Nobody can say that my life hasn’t been interesting. No, it has not turned out to have been ripe with anything I had planned early on; that’s the way of things. Or is it? My overall wish was to make people laugh, lighten their load, pull off a zinger onstage that left at least one or two audience members weeping for laughing. That has never happened, and I think that the simple reason is that I didn’t grok it then. I didn’t grok anything. I was coming at it all from the wrong perspective with a head so empty that I’m amazed that my eyeballs didn’t fall back into my skull and rattle around like marbles. My fantastical vector was naively set for the outcome that nothing bad would befall me, nobody would pull the rug out from under me, or at least, I would be aware enough not to allow such a thing, and in the process, I would be productive and be living a fun life. The reality is that life isn’t fair, and also, it’s absurd. Each of us tip into various experiential notches worn into a long scale that runs from lovely, to ridiculous, all the way to awful. The hilarity blooms in our subtleties as we move up and down the scale–it’s not the puppet show, but rather, how we made the puppets, got them into our car, closed one of their heads in the car door, arrived at the venue and later watched as our car was towed. I get that now, and if a meteorite were to burst through my ceiling and take me out, my life wouldn’t have been wasted thanks to this realization.
One remarkable scenario–one of many along the way, was when I stupidly left the house after my separation instead of staying and letting ‘him’ go. I had foolish delusions of doing the right thing, and even more foolish delusions of people being fair and nice to me, and that as long as I was polite, everything would be fine. I was like a chicken, thrilled to hatch and then wondering what the letters KFC stood for that were displayed all over the barn.
An acquaintance offered me a room in the basement of a house she was renting; a temporary arrangement, which was fine. Let’s call her ‘Corduroy.’ I had been warned by most of my friends that Corduroy, though well-meaning, had a challenging personality. I was aware of this, but I had met her a few times before, thought that she was quite nice, and didn’t see the problem. I moved into a spacious room in her basement that she had graciously emptied for me. She was a photographer, and had moved out shelves and boxes of prints and paper so that I could arrange what little I had–my bed, my two bikes, and a table for writing. I appreciated the effort and began my life, now physically separated from the man with whom I had spent 25 years with.
Initially, things were fine. I was studying psychology at a university in the city, and Corduroy was busy being a photographer. I wanted it to be clear that we were not an item so I did my best to spend as little time with her as I could without being rude. This didn’t seem to be a problem since we were both busy, and I didn’t think I would be staying that long.
As one month turned into two, then three, I noticed hints about the deeper psychological stability of my host. Though coming through psych 101 with a stellar grade, I was not comfortable diagnosing behaviours, but I did notice them. For example, it became common for me to arrive home to the sound of her angry voice as she hollered through the telephone at some poor agent from the phone company or the givers of the electricity bill. Her expressing her displeasure with these people, and also those running the business where she purchased, or rented photography equipment, became predictable with the delivery of any bills in the mail. I knew she wasn’t the only person to ever struggle to have the cryptic numbers on a phone bill explained, so while this was grating to listen to, I wasn’t judging. I think I began to take stock one day when my van was parked behind her car and she needed to leave, but I was somewhere downtown on my bike. Corduroy texted me and explained the situation and I suppose I must have had the keys with me, otherwise she could have moved it herself. I replied and began peddling right away to get home and move my van. I was good, but I wasn’t faster-than-light on my bike. Ten minutes later, in the middle of a half-hour ride back, my phone dinged, alerting me to another text. I stopped to read it. Corduroy again, wondering where I was. It was as if she had no real consideration of time and space, or she figured that I had stopped to have a nap on the sidewalk, or perhaps memorize some poetry for no good reason other than I had seen a pretty cat near the last stop sign.
Three months turned into four. By this time, I was aware of my need to move out, and ramped up my search for a different roof to under which to hunker down. I remember Corduroy returning from an art show and sending me a text demanding I move my van again. She could have spoken to me directly as I was there in the basement, hard at work on a paper. The sound on my phone was turned off, so I was not alerted to, and did not see her text. She finally came to the door, and you would have thought that I had rented the top floor out to a circus, or spiked her shampoo with some depilatory cream–her anger wildly disproportionate to the challenge of the moment, almost child-like. Sometime after this, I had foolishly called her on a comment she had made about a dinner I had prepared, my interpretation being that I had made an effort and the polite thing to do would be to tuck in. She reeled her almost six-foot frame, up from her chair and into the bathroom where she wailed and banged on the walls of the shower. I looked for television cameras. Was this really happening? So people really behaved this way? I knocked on the bathroom door and apologized in order to get her to calm down, and then whispered to the heavens to get me the hell out of there. In reviewing my diary entries around that time, I was driving around a lot instead going home.
