As I was leaving the student fellowship meeting, Don ran up from behind and matched his step to mine. “Hi, Professor Theophilus,” he said. “Headed across campus?”
“All the way. You too?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d catch a bite at Edge of Night.” That was an eating hangout on the western edge of the Post- Everything State University campus; we were on the east. “Your talk was right on the nose.”
“Thanks; I was afraid that the topic of ‘Relationships’ might be too big.”
“No, it was fine. I just wish I’d heard that talk last year.”
“Relationship problems of your own, eh?”
“You said it.”
“Best friend? Girl friend? Parents?”
“Roommate. Actually housemate.”
When I chuckled, Don objected. “Don’t tell me you think it’s funny, Professor T. It’s bad enough that everyone else thinks so.”
“It was a sympathetic chuckle,” I said. “I was only amused by your answer. Not ‘Very bad.’ Not ‘Extremely bad.’ Just ‘Bad.’ That says it all.”
He sighed. “I guess it does.”
“How did the trouble begin?”
“That’s the funny thing. See, we got along great before we moved in together.”
“Naturally,” I replied. “If you hadn’t got along so well, you wouldn’t have had the idea.”
“I guess not. It never occurred to either one of us that there might be anything more to living together than sharing rent.”
“You didn’t work out ground rules, like the ones I discussed in my talk?”
“I never even thought of doing anything like that. But if I had, I would have told myself that it wasn’t necessary.”
“You know,” he said. “We shared the same values and all that.”
“Was your housemate a Christian?”
“Then what made you think he shared your values?”
“He’d never been in trouble or anything. He didn’t try to get me in trouble. He didn’t get drunk or do drugs. He didn’t sleep with his girlfriend. I never even saw him park in a No Parking zone.”
“You see, Don” — I hesitated — “there’s more to sharing values than sharing the same list of ‘don’ts.'”
“I know that now,” he answered. “But I didn’t then. It’s like you said in your talk. If a person doesn’t live for anything, then his good habits are just good habits. He doesn’t have any reason not to change them for worse ones.”
“And did he?”
“Did he what?”
“Change them for worse ones.”
“Man, did he ever. First his friends started hanging around all the time and eating all our food. They didn’t get along with my friends, so pretty soon my friends got fed up and stopped coming around.
“Did you say anything to your housemate?”
“No. I couldn’t see myself telling him to get new friends just to please me — do you know what I mean?”
“I do. Then what happened?”
“Then they all began to change.”
“First in their conversation. It was like — I don’t know how to explain. I noticed the effect on me before I realized what was causing it. See, when I was with them, I found it harder and harder to be myself.”
“Yes. Christianity was never mentioned, but somehow the atmosphere changed from being not Christian to being anti-Christian. And then there was this suction.”
“Yes, I was getting pulled. I found myself saying things I didn’t believe, just to be able to converse. It was weird.”
“So what did you do?”
“I started spending less and less time at the house.”
“Yeah, I did my studying at the library, and came home just to wash and sleep.”
“So control of the situation passed more and more to your housemate.”
“I guess it did.”
“My housemate and his friends started leaving things everywhere. Like bottles. I never knew just a few guys could pack away so much beer.”
“I thought you said he didn’t drink.”
“Well, he started. And another thing. He started resenting it when I went to Fellowship or to Church. Sunday mornings he’d unplug my alarm clock. When I overslept and got angry, he’d think it was a funny joke.”
“That must be frustrating,” I said.
“Not any more. That’s all stopped. Now he’s got a better amusement.”
“A better one?”
“Uh huh. About a month ago his girl friend started hanging around even more than his friends. Then another change began to happen. The more she came around, the less his friends did. But she was there all day — and pretty soon, all night, too.”
“Yes, I thought that might be part of it. Both you and your housemate started out chaste, but as a Christian, you have reasons to stay that way that he hasn’t — and you also have help that isn’t available to him.”
“But I still haven’t told you the worst, Professor T.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“She’s starting to come on to me. At least I think she is. I don’t know if it’s a joke, or what.
“Doesn’t your housemate object?”
“He doesn’t know! See, she hangs around the house even more than he does now. It’s like she doesn’t have a life. Sometimes I come home late, and he’s not there, but she is. And I’m tired, but I’m afraid — this is so ridiculous — I’m afraid to —”
“To go to bed?”
“Right! I’m afraid I might wake up with her in it.”
“I can see why some of your friends might find the situation amusing.”
“But it’s not! I can’t live like this!” he cried.
“No, you can’t,” I sympathized.
“Prof, how can I fix this situation?”
We walked the next fifty feet in silence.
“Did you hear me, Professor Theophilus?” Don finally asked.
“Yes, Don, I was thinking about your question,” I told him. “But I don’t think there is anything you can do.”
“Not anything? But it isn’t fair!”
“No, not at all.”
“I pay my half of the rent, I pull my weight, I do my share — am I supposed to just accept the situation and live in it?”
I glanced at his face. “Haven’t you already addressed whether you can live in it?”
“I said I couldn’t.”
“And you were right.”
“But if I can’t live in it, and I can’t change it —”
“Then there’s only one other alternative.”
“To lose my share of the deposit money and move out? ”
I laughed. “If you lose only money, Don, you’ll have done well.” He looked puzzled for a moment, then his face reddened slightly and he laughed too. I went on. “Do you have a friend you can stay with for the next few nights, while you look for a new place?”
“Uh — yes, probably — I’ll call around,” he said. “But if I find a new house and a new housemate, won’t I just wind up in the same mess as with the old one?”
“Why should you assume that?” I said. “Not unless you make the same mistakes. What should you do differently this time?”
“I guess I need to find someone who doesn’t just avoid the things I avoid, but who also lives for what I live for.”
“Isn’t that enough?”
I chuckled again. “If my talk on ‘relationships’ is really so forgettable, it must have been poorer than you thought. Doesn’t the expression ‘ground rules’ ring a bell?”
“Sure. But do I need them even with another Christian? ”
“Absolutely. Christians can drive each other crazy too. A Christian is a fallen soul, under new management, and undergoing repairs. But while the repairs are going on, the air is full of dust and there are nails all over the floor. By all means find a housemate who shares your faith, but reach some understandings with him about all the practical aspects of living together too.”
During our talk we had walked all the way from the east side of campus to the west, and were approaching Edge of Night. For the last two blocks Don was silent. At the door of the hangout, just as I was about to turn aside to pick up my car from the faculty parking lot and go home, he spoke again.
“Professor Theophilus, there’s something else I wonder if I could talk about with you. Could I get you a cup of coffee or something?”
I glanced at my watch, then his face. He looked even more uneasy than he had when he was telling the tale of his troubles with his housemate. “Yes, I have time for a cup. Nobody’s expecting me for a little while. What’s it about?”
“I’ll explain after we’ve found a place to sit down. It’s just that when my housemate’s girlfriend was coming on to me — I didn’t give in, but — let’s say it raised some questions in my mind.”
I passed my hand over my face. “Oh, is that all?” I grinned. “I’m sure we can deal with that in five minutes.” Don relaxed, and we entered the Edge of Night.
Copyright 1999 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.