I drove into Tauranga on the 29th of December with a hitchhiker in the passenger seat. We cruised along The Strand, which was packed with cars and people revelling in the stunning weather. After dropping off the hitchhiker at a backpackers in the centre of town, I drove to Maitland Street to see if I could spy my new home for the year.
I had sent a message and tried to call the guy who advertised it on TradeMe, but had had no reply, so I didn’t know which number it was. I drove down the quiet cul-de-sac street, trying to spy anything I recognised from the pictures on the flatmates wanted listing. I guessed it was number 12, with the wooden fence enclosing the front garden.
I waited and waited, but still no response from the owner/landlord/flatmate, so checked my map to find a camping ground. The only one I could find was packed full of teenagers steadily drinking. It was after 8pm, but felt much earlier because of the gorgeous summer weather, so driving away from there, I felt confident I’d find somewhere else. No such luck.
About 9.30, after driving around aimlessly and watching the fuel indicator on my car sinking lower and lower, I pulled into a Countdown carpark and tried to settle in for the evening. I’d been driving all day in the heat, and all I wanted was to take off my clothes and have a shower, but ever since Outward Bound, I’ve been sharply aware that discomfort is fleeting (as much as comfort is, though discomfort tends to be more rewarding). Sleeping in my car wouldn’t do me any harm. I wriggled my bra out from under my top so I could sleep more comfortably, wound my windows down, let back the driver’s seat, curled up and closed my eyes. I got about 50 minutes sleep, then after tossing and turning, decided to drive and see if I couldn’t find somewhere more comfortable.
It was a Saturday night, and town was full of drunken youths being intimidating. I tried to go into the backpackers, but even though there was a guy sitting at reception, he wouldn’t open the door for me, just sat there looking at me. I stopped a police officer, who was patrolling the streets, to ask if there were any other backpackers nearby. He sent me to the other side of town, but that one was locked up for the night, too. Fair enough: it was after midnight.
By 2am I was grumpy and decided I’d spend all my money on a motel or even a hotel if I could find one open, but all over town the “No Vacancy” signs were up. Eventually I drove back to Maitland Street to wait it out, reasoning that at least it would be quiet there. It was. So quiet I felt comfortable peeing on the side of the road (I’d tried all the public toilets I could find in town, but they were locked). As the sky started to lighten, I felt suddenly weird about camping out in my car on the street that was home to my future neighbours, so I drove around the corner and discovered a swimming pool and park within easy walking distance of my new home. This made me pretty happy, and I parked by the park, dozing and watching the neighbourhood cats stalking the morning birds as the sun came up.
I had received a text from the other flatmate the night before. The owner, Ross, had given him my number, as he was out of town (he tells me this late on Saturday night, after I had told him on Friday that I was driving up to arrive on Saturday afternoon). Bruce said I was free to go to the flat and have a look. He was at work, but his partner was there looking after his two girls, who were up visiting for Christmas and New Year. Ross hadn’t told me anything about this partner or the girls, so I was a little confused as to who I would actually be living with, but I called Kim, the partner, and she said to come on over. I gladly did.
The place was gorgeous. The room I was looking at was large and bright, with cheery yellow wallpaper. The front garden, enclosed, was lovely and peaceful, with hammocks, a nice deck and plenty of palms and broad leaved plants. The living areas were beautiful, the kitchen large and light. Kim said only good things about Ross and said I’d get on well with Bruce. Bruce’s girls, 8 and 9 years old, were incredibly well-behaved and cute to boot. I decided I wanted to live there, even though I hadn’t actually met Ross or Bruce, the two men in their 40s I’d actually be living with.
I called Ross and said “Yes.” He seemed pretty happy, and I went for a swim at the local pool so I could get a shower and brush my teeth and feel normal before going back to move in.
I was so happy those first few days.
I loved the house, I loved the weather, I loved Bruce’s girls and I really liked Bruce, except for one moment when he told me I was getting old and needed to start having kids now if I wanted to have kids at all. Whenever I asked him about Ross, he said nothing negative, just saying he liked to have things about the house a certain way. That didn’t sound too bad; it was his house after all.
On Wednesday Ross came home while Bruce was taking his girls back to their mother’s place in a different city a few hours away. I was sitting in the refreshingly cool living room, eating strawberries and yoghurt, enjoying the pleasant quiet.
