Several years ago, I was in a very dark and numb place in my life. I say several and honestly I’ve lost count. I’ve got to that point in my life where I still think that 1997 was yesterday. (That was a good year…)
My ex had left… rather, he had vanished in a cloud of controversy which made it impossible for my roommate and I to stay living where we were, and so we moved in with a work friend of hers. At the time, I kind of knew it was a bad idea, but I had no other option that didn’t involve moving back in with my mother, which meant moving away from the city I wanted to go to school in. Which even then, in my benumbed state, was not negotiable.
Besides, I’d sold my beloved car (mistake) and lost hours at work for numerous reasons; not the least of which was my inability to deal with some of my coworkers with anything but a blank stare or mechanical cheerfulness. To my credit, I never called in sick, even though there were days that it took everything I had to drag my sorry ass out of bed (a mattress on the floor, which made gravity that much harder to resist) and out the door.
But this apartment- suite – place. Whatever it was, it seemed a bit like a godsend. All I really remember is sitting on the living room floor of the previous place, (the one still echoing with my ex) clutching my dwarf bunny to my chest as the local kids threw rocks at the glass in the windows and the balcony doors, hoping they didn’t find any large enough to actually break them. I had the newspaper spread out in front of me, the phone and a pen next to me and even though I had circled ads for apartments, I either couldn’t bring myself to call; paralyzed by an inchoate terror that I’d have to explain why I needed a new apartment, or they seemed too far away or expensive for my and my roommate’s minuscule income.
So when A came home and said she had found us a place all I felt was relief. I didn’t even hear the “but”. That “but” turned out to be that we’d be living with a girl, let’s call her SB, (never mind what that stands for) who I only knew vaguely as a part of a group of girls who had delighted in being less than nice to A and I in high school. They hadn’t stooped to physical bullying, but they had never had anything nice to say while they were part of their pack. (And this is a nice way of saying they were total teenage bitches – but I chalk that up to teenage insecurities – for the most part.) I expressed some misgivings, but allowed myself to be assuaged by her “she’s different now, this isn’t high school.”
Little did we know.
The basement suite was in a house out near what we refer to as “Admiral’s Walk”, which in bus terms is essentially buttfuck nowhere near downtown. But there was a bus that went past the front door at reasonable times for getting to work. (Reasonable meaning that even though we had to bus for an hour, we’d still get to work before openings.) The entrance was at the back of the house and the first time I saw the apartment was the day we all moved in. There was a little back yard which I was happy about because it meant I could take the rabbit out on his leash for some exercise.
The entrance opened into a hall that hosted the three bedrooms. One on the left that SB claimed at once, since it had a big window on the back of the house. The other two, with the high basement suite standard windows were A and my rooms – only the wall that divided these rooms also bisected a window. The upstairs, which was occupied by a woman (who shared my name – and thankfully little else) and her kids shared the laundry room with us which was directly opposite the stairway – which meant we could not lock the door, or have complete privacy.
This was obviously not an entirely legal suite. There was a small space between the window and the wall that we could fit our hands through. This didn’t really matter to us, since we’d been friends for nearly ever – so I got the one closest to the staircase. At the time I still had M’s furniture so I moved his bed in and my meagre stuff and we set about being roommates.
We set up house, we rented movies and I pretended to be anything but morose. A got a kitten and SB’s little shih tzu poodle thing decided it disliked my tiny little rabbit. We even had a few parties with their bf’s and A’s brother and I forced myself to be social, but it took every ounce of energy I had, especially with my ex’s mother calling at stupid times in the early morning to sob, drunkenly in my ear about how she hadn’t deserved this and how the universe was out to get her. Being ridden with guilt myself I couldn’t bring myself to tell her to go to sleep and hang up. So when I wasn’t working – which was part time at best and even then not enough hours to be able to afford everything I needed to get by (thank god for A, or I would never have been able to eat at all) – listening to M’s mother or showering incessantly, I slept. It was all I had the energy to do. A urged me to find a different job and I dutifully printed out my resumes and got dressed in the least wrinkly clothes I could find to hand them out before work, but I think it was obvious to everyone I handed my resume to that I wasn’t ready for anything but more sleep. (There are very few pictures of me in this period. I’d had my hair cut boy-short and there were continual dark circles around my eyes that made me look like a raccoon.)
A’s and SB’s boyfriends came and stayed the night regularly. This in itself was not a bad thing, but the fact remained that I could hear everything that went on in the next room. That made missing M that much harder. As if that wasn’t complicated enough.
My weekly visits to the prison probably did nothing for my reputation with the landlady. Just writing that sentence makes me cringe and there is no way to describe how any of that felt from the inside that anyone on the outside would entirely understand. (I recall a counsellor asking me if I was going to be able to stick with M through the whole thing and when I said yes, he had said “most people say that, but not many actually can.” And I felt like yelling at him “How on earth am I supposed to know how I will feel in a year when I don’t even know how I feel now?” but I didn’t. I think I should have. But of course, he was right.)
