Dealing with an Abusive Roommate During COVID Lockdown

Lockdown Gone Wrong

My father and I had picked up my mattress and boxspring from the Brooklyn apartment I shared with my abusive roommate, strapped it to the top of my mother’s Honda Odyssey, and drove north to my Connecticut hometown. It was a relief to get his help. The bed was my final item left in my old cramped two-bedroom apartment in Bushwick.

I note the luxury of being able to leave NYC during COVID for my childhood home only forty-five minutes away. Not only did I have more room to walk around but I wouldn’t have anyone threatening my life in my new living space either. 

Ticking off the Checklist – All of the Signs of an Abusive Roommate

I omitted that one tiny detail (the death threats) when recounting my abusive roommate’s actions to my father. Either for my father’s protection or my former roommate’s, or a combination of both. Instead, I told him that Guy had called me a liar day in and day out for no apparent reason. That and other putdowns… more than I was ready to name.

My roommate and high school friend, a man named Guy, stayed on in our cramped two-bedroom apartment for another couple of months. He was able to pay for the two-bedroom using the stimulus unemployment money he received after working a job for a single day before the city shut down. He quit the receptionist position stating that he had COVID and it worked out in his favor.

When Putdowns & Public Embarrassment Snowball Into Death Threats

Guy was always the type to call out your embarrassing moments in front of groups of people to get a laugh. The type that would put you down, name call, then take it all back saying he was joking. That’s nothing too bad. It was high school, after all.

There were so many things Guy enjoyed making fun of. With a friend like that, I quickly learned to whittle down what I would tell him, filtering out information that may cause him to want to say something hurtful. Guy would often make wild sweeping statements about my character that had no basis in reality. I later learned that this is called character assassination but at the time, I considered each terrible accusation. I would find space for its proposed place inside of my identity before rejecting it outright.

By the time we were adults living in New York, all I could tell him were funnier things about my day. Parents were out of the equation (if my mother and I had coffee he would call me privileged), travel was out (he called me damaged for loving travel), work was out (he constantly questioned whether marketing could even be remote work), and relationships were out.


My abusive roommate began using worse words throughout 2019 and 2020. His comments were sporadic and random though, so it was hard to pinpoint whether he was at all sincere in what he said.

One moment we were having a good time together and the next he was saying that I’d been a liar since I was born and that I was the most pathetic person he knew… out of the blue. Then he would go back to talking about the Real Housewives.

On a beautiful day during lockdown, he asked me why I didn’t bike more. I told him that I was afraid to bike in the city. That and at times I have difficulty breathing. Rolling my eyes, I admitted that as a child, I faked asthma because I couldn’t run fast in gym class and couldn’t breathe. He immediately shot back, “oh is that the moment you became a fucking liar?” All I could do was ignore him, shocked. My abusive roommate glared at me… hoping I’d say something, I suppose. Ironically, I was just diagnosed with asthma and given my first inhaler in May of 2020.

Monitoring Whereabouts & Digital Spying as a Means of Control

In retrospect, long before living together, Guy sat me down and told me I had to tell him where I was and with whom at all times because he “worried.” He had demanded this of me because I hadn’t told him I was traveling to LA with my lover at the time. But… why would I? We weren’t living together and my absence wouldn’t, or rather, shouldn’t have impacted him. I was confused but tried to find some sweetness in his troublesome statement.

Guy had never met that lover I had often traveled with. I called my lover The Canadian. I wasn’t serious enough about him to either introduce him to friends or call him by his actual name.

The Canadian was a wealthy businessman I had met on Tinder. I saw him casually on and off for about four years. While I never cared to date him, I regard him as one of the kindest men, and most helpful in terms of life advice, that I’ve ever known. The relationship I had with him showed me what it was like to be cared for without conditions.

So when my abusive roommate would look at me in disgust when I’d bring The Canadian up in passing, I’d shut down. Guy would try to tell me The Canadian‘s age rather than either knowing it or asking. He would continue to tell me what type of man he believed The Canadian to be, what he believed it said about me, and so on.

As Soon as the Lease Was Signed, the Abuse Became Incessant

When Guy’s former roommate abruptly moved out, I moved in. It was perfect timing for me and the hunt for a new apartment was always a headache. So I signed the papers then flew to London. The Canadian had offered me on more than one occasion the opportunity to use his family flats in either Paris or London. I’d been with him plenty of times in the past but, due to uh… extraordinary circumstances I won’t write about now, he was no longer able to leave his home country.

The apartments sat empty most of the year with only his family’s sort of live-in secretary tending to both places. I knew her well so I took him up on the offer, not knowing the repercussions it would have with Guy. To avoid conflict, I told Guy I was traveling to see family. I hadn’t known he was tracking my phone’s location and that he’d proceed to call me a liar from the moment I returned on through the entirety of our living together. I believe that is probably where the term “liar” originated, him knowing I was abroad instead of with family. From there, the accusations and name-calling got progressively worse.