“What the f#@% has he done to my lawns?” I hear from outside after a car pulls up. I figure this is Ross, as he makes his way around the property, obviously having keys to get in. There is plenty of swearing and exclamations of wonder. I figure he’ll come in and introduce himself to me when he’s calmed down. It takes him about half an hour, but he eventually comes inside, and I go to introduce myself. He apologises for being in a bad mood, welcomes me and takes me around the house explaining the way he likes everything done. I’m a little shocked when he swears in the kitchen, “Why the f#@% would he put that there? Put things back where you f#@%ing found them!” and he moved a bowl from one shelf to another. That’s a little over the top, I think. It’s just a bowl. But as we go around the house, and he talks and talks (he’s a talker, I already knew that from speaking to him on the phone), I think, “Ok, he likes things just so, and he gets angry when things aren’t done right, but he’s actually listed everything, there will be no surprises, I can live with his preferences. They’re not unreasonable.”
Ross goes back outside to inspect the ‘mess’ Bruce has made of the lawns (he thought he was helping out by mowing them. Turns out Ross is nuts about his lawns – he’s one of those people who waters his lawn before his plants, and the mower has to be on the right setting, so as not to ‘shave’ the grass). There is more swearing. I take myself off for a walk as all the swearing is making me uncomfortable. I figure he’ll calm down soon enough.
Two days go by and Ross is calmer, but still very critical of everything Bruce and all past flatmates have ever said or done. I see how some people couldn’t stand to live with the guy. I am probably the most tolerant and patient person I know, so I convince myself I’m not bothered. I also think Ross likes me and respects me because he says he’s impressed with my attitude to recycling and common sense. We seem to be getting along. I’ve finally settled into my new room. Everything is unpacked, I’ve bought some kitset shelving units and set them up, I’m thinking about how I’m going to spend my days. I can’t wait for Monday and businesses to start opening again so I can start my job hunt seriously.
Late on Friday afternoon, I go for a drive, deciding it’s time to explore the Mount, now that I know my way around my neighbourhood, Greerton, and the city of Tauranga. I’ve been out about 20 minutes when I get a text.
Hi Bruce and Emma. Guys I don’t do locked doors in my house. If you dont want people in your rooms thats your call, yet just say. If you want to lock your doors find some other place to live. It’s a bit strange for me, considering you hav my stuff in the room yet also a safety issue. Cheers. Ross. (all lack of apostrophes his errors)
I am upset that he has tried to go into my room while I’m out. I understand I’m using his furniture, but that’s normal when you rent a furnished flat. I text him saying I need to lock my door for my insurance (a white lie, as I hadn’t set myself up with insurance yet, but it would be true as soon as I got a policy).
No. Thats not happening. Sorry. You may hav to find somewhere else. Ross.
I’d like to talk about this face to face. I’ll be home in about half an hour.
I’m confused. Why would he want me out? I’m about the best flatmate he’s ever had, if his stories are anything to go by. I’m willing to live with his eccentricities. I don’t mind being careful about putting bowls back where I found them. I thought he liked me. This sounds like a lame excuse to get me to move out.
He’d been going on and on about how his house was a home for us all. How he doesn’t want someone who’s just after a ‘room’ but someone to have a drink or meal with in the evenings, someone who will look after his house with him. He admitted he was very house-proud, but said he was open if we wanted to make changes or add our own little touches. Every little touch I tried to add – hanging a mirror in my room, not having a phone or tv in my room, putting a peel-off decal on my door – he was suspicious of and seemed annoyed, though never actually said anything. I loved my room, I loved the house, I got on really well with Bruce. I was willing to accommodate his oddities.
I got home and he wasn’t there. I started looking on TradeMe for a new place, thinking I won’t really have to leave, he’ll see sense. Bruce called me and said Ross was at the pub and he’d be pissed when he got home. He offered me the couch at Kim’s place around the corner if I feel uncomfortable. I said no thanks, I wanted to stand my ground.
Ross wasn’t pissed when he gets home hours later. We had a brief discussion in the kitchen. By discussion, I mean, I asked him “So what’s the deal with no locked doors?” I was genuinely curious, not accusing him of being psycho. He shut me down. I told him I was moving out. He said okay.
I went to look at a few places that very evening. Nothing is nice. One place has a sign on the shower door saying “Please do not use soap in the shower, to avoid soap scum forming on the tiles.” I shook my head in bemusement.
My first week in Tauranga was over.
- Of no fixed abode (emmalord.wordpress.com)