Let me describe this woman, our landlady. She’s tall and skinny. I won’t say slender because this looks like a hard won thin. Her face is too narrow because of it. She should have a few more pounds on her to look less like a skeleton. She has long reddish hair past her waist. She’s old enough to have children only a few years younger than me and I’m in my early thirties. She calls her hair her ‘crowning glory’ and keeps it long because ‘that’s what men like’. Honestly she looks dried out and would look far better if she smiled once in a while. Her feeling that men were there to protect their women and that every woman needed a man to be complete kind of put A’s teeth on edge.
Soon I decided that I couldn’t go on as I had been. I wrote M a letter, stopped going to see him and called his parents to come pick up all his stuff. Sadly all his stuff amounted to most of what I had as furniture, so I moved everything left into one corner of my room; the one furthest from the staircase so I didn’t have to hear the landlady or her obnoxiously loud children stomping up and down it quite so personally. I had two single mattresses, a dresser and a cheesebox full of clothes. My single bookshelf and most of my beloved books where in the living room, underneath the rabbit cage. I later moved Sylvan into my room – not that it helped anything, but his small animal noises were soothing.
This was about the time that SB and the landlady had sort of become best friends – and the landlady got herself a semi-rich boyfriend. A was going to work by bus now and not getting rides with either of the other two, even though they all worked at the same place. So she was getting up very early and getting home very late. The landlady started locking the laundry room so that only she and SB could do laundry. The first time they did that my work clothes were in the dryer and I had to go to work in clothes that were respectable, but not cool with the store policy. (It was a clothing store, I had to wear their fashions as best I could. Thank god my boss was an amazingly understanding woman.) A would ask for the key and she’d get it (sometimes), but I never could – and I didn’t feel like arguing when the landlady just bald-faced said “no” to my face. I didn’t have the energy to smile, let alone argue or even ask why. So I did my laundry in the sink when no one was home. I hung each piece up to dry in my room and steamed my pants when I had a shower.
And then the landlady decided that the carpets were being destroyed by A’s kitten and my dwarf rabbit who looked just like this. A’s cat only peed in the litter box or her boyfriend’s shoes. (That cat knew things, I swear.) Sylvan never peed anywhere but the corner of his cage, even when he was on lead and I’m sorry, but bunny poops are dry enough you can pick them up by hand or vacuum them: no harm no foul. It was SB’s stupid little ankle biter who peed on everything – including the couch. Problem being that the damage had been done even before we moved in by the landlady’s very own daughter’s pit bull puppy that they had to give away. (Gee, I wonder why.)
Regardless, this and my late rental payment now and then (even though I had cleared it with her beforehand so I could buy groceries – and once clothes for an interview) was enough to suddenly get us evicted. I’m sure there were other factors but I was not privy to those interactions with A, SB and the landlady – but what I do know from A was that she was suddenly the third wheel, if not the scapegoat for all that went wrong. So much for leaving High School.
The eviction would have been fine as it was, but the landlady had to go ever further. When A and I had moved out: she with her now fiance and I with a new boyfriend, she decided to sue us for the damages to her suite. Funny how SB was never included in this and was obviously still living in the basement. I stopped caring when SB started calling me names and accusing me of stealing her food. (I hardly think a handful of croutons constitutes stealing the entirety of her food budget for a week. Besides, it was the only thing I’d eaten in two days. Maybe three. And when I’d asked she’d sneered at me and told me I should get a job, or a boyfriend to look after me since I obviously couldn’t do it myself. Under normal circumstances I might have slapped her, but at the time I just shook my head, called her a bitch and went to sleep some more.)
The best part was when the landlady woman would show up at our respective workplaces to shout at us, first to serve us papers, then to shout at us to pay her. I recall she came into my store when my boss was in the back (my boss being a very petite, nonthreatening and roundish little woman) and was leaning over the counter, her face thrust into mine as she screamed at me about how much of an ungrateful bitch I was. I had learned that shouting back merely fed her fire, so I said nothing, merely leaned away from her flying spittle, when my boss came out of the back room. I suppose the landlady had thought I was alone because she straightened up right quick. My boss had to look up into her face, but she very sternly and calmly told the landlady to leave and – I’ll never forget this – “we don’t serve your kind here”.
“My kind?” the landlady spat.
“Yes,” she replied. “People with nothing better to do than make fools of themselves in public.” The landlady didn’t argue or say a word – just left.
A and I went to legal aide and even though the lawyer (and aging hippy with an beard I swear could host several bird nests if he sat still long enough) agreed with us, there was no way our word was going to hold up against an angry woman like her. We tried in spite of him, but it came down to whether it was just easier to pay her and hope she would stop harassing us, or if we wanted to spend more money than the lawsuit was worth to make it go away. It was months of hell on top of more hell.
Now, however many years later I see this woman again, working in our local grocery store. I know from this that she’s making the same, if not less than she was when she was being a bitch to us. What is even more clear is that she doesn’t have that man she claimed to have needed to make her whole. I especially liked how she pretended not to know who I was when I went through her checkout with J.
I can’t help but feel a tiny bit vindicated by karma over this. Especially since A now has an adorable daughter and a teaching degree and I’m working in accounting and making enough to make this episode seem to be as horrible as it may ever get.
Listening to: Lily Allen
Reading: S.M. Stirling – Dies the Fire
Drinking: Sweet lemon Iced tea
Word Count: 2510