My saviour came just into the sixth month. Through a friend, I met Andrea, who had a room to rent–a TV writer, fan of Jung and psychology, and oh I was ecstatic. The thing was, the room was terribly small, only 10'X11'–room enough for my bed but not much else. I declined, went back to the basement room and Corduroy, felt the vibe, paused, then emailed right back to take that tiny room; I would make it work. I planned my words and carefully explained this good news to Corduroy, highlighting the fact that she could have her house back. I even apologized for this taking so long, and I know, but I was being sincere here. She mentioned that I had already paid rent for the month. Initially, I expressed an interest in getting half-back, but let that go shortly afterward, which I completely understood. So, I thought everything was fine.
The texts began the next day. I was in the library tipping further into the delightful, bottomless cavern of the study of human habits and troubling behaviours when Corduroy began sending frayed comments like buckshot. They were personal, and fierce, and argumentative to the point of wonder. It was like getting a letter from a waiter who figured that the time I had spent at his table gave him license to weigh in on everything about me, that I was terrible and that I should suffer, because I had failed to consider him all the time and always, and never once asked him to join me. It was clear that Corduroy was unhappy with my attitude of blissful joy over my egress. I didn’t know what to say, how to respond. I looked down at my psych text book and decided to step back and observe instead of make any attempts to shoot back and thereby embroil myself in this garbage.
My best attribute is that I am aware of how terrible I am in confrontations, especially if my goal becomes the launching of a worthy and decisive verbal blow. A half-hour after-the-fact, I can come up with the perfect rebuttal but my need for that time lag makes effective delivery impossible, my opponent long gone by then. I did, however, feel that this present disturbance needed to be dealt with in person in order to be clear and precise–qualities lacking in a text. I didn’t want to launch any stinging blows–I really didn’t. I honestly wanted to understand the point of the manic texts–unfair, and unearned shots at my personality so I was willing to risk this possibly bonkers interchange. I responded that I would speak with her when I got back to the house and that it was not necessary to continue her tirade right now–could she please stand down.
When I got back to the house, Corduroy was in her office. I said “Hello,” and asked if she wanted to discuss the situation. She declined, almost ignoring my presence in the doorway, as if nothing weird was going on, citing that she was busy paying bills. It was clear to me that she was avoiding a face-to-face discussion. She could have turned to me, spoken her piece and we could have cleared up the whole thing in a few minutes. Texting is easy. Face-to-face is hard, because you have to behave like you know how humans work.
While Corduroy’s behaviour was odd, diagnosable, and becoming concerning, the real story was developing in the reaction of a friend I drew into the loop; we’ll call her Celeste. I began sharing real-time developments with Celeste, my sons, and my ex, in case I ended up in a shallow grave outside some car wash. Celeste knew my now-imploding housemate and I looked forward to her support. Right away, when I told Celeste that Corduroy cited ‘paying bills’ as occupying her so much that she could not break away to have a conversation about her seeming distress, Celeste commented that she considered that a plausible answer. “Fine,” I thought, "but why didn’t Corduroy come and find me when she was done"? I wasn’t that naïve.
Over the next few days, I began gathering my things and getting ready to leave. Corduroy continued with the derogatory, confusing texts until I had had enough. I threatened to involve the police. She quieted down immediately, but the feeling in the house went from that of a tenant moving out, to the blooming of a full-on Hitchcock film and if the director himself had shown up to appear in whatever scene was being shot, I would not have been surprised, despite his having been deceased for some time. The day came and I filled my van with everything I could for the first load. I drove to an LCBO to pick up a bottle of wine to bring to Andrea, and paused in the parking lot to cry. Again, I looked for cameras because I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I was stressed as hell.
That night, I returned to disassemble my bed and writing table, and load them into my van. It was raining outside and windy enough to bang the side gate open and shut as per regulation horror movie mood-setting. My sons were upset and wanting to help, but I explained that bringing another person into the house with me would be considered threatening to the now, very dark character in this movie. I assured them that I had the police on speed dial and this was true. My heart was pounding, but I took methodical care in everything I did. At one point, while using my drill to take apart my table, I saw her flit past the door, checking to see what I was doing. This gave me chills, but not in a good way. I began carrying out the awkward hardware.
