Monday, December 10, 2007

The Buzz Saw

She gave a good-humored critique of the aesthetics of my Nordic Trak, which I kept in the living room, for want of a better place. She wasn’t the first to do so, and although it was a little gutsy to do in an interview, I let it go. I had no idea she would go through my life like a buzz saw, destroying and on the way creating enough distraction to prevent all thought beyond Make it Stop.

She warned that she did tend to leave dishes in the sink. In my hubris I thought, I can fix that.

It turned out she left dishes in the sink for a week or more at a time, not even rinsing them. Along with the dishes she left the few pots and pans we had in the sink for a week at a time. Did it occur to her that I might want to cook? Apparently not. The smell was sickening. Anywhere else we’d have had vermin.

She moved into her room, and then almost immediately took over the living room as well, occupying the couch from evening til dawn, leaving her books and bags on the couch when she went out or to bed. Art supplies made their home on the living room floor. Shopping bags full of papers and magazines lodged semi-permanently in the corner outside her door. She even moved her printer and computer into the living room – on the couch—with the cord stretched across the room to the opposite wall, for a week. Then for months.

And she left the door unlocked. I left a note asking her to be sure to lock it. She did it again within 2 weeks, and I left a note begging her to be sure to lock it. She denied having left it unlocked. The third time, I left a note scolding her for leaving it unlocked. The fourth time in 6 weeks, I told her I wanted her to move out, because I couldn’t trust her with my belongings. She had on the same day scratched my antique writing desk—presumably while putting the printer on it, and denied it. She denied having left the door unlocked, too, but in the heated conversation admitted that she’s had lifelong difficulty with locking doors.

Predictably, she insisted she had a lease. I made it clear that the lease was of no interest to me and that I didn’t want her there.

Meanwhile, there were the thermostat incidents. I came home to find the heat turned up to 72 and the living room window propped wide open. I said nothing. The second time I made an issue of it. But something strange was going on. Even after the heat was turned down to 50, the apartment was a sauna. The thermostat was broken.

And somewhere in here, in January, there was the lizard, an iguana, which, she was careful to tell me, could be 6 feet long in 2 years, that came to stay. She thought the living room, on my antique writing desk, in an enormous lighted cage would be ideal. I insisted that she would keep it in her room. This conversation kept running outside its boundaries, on its way to becoming what Gloria used to call a vertical harangue, and I kept saying, We discussed that already, why are we talking about that?

Like a lot of young, idealistic people, she felt it was cruel to keep the iguana caged (so why have it at all, I thought) and she like to walk around the house with it on her shoulder or wrapped in a towel. One evening I stopped home to get a few things for the night and found her on the floor in the bathroom, the bottom board and the vinyl trim pulled off the vanity. The iguana had found a slim opening and slipped through and was hiding under the vanity. “Bad iguana. Bad iguana,” she said to the vanity. She said she’d put the bathroom back together, but showed no signs of doing so after a week. I doubted she could manage the adhesive part of the task without getting adhesive on something irreplaceable.

Next the deadbolt lock in the front door was broken, or something jammed in it so it wouldn’t work. I came home one evening to find it that way, and because it was just after the I Want You to Leave conversation, I wondered aloud to our landlord whether she had changed the locks. No, just broken.

Shortly after the rancorous conversation in which I told her I wanted her out, I overheard her on the telephone having a conversation in a very similar tone with someone else. I thought, Ah-ha, she runs her life this way.

Late in February there were the broken glass incidents. I came home one afternoon to find a paper bag outside the back door containing the shards of a broken pane of glass. Having inspected the windows and found no damage, I discovered a picture frame she had been storing in the living room. Now the glass was gone.

Two or three days later, I came home in the morning to discover a smashed drinking glass (one of hers) in the bathroom sink.

That same day I had ridden the 206 bus with her in the morning. She put her bike on the bus’ bike rack. As she climbed on the bus, the driver berated her about spilling water (or something—I hadn’t seen the incident) on the rack. “You’re supposed to clean that up,” he chided as she brushed past. Again, I thought, Ah-ha, this goes on everywhere for her. I imagined people everywhere telling her she should clean up her messes. There was a little comfort in that.

I wondered, considering the level of anger she seemed to feel toward the world and the amount of hostility it apparently returned, whether I would come home someday to find she had hurt herself. I didn’t know enough about passive aggression to know whether it commonly turned inward or not. Still, I couldn’t help wondering how lonely and unhappy life must be for her.

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