Then came my roommate’s constant threats of stabbing me to death in my sleep which, admittedly, became especially worrisome during the COVID lockdown. On one evening in particular, where my abusive roommate threatened me at least half a dozen times in a single evening, I decided it was best to start keeping pepper spray on my nightstand.

The Abuser Interrupts & Trivializes

Just a year before Guy and I signed the lease on an apartment together, I’d been having a couple of drinks with him and his mother. She was a wealthy woman who was incredibly generous to all of her adult children. She paid their phone bills and, apparently, many of Guy’s other financial needs. Somehow, after one too many cocktails, his mother had gotten into describing what it was like to live with Guy’s father when they were married. She had to attend support meetings towards the end and her words stuck with me.

In that meeting, most of the girls sitting around had bruises… on their faces, their arms. And I sat there thinking, why didn’t you leave? If it’s so obvious, how couldn’t you have known to leave? Physical abuse is so clear cut… or is it? With his father, it started off with all of the small things. He’d never listen to what I’d say, constantly interrupt…

And just like that, Guy interrupted his mother, bored with the conversation. Guy often interrupted, rolling his eyes, getting frustrated when a conversation didn’t fully include him. Guy’s mother and I looked at each other and… we smiled. I remember us smiling, rolled our eyes at one another. Men! We said without words.


The Final Straw

For the majority of the year living together, I’d shrug it off when Guy would say something unwarranted and hurtful. I would stay silent. I’d shrug off when he’d put down my accomplishments. Or when he would flinch because I seemed too happy or too excited. It “terrified” him, he explained.

Naturally, I’d ruminate over my abusive roommate’s words after he’d said them. What had I done that was so wrong? Why would he consider me a liar? After all, I’d known him for years. He had lied for over a decade about having a mentally ill brother and being poor. So how was I seen as being so… bad?

I was vulnerable then. I wasn’t making the money I wanted to make and I felt suffocated by freelancing. While remote work had offered me the freedom to travel, I didn’t have the agency experience most jobs want to see. Guy’s words were hitting all the right buttons. But no matter what I did, no matter what I said, and no matter how hard I tried, he was always angry.

What finally snapped me out of accepting his abuse was, surprisingly, Star Trek. Or really, the premiere of Picard. I’m a huge TNG fan so I was excited for the new show. For some reason, I decided to watch the premiere in the living room. Usually, I would watch TV in my room to avoid hateful comments from Guy and only watch his favorite shows with him in the common area.

Abusive Outbursts…

My roommate was sitting on the couch with his computer, making comment after mean comment about the show until it became too much. “You’re a fucking pathetic loser for liking this show. How could you ever expect to be loved with this pathetic, worthless shit?” He asked me. I turned off the show after five minutes. He began laughing. “What? Are you serious, you’re not going to continue?” I brushed it off and told him I was tired. I went to my room to finish packing as I was heading out to Sundance Film Festival with a friend the following day.

Surprisingly, my roommate stood outside of my room and continued his cruel rampage.

…and Continued Threats

As my abusive roommate stood outside of my door, I continued to pack. He told me that I would “be on the streets” if it wasn’t for him. He asked me if I was “scared” about what he knew about me, what he could use against me.

When he had threatened to stab me in my sleep for the first, second, or tenth time, I should have known then and there that something was up. But it took all of these crazy words to really snap me out of accepting his abuse. What on earth did he think he had against me? What had I done? Of all people, Guy knew less about me than any of my other friends. Could it be something from high school, college? Why would I be on the streets if it wasn’t for him? Was he imagining things? He sounded like my high school ex who was yet another textbook case of an emotional and at times physical abuser. And just like that, I realized what he was. Just another abuser.

Keep Safe – Tell a Friend

I flew to Utah and met my friend for a fun Sundance weekend. Cautiously, I told her about what was happening. At first, I felt as though I might sound insane but she was immediately responsive, offering helpful words and advise.

A small thing had changed: I was no longer isolated. I started to tell other people, just in case he did act on his threats one night while I was sleeping. While I had been taking plenty of weekends away from the apartment ever since my roommate had started calling me a liar, I decided it was time to stay gone for as much time as possible.

Then the pandemic hit.

COVID Survival: Dark Humor in a Dark Place

I won’t continue on with this story as really, it is meant to help me better understand what happened. See, we did have plenty of good times, as all abusive relationships do. The pandemic wasn’t all bad but my roommate did continue to use abusive words and feign helplessness, as many abusers do. He often needed everything done for him but this time, during lockdown, he would scold me like a child if I took it upon myself to fix something in the apartment that was broken. When I asked the apartment management to fix an issue we’d had for months (Guy said he would handle it but didn’t and it made the place unlivable during lockdown) Guy told me that I wasn’t allowed to send emails unless he approved them first.

And so, I began relating these messages to others for a laugh.

With one month to go, I hardly left my room. Instead, I wrote a novel. When I did come out into the common space, my roommate would order me to leave the house and go for a walk. Then the next day, he would shame me for leaving because the stranger he wanted to hook up with on Grindr thought I’d give them both COVID if I were to go on a walk again. It was constant insanity so staying in my room was best.