The route from my room turned down a hall, up a short flight of stairs to the side entrance– a normal heavy wooden door inside, and a screen door on the outside. I had the wooden door open in preparation for my hauling things through to the outside on my own. I clearly remember climbing the stairs with my heavy table top, only to watch Corduroy reach over and slam the wooden door in front of me. Cue the scary music, and you might as well keep it playing for a while. I didn’t say anything; I couldn’t because my jaw was on the floor. It was clear that she wanted a dramatic confrontation instead of just talking like, you know, a sane adult. I set my load down, reopened the door, and hauled the table top out through the rain and put it in my van, wishing that I was back in my original house and that it was my ex who was out braving the world’s bullies instead of me.
I continued to send factual text updates to Celeste and my sons every few minutes. My heart was pounding. The most special moment came when I was carrying my headboard out. I began climbing the stairs only to find Corduroy standing in the middle of the stairs with a paintbrush and a can of paint, going at the sidewall as if it really needed it at that moment. She said nothing, but was clearly physically threatening. I kept my eyes lowered, set my headboard down and waited for her to finish. Again, I couldn’t believe that this was happening. What about the idea of “Hey, why don’t I help you load up and we can get a pizza?” Or, “ I’ll load up my car too and help you move in on the other end–really glad you found good digs! Let’s take a break for tea!”
The only item I could not move on my own was my mattress, a task set for the following morning. I enlisted the help of my ex and one of his friends, Jeff. Corduroy was now going completely off the rails, and offered a specific half-hour when she would unlock the door for me to get my mattress. I don’t know why I didn’t simply go without, or buy a new one instead of putting up with this bonkers game-playing. My ex was late which was more than disappointing, but Jeff showed up on time. I brought him up to speed on the scenario ahead of us, instructing him not to make eye-contact with Corduroy, or to engage her in any way. The door unlocked. We walked in and headed down the stairs. On the way, we saw Corduroy. She was standing, looking out of the kitchen window and drinking a glass of water. Jeff looked at me, eyes wide. “The energy in here is nuts,” he whispered. I half-expected to see her arms and legs retract into wings and find her flitting about our heads, bat-like as we worked. We moved as quickly and as quietly as we could.
That was that. I had wanted to do a final vacuum of the room, but there comes a point where it’s foolish to push your luck. It’s like finding out that there’s a pit viper that’s been living in your basement but you’re going to go down and do yoga anyway and then meditate with your pet mice on your lap. She texted later-on complaining about how much dirt was left on the floor, but there was no way I was going back into that house. I asked her to please never contact me again. I crossed her off my Christmas card list.
This woman had really scared me. I reached out to her friends and explained what happened and that she needed some help. Everyone agreed. Nobody did anything.
That experience in itself was terrifying, traumatic, actually, but the more disappointing part of the whole thing was Celeste. A short time later, Celeste invited me to a play. I happened to look at the invite list and gasped when I noticed Corduroy’s name included. I asked Celeste what the deal was, because “remember this thing that had happened that was scary as hell?” Celeste commented that “it was just a miscommunication and that it was between the two of you.” My heart sank. I couldn’t believe it. Cameras again? I almost couldn’t breathe.
Eight years later, which was this past fall, I had the experience of this strange, powerful feeling of sadness in my chest. It kept welling up, and then it would settle. I hung on to it. I wanted to figure out what it was all about, so I focused on it. Finally, I did what I always do–I went out for a bike ride, and a half-hour out, the insight came; it was the unique, unmistakable feeling of betrayal. It was as if it was lodged in a deep wound that had been waiting for the right time to come up to heal, preferably when I was more grounded and wiser, and now was it. I hadn’t been looking for it. Actually, things were going well to the point where I thought that I might be done with therapy, and then this feeling tapped me on the shoulder; “Hey, don’t forget about this bullshit.” The curious thing was that the essential feeling had a familiarity about it. It was a slightly different shape as the betrayal of being cheated on, but lived in the same part of my chest; it was the realization of the betrayal of a friend I had assumed was going to look out for me, and yes, it was bullshit. If Corduroy had been a man, I certainly would have called the police and I’m pretty sure that nobody would have simmered it all down to “a miscommunication.” They probably would have been the ones to call the police and then shown up themselves to make sure that I was okay. Well, some of my friends would have. Okay, my kids would have.
The great thing is that I survived, and through the defining, and the telling, I’ve learned from that terrible feeling, though it took all these years for the scenario to be right. I would think of it now and then along the way, intending to just let it go, but always succumbed to the gaslighting wash that it was my fault. There’s no moral here other than sometimes, people can be shitty, and those people enable others to be the same. Once you figure this out, you develop the awareness, and the ability to trust yourself in your rightful desire to call foul in whatever form works. You do yourself a disservice not to, and you waste precious time, because though you can only see them at night, meteorites never sleep.