Your roommate was obsessed with this one shirt you had. It was beaded and had a picture of a parrot poking his head out of the front pocket. When you wore that shirt, people knew you were fun. Strangers at bars wanted to buy you shots. Your roommate was always asking you, where did you find stuff like that? Why couldn’t she meet strangers at bars? You hadn’t even named the parrot – who owned a shirt like that and didn’t name the parrot? So you gave it to her. She came home that night with two Lithuanian tourists wearing novelty crowns. She named the parrot Lester.
After that, you gave her more stuff: a glamor shot of Marlene Dietrich. A ceramic mug your mom had made. Your slippers. The slippers had the imprint of your feet sunk into them, you thought permanently, but after a week they seemed to fit your roommate fine.
You’d thought these things said something about you, that taken together, they made up a picture of who you were. But looking at your roommate paging through your favorite novel, wearing your favorite earrings, they didn’t seem to mean anything at all. You’d met your roommate on Craigslist. All you knew about her was that she was from Buffalo, she kept crackers in the fridge, and she worked as an executive assistant but found it unsatisfying. “What do you think of the novel?” you asked her. “I love it!” she said. It seemed like that should make you feel closer to her, but it didn’t.
From there, you gave her your boyfriend. He was confused at first, and even cried for a bit and begged you to change your mind. But before long he was posting pictures of your roommate and his mom in front of the same Benihana where he used to post pictures of you and his mom. You’d see him at the apartment with his arm draped over your roommate’s shoulder. He was teaching her how to play backgammon. He was making her cocktails, which they drank by the glow of his favorite TV shows. You gave your roommate the apartment.
You started spending all your time at the office, sitting at your desk and refreshing your email. Your boss noticed. Your boss said you showed initiative and dedication. Your boss gave you a promotion, and awarded you employee of the month. The company hung your picture outside the elevator banks. You’d stare at the picture when the office was dark. The picture was from college, and was meant to look like a headshot even though it clearly wasn’t a headshot and had been taken with a laptop camera. You gave the promotion to your roommate, and you set up forwarding on your work email to your roommate’s account. No one seemed too upset by the change.
You wait for something to become clear to you, for the essence of who you are to emerge. But it all still feels like static. Every so often, you think of something else you should give your roommate. You slip your birth certificate under her door. You write a long note explaining the time, at eight years old, when your family cat slipped out the backdoor – you called for him until your voice went hoarse but you never found him. You leave her a complete journal of your dreams.
Kalila Holt lives in Brooklyn and produces the podcast Heavyweight. People are always asking her whether she got a haircut. Usually the answer is no. Twitter: @kalilaholt.