The Hacker House Rules

Despite growing up as an only child, I’ve had my fair share of living with other people: My pre-teen years were shaped in Adirondack bunks packed to the brim with tri-state girls and their clothes, a melee of Abercrombie and Limited Too. My teenage years were shaped in dorms across the eastern seaboard, the coveted singles eluding me in the summer programs I attended between 2005 and 2010, the tight quarters hardly helped by the books I'd obtain throughout those academic camps: the literature I’d accumulate took up enough space to make it seem as if I had picked up two extra roommates over the course of the summer.

I lived with seven different people (and around two steadyish boyfriends) in college with varying levels of personal compatibility insofar as cleanliness, shared interests, and lifestyle habits. If nothing else, I have some memories of characters fit for an ABC Family pilot. There was the roommate who would forget to bring her alarm with her on vacations: I’d have to plough through her room a la “Mission Impossible” to turn off the pre-set alarm clock, hidden in the a tornado-stricken mess of thick conditioner and thicker chemistry textbooks. Then there was the roommate whose clothing would fall through the cracks of the top bunk onto my bottom one every night. I'd wake many a morning with a laugh, finding a bra innocently and comfortably nestled like a sleeping cat on top of my head.

Going to San Francisco for the summer with arrangements to live in a “Hacker House” I’d found on Airbnb, I expected my twelve weeks in California to be an exercise in reliving two particular moments from my college experience: 1. The day after Halloween parties my junior year, going into the bathroom and witnessing the remnants of my male roommate’s beard shaven into the sink, where it would live for a handful of days 2. That time my English major roommate had smoked pot in our dorm and thought I wouldn't smell that "something [was] rotten in the State of [Princeton].” 

I prayed my housing experience here wouldn’t be like my first one in Boston, too, documented on this blog about three years ago: I spent the first two weeks homeless and by the time I found a place to live in week three, I paid the rent only to find someone else stubbornly occupying my room. My 22nd birthday was wasted listening to a heavily-accented explanation of why David was entitled to the bed and with me squirming into a sleepworthy position on the couch until he left to return to Brazil a week later.

When people asked me about my living situation for this summer, depending on when they posed the question, they received a different tone of answer: In March and April, there was palpable relief: after all, I’d finally received a job offer and had found a well-reviewed, seemingly scam-free place to live: it appeared affordable by San Francisco standards and was within walking distance to 3 major forms of public transportation, a supermarket, a Philz Coffee, and my office.

In May, there was excitement: I was going to be surrounded by startuppy folk and live in a constant state of inspiration, motivated to reinvent my 18-month-old business into the next stage of productivity, from “mom and pop”-style farmer’s market stands into scalable consulting services. 

But In June, prior to move-in, there was panic, doubt, and fear: “Why didn’t you live with someone from school or someone else you know instead of gambling on 5 strangers?” was the question I got from others and that reverberated in the dark parts of my head as my check-in date, June 8, drew nearer.

When I moved all my things into my 4th and King loft at 11AM that morning, climbing the shaky ladder to my spot on a creaky top bunk, one small sleeping space among the available six, I started to cry. I regretted everything. I went downstairs and sat on the fat beanbag in the middle of the loft with my face in my hands. People thought I was foolish and crazy and bold to do what I did this summer. I believed them. 

Last night, I crawled into my now-familiar bed, sat upright, buried my face in my hands again and cried again. People were right. I was foolish and crazy and bold. I also happened to be exceedingly, impossibly lucky. 

After three years living largely alone, I had tremendous anxiety about living with people. Having to share a bathroom and closet space. Having to wake up and go to bed in a way that wouldn’t disturb others. Having to take extra precautions to ensure I wasn’t getting gluten-sick from breadcrumbs on the counter or residual pasta water in pots when preparing my meals. All that terrified me. Not wanting to go through the process of vetting a conscientious, like-minded, like-lifestyled roommate, I considered the extra cost of rent in Boston the price for the convenience and peace of mind of living by myself. 

San Francisco is notorious for expensive living arrangements, and there was no way I’d have a shot at living alone while out on my internship in the Bay no matter what I did. But I still think I have most of my friends beat on the “most people lived with this summer.”

I pretty much joined a basketball team: five of us in a starting lineup, ready to take on the game of Silicon Valley on internships this summer.  We also handful of subs on the bench, the five one-off visitors who slept in the last bunk. With the exception of the drifters occupying the last bunk, the last time I ever felt so close to a group of people was in my co-op in college, where the only time we ever saw each other was dinner.

Even if we never shared a word, these people would have known more about me than most people by observing the way I fold my clothes or the types of cosmetics I use or the foods I use to stock my fridge. Add sharing a shower, couch space, and bunkbeds into the mix, you’ve got the recipe for some major bonding or major death threats. But beyond the things they learned about me, I’m hoping they also learned a few things from me, whether it the recipe for “poor man’s shakshuka” by poaching eggs in pasta sauce or the list of most poorly written lines from “GREY: 50 Shades as told by Christian.” More importantly, it’s worth saying how much I learned from them and the things they had to teach me from their lives before and during this summer. I was also the oldest person in the house, but I often felt the youngest in my awe of all the things they’d done and dared to do, from building games to selling life insurance to photoshopping dating profiles to learning taekwondo in North Beach. 

There are some things about this experience I’ll never be able to explain. It’s a case in point that some things you just have to live to understand.  Unable to recall each and every day, all I can say is this: Seeing me at my very best and very worst, they accepted me in my full spectrum of emotion and energy. Spending my days in an office clad in black, white, red, and grey, I was welcomed home to a world in full color. 

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be leaving the loft behind. The boys and the laptops that occupied the kitchen table with Saturday morning gaming. The family dinners and brunches, the back episodes of Angel and Netflix series. The night we opened that pink moscato we forgot we left in the freezer. The night we made the list of the potential 3AM whereabouts of one of our drifting roommates. Bidding goodbye to the Golden Coast with duffle bags fit to burst, I’m glad stories travel light. 

Because of you, it's with a heavy suitcase and heavier heart that I’m heading back to Boston: to the only men who could make me want to visit Ohio; to the free spirit who taught me about peace with the world, patience with others, and presence within myself; and to the programmer with the most insatiable thirst for 9GAG and biggest heart I’ve ever seen, as promised, this post is yours.

I’m humbled by you. I’m inspired by you. I’m grateful to you. Thank you for an incredible summer and wishing you nothing but the best.