A few weeks before either of us mentioned moving in together, I asked my girlfriend, Tina, about her hair dryer. "I found it here, silly," she said, suddenly glancing away from my bathroom mirror. She asked a question with her eyes, and I knew I didn't have the answer.
"I have no idea whose it is," I answered, shrugging and peering closer at the alien instrument. Inch-long barbs protruded from the end of the off-white dryer, suggesting some outer-orbit, futuristic handgun. In mock surrender, I probably threw my hands up. "And what are those little rods on the end?"
She flipped the switch to silence the machine, explaining to her wooly, frumpy mate that this was a diffuser. It was perfect for her, she said, because it enhanced her natural curls, giving them body and texture. "Who lived here that had curly hair, anyway?"
I again flipped through my Rolodex of recent roommates and found that I still didn't have an answer: Ivan has straight hair, as do Phil and Will, Kelly and Beth. Dan, Dana and Matt have straight, short hair, but I wouldn't put an unnecessarily ornate cosmetic product past Dana. It didn't belong to Justin, Stu or Kristin, definitely not BJ. So many roommates, so little curly hair.
During the last two years, I've lived in a four-bedroom house called Brome, a modest, rented ranch near downtown Raleigh. Along with my closest friend, a touring musician named Brad, I co-signed the lease in September 2008. We've been the only two to consistently call Brome home. But at least 15 people—musicians, journalists, friends all—have paid rent at some point in less than 36 months. When someone would go on tour or decided they needed to head west or north, we'd ask friends if anyone needed a cheap place to stay. It was often as easy as updating a Facebook status.
Not long after I learned about diffusers, Tina and I decided to find a house together. We spotted another nice brick-built ranch less than two miles away, and I worked on finding my replacement at Brome. During these last two weeks, I, ever the incorrigible pack rat, sorted through my possessions, emptying desk drawers and closets and shelves. As I did, I realized that my stuff had grown to include their stuff, and vice versa. There was Dana's GNC water bottle (diva, I told you) and the matchbooks designed with names of Ivan's band. And, of course, there was the diffuser.
For some reason, on our first night at the new house, our new home, I thought of that hair dryer. Erica, a friend of dozens of friends, had lived there for a month, strewing her clothes about the floor while Brad was on tour. She had tight, dark curls; certainly it was she who had disowned that diffuser. Tina says thanks.