The Finale

My roommate and I had worked out that I would get my deposit back when I moved out. Of course, I knew Guy would delay it as a way of financial control. When I came back for my mattress, Guy tried to keep my PS4 I’d let him use and immediately set in again, as one last try at control. As soon as my father was in the bathroom, Guy demanded to know where I was living and where I would be a month from now. In that moment, I felt so sad for him, which was a strange moment of healing and empathy for me.

Guy delayed giving me my deposit months. Finally, I told him I could go to the office myself. As we had used part of it to pay for a month’s rent during COVID, I was due back a different amount but, as I had expected, Guy would only send me a fraction of the total. There were many cases of my abusive roommate using unilateral decision-making when we lived together. In this case, he had cut me out of conversations with management and sent me one final email that ended with, “do not respond to this email unless you agree to do what I say.”

Stay Silent to Your Abuser. Use Your Voice to Seek Shelter and Support

Later, my father asked me why I never confronted Guy. He wanted to know why I didn’t ask why Guy had kept calling me a liar.

I told my father that it took me a while to figure out it was his issue, not mine. I had been convinced for a long while that I was somehow bad and to blame. But ultimately, I didn’t want to address the paranoia and hatefulness my abusive roommate was constantly bombarding me with. I was afraid that hearing Guy out would be a whole lot scarier than not dealing with it in the first place. I had no idea that my abusive roommate would continue to call me a liar day in and day out for an eight-month lease. Or that his threats would reach the levels that it did.

After five years of dating my high school ex who would constantly goad then blame me, who loved pushing my buttons and told me he only knew I loved him if I was crying, I was tired of men’s constant hatred. And I knew that facing the words, the hatred, the death threats meant acknowledging them. Acknowledging the abuse in abusive relationships often means punishment, or it did from my ex.

An Abusive Roommate Feels Quite Different From an Abusive Ex

The only thing that was notably different between my abusive roommate and my abusive ex was that all of Guy’s angry words truly were out of the blue. That, and that there was no sexual aspect of the relationship. When my abusive ex would do his worst, it was more often during a fight. Guy’s abuse felt more isolating than my ex’s because I didn’t feel like a co-conspirator. I could see my ex’s actions were wrong but I kept coming back for more. Freely, Iook the bait, I got into arguments willingly with him and forgave him again and again and again.

I had loved my ex. As with any abusive relationship, I had wanted to fix him, and, in the end, wanted him to hurt me because that meant he wasn’t out there hurting someone else. It took a lot of therapy to understand that my abusive ex was purposefully creating situations or using controlling actions to goad me into anger and sadness. In the end, when I no longer acted, he seemed most like Guy, using hurtful words out of the blue to try to get a rise out of me that refused to come.

It’s So Out of the Blue That It Doesn’t Feel Real… You Become Numb

In contrast, my abusive roommate would erupt with death threats so utterly out of the blue that I questioned my own sanity. One moment, we were walking, talking, laughing, and the next he would threaten to stab me in my sleep. There was no reasoning.

I felt the words my abusive roommate used. Or at least, I did at first. They were hatred, not anger or a warped, abusive form of love like my ex. Guy’s words were so carnal, so insane that when I finally saw them for what they were, I felt deep despair, not unlike the sadness I felt with my ex. It was the deep sadness of knowing that he would find someone new to hurt, someone perhaps more readily vulnerable to in turn hurt themselves.


I wrote this piece about a month after moving out of Brooklyn but have since revised it. I am in Croatia now, living a quiet, peaceful existence with my boyfriend.

The other night, I thanked my boyfriend David for being so supportive of me. He often encourages my interests and offers helpful, positive suggestions for my writing, my work, or my daily life. I told him that it’s so weird… how nice he is to me. David was surprised by that but, given my history, wholly understanding.

Abusers are the physical incarnation of our most hateful thoughts, our most self-sabotaging behaviors in action. It takes work and it takes time to step away from those who hurt us or those thoughts that work to hurt ourselves. Those who have been victims of abuse often fall into patterns with toxic friendships or romantic relationships. It takes work, but there is always a way to be free.

COVID Abuse Has Spiked. Find Help

Reading about the amount of domestic violence that has turned deadly during the pandemic has been heart-wrenching. My personal situation was something I can write about, something I can roll my eyes and laugh at. But true domestic violence that is acted upon, and the true PTSD that follows takes years to unravel.

I consider myself fortunate that his threats of stabbing me in my sleep weren’t acted upon. Really, being in this position with anyone is wholly surreal and isolating. My number one piece of advice for anyone going through this is to tell a friend, keep threatening messages and audio on file (just in case), and find help.

If you are reading this because you find yourself in a similar situation, know there are people who will help, whether you know them presently or not. Find support groups virtually or, once possible, in person.

Here is a helpful guide that describes abusive actions, warning sign by warning sign. And here’s a link to Domestic Shelters. They offer a 24/7 hotline for those in need.