbie says to me: “What do you think you were going to do!?”
I reply casually: “Barbie, I already did what I was going to do.”

Barbie stood up, and punched me with all her might across the ear. So, by that point breaking and entering had escalated to assault. I can only wonder what would happen to me – big, black Jose – if I were to kick a little white girl's door down, barge in, and punch her?

As I clutched my ear in extreme pain, I told Barbie: “Please leave, this can't continue anymore.” But she did not comply. After repeating myself a couple of times, I had no choice but to grab her by the arm and drag her off my bed and out of my room. I locked the door behind her, and told her to leave my house.

I thought that would be the end of everything. I figured she would be as discreet with my transgressions as I was with the whole card and shoplifting thing. Later that day, however, Maria came in, and I casually asked her: “Did you hear about what happened?”
Maria barked at me: “Well, I think you could have handled it better!”

I immediately went silent, as I often do when someone barks at me in an angry tone. When someone barks at me in an angry tone, I shut down, and all that good Bronx rage just tells me to back away, lest it escalate to 4 knifings to the back, as did outside S&A store by my house when I was 11. So I turned my back to Maria, and didn't bother to argue my side. She had already heard Barbie's side, and I didn't want to argue angry.

One thing is certain, however; Maria was seeing two people just the same as me. Had one them shown up at the apartment and done what Barbie did, I would have as a roommate and a man defended her from a person who broke the law.

But Maria didn't defend me, she instead got angry at me because I broke a personal rule and made her friend cry. It was then that I realized that legal reasoning alone would simply not be enough to help me overcome Barbie's tears.