I once lived with a girl named Jezebel, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t her real name. She was twenty-three, seven years younger than me, and she had pink hair one week, green hair the next and some kind of incredible gradated highlights the week after that. She wore three different colors of sparkly eye shadow at the same time, and even though my friends made fun of it, I thought it worked for her.
She was a vegetarian, and she cooked the healthiest, most amazing-smelling recipes in the little kitchenette, singing showtunes from Rent off-key at the top of her lungs the entire time, preventing the rest of us from focusing. She liked to make smoothies with bananas and whatever other fruit was lying around. Sometimes her cupcakes, gluten-free, had bananas instead of eggs.
When she chatted on the phone, even if she was in her bedroom with the door closed, I could still hear her cackling like a crazy person. I never minded the laughter, because when Jezebel wasn’t laughing she was usually on the verge of tears.
Jezebel hadn’t had a full-time job for maybe three years when she answered our ad for a new roommate. We would have turned her down, except that she got a job offer the day after she applied for the room, and she ended up making about double what I did, so that was that.
The job involved working the front desk at some kind of big law firm in the city. Sometimes she’d send me a text message on her way in on the metro complaining about all the people in their business suits and sneakers, commuting to what she imagined were boring, humdrum jobs they must have hated almost as much as she hated hers.
But there was probably no one who really hated his or her job as much as Jezebel did. It was one of the things she liked to cry about.
One morning when I packing my lunch in the kitchen before work, Jezebel came out of her room in a totally work-inappropriate, low-cut red sundress with a black look on her face.
“I can’t do it anymore,” she’d said. “It’s the worst. Sitting at that desk for hours and hours…it’s not like I’m doing anything important, right?”
We had conversations like this all the time.
“Everybody has to eat,” I reminded her.
“I don’t want to just eat,” she said. “I want to live.”
It was a silly, dramatic thing to say. It was sort of a quote, actually, from a play that she’d worked backstage tech on. Near the end of the play, this older man said to this young blond girl, “You can’t live for money alone. If you do, you will eat, but you will not live.”
I know it was supposed to be profound, but I’m almost thirty and there are bills to pay, and it doesn’t ring so true in the real world when the rent is due. It’s important to stay practical. I’ve worked hard for this humdrum, boring, businesslike status quo.
Jezebel was still looking at me, expecting me to say something, so I tried to shrug it off, not particularly interested in keeping this up all morning.
“Looks like you’re out of bananas,” I said. “You want me to rab some on the way home?”
She shrugged and made a face, like she was disappointed that I was too old to really understand her. I wrote a note on the refrigerator message board for myself. “Don’t forget to buy bananas.”
Three months later, Jezebel was gone.
She took up with some guy named Claire — really — who performed with a drag show at one of the local bars. She said they were going to move out to California together. I think there was a plan, but it never made much sense to me the way she explained it. I do know the two of them made it out West, because she sent me an email a few weeks ago with a photograph of her and Claire laughing on the beach. Her hair had changed color again; it was blond this time, probably because hair dye costs money.
They looked pretty happy. I hope she’s doing okay, although I’m not convinced she’ll last out there for more than a few months. What’ll happen to her when even California gets boring? I’m sure there’s such a thing as too much freedom and sunshine.
This morning, while packing my lunch, I realized that we were out of mozzarella. I finally wiped the note about the bananas off the board, and I replaced it with a reminder about cheese. Then I sat on the metro for an hour while track work happened all around, and I looked at all the nice, normal people in their suits and sneakers, getting ready for another day that’s just like yesterday.
It’s fine, I thought. Maybe I won’t live, but at least I’ll eat.