When you are in school, there’s a persistent myth that is spread about, particularly by teachers, parents and others in positions of authority, that you need only suffer bullies until you graduate; at this point they will all magically disappear, presumably, into prisons, or learn the errors of their ways and become productive members of society. If you are a bullied child (as I was), it is a belief that you cling to with near-religious fervour, and you do so for the very simple reason that if you need it to be true; emotionally and psychologically, you need to believe that sooner or later, you will be free, and there will be some sort of a reckoning in which your tormentors are punished for their multitudinous crimes and you are rewarded for your patience and perserverance*.
Unfortunately, it’s utter horseshit.
That’s not to say, mind you, that there wasn’t, at least in my case, a noticeable drop-off in the frequency and severity of bullying incidents after I left high school, or that violent, cruel imbeciles are not, in general, more likely to end-up dying at a young age or finding themselves behind bars** than are their opposites in mainstream society (all other factors being equal). But it is nevertheless the case that there exists a particular class of people who have only one pleasure left to them in their miserable lives: capriciously exercising authority over powerless victims. And these people do not simply vanish off the face of the Earth after they leave school; no matter how little they actually have to show for their lives, no matter how pathetic their existences, they will delight in tormenting anyone over whom they have any power whatsoever, no matter how ephemeral.
Such is the case with my (knock-on-wood) soon-to-be former landlady. I honestly have no idea how she got to be this way: she’s a stay-at-home mother, so I’ve always just guessed that she probably resents having to rent-out rooms in her house for an extra source of income. Whatever her deal, it has become trivially obvious that she can be counted amongst the ranks of bullies.
I’ve only lived at that particular apartment for seven months; from what I can gather, that seems to be about the average duration of time that her tenants can stomach her bullshit. At first, I thought that she was merely persnicketty, micromanaging her tennants to an extreme and impractical extent. It started small; she demanded that our rent cheques should be in her mailbox by the night before they were due so that they could be cashed immediately. Perhaps a bit impatient, but hardly unreasonable.
Then she started timing-out how long we had the heat on (this was in winter, mind you), coming downstairs to complain if she thought that we had had it on too long (this in spite of the fact that Nominatissima and I were paying a third of the utility bill, as per our rent agreement). Perhaps a bit greedy, but I supposed that she was saving me money in a roundabout sort of way.
Then she announced that she no longer wanted us to take baths, as she felt that it was wasting hot water, because she “only had a normal, house-sized water tank” (this, again, in spite of the fact that we were paying a third of the utility bill). This pissed me off, because I am a lady who very much enjoys taking baths, and I started to wonder how she could get-off advertising her unit as having “hot water” when she wouldn’t let the tenants use it. But, I decided, there was only so much hot water to go around, and once again it was, in a round-about, involuntary sort of way saving me money, and I didn’t want any trouble afterall, so I went along with that to.
Next-up, our toilet seat broke (well, actually this happened about three hours after we moved in, but it was such a minor inconvenience that we didn’t bother to report it until we had company coming-over). She repaired it, but then sent us a long, bitchy e-mail announcing that, in fact, she had only done this as a courtesy to us, because quite frankly it was our responsibility as tenants to maintain her suite in a livable condition. To me that seemed like a fundamental misconstruction of the relationship between tenant and landlord, but then I thought, I supposed that there was a certain reasonable standard of care that we needed to exercise towards other people’s property, though it didn’t really apply in the case of the toilet, but it was really our own fault for not reporting it immediately.
And on and on it went: she complained about finding a single, spent match lying on our bathroom floor, and the threat that fire represented to her home (“perhaps a bit paranoid but…”); she started routing through our recyclables, ostensibly to ensure that we were sorting them properly (“she’s just ecologically-minded, that’s all!”); she wrote long, bitchy e-mails decrying the “filthy” condition of our (perfectly normal) apartment (“perhaps a bit anal-retentive, but…”)
Eventually, we decided that we were no longer willing to put up with the annoyance, and we started looking for new places (she reacted to recieving a request for a background check from one of our new prospective landlords by phoning-up Nominatissima and shouting-out a lengthy tirade about how she was “a very busy woman***” and that raising her one child was a “full-time job” and therefore, how dare we not alert her before hand). I remained compulsively determined not to attribute any of her behaviour to malice; I would rationalize, in my head, each new offense that she brought against us as either being “not that unreasonable” or as being “really our fault to begin with.” I’m not honestly sure why I felt that way; perhaps a lingering sort of denialism that bullies could exist outside of a highschool environment, or a desperate bid to avoid the necessity of having to engage in any sort of confrontation. Whatever my motivation, it was a very psychologically unhealthy mindset–a victim mindset, in fact, into which I had settled.
It was only this past weekend that I revised this opinion. I was at the suite on Sunday, cleaning in preparation for our departure. The landlady came down, wanting to look at the sealant around our bathtub. When she was checking it out, she noticed some small cracks in the grout on our tiles. She started absolutely freaking-out, blaming us first of all for using improper cleaning products and then (when that didn’t stick) for not leaving bathroom door open (which didn’t stick either), so she ultimately settled on telling me that I should have been keeping the window open, and therefore it was all my fault, and oh boy, would this ever be coming out of my damage deposit! Of course, I rationalized this away (“why didn’t we leave the window open?”) and continued to work while she sat in the bathroom, angrilly scraping out the grout with an exacto knife.
This carried-on for several hours; I would clean the rest of the house while she worked in the bathroom. I recognized that I myself was prone to fits of panic and rage, so maybe she and I just shared a common affliction; I tried making conversation with her, but she had an uncanny knack for steering our topic of discussion back to my (apparent) complete inability to maintain her property in a proper, working order.
Finally, I ran out of paper towels and tried to borrow some of hers. She flipped the fuck out, and launched into an hysterical, profanity-laced tirade against Nominatissima and I; then she gestured at a grease stain which had somehow managed to manifest itself upon the interior of the window of her “brand new oven door,” announced that that oven had cost more than a thousand dollars and that if I did not clean it, I would be “on the hook for all of it!” I tried to point out that dismantling the oven door (which seemed like it would be necessary) would probably be difficult and may well void her warranty, but she announced that she was tired of hearing my “excuses.” I took her threats at face value, so, after she left, I, still operating under the fevered and pathetic delusion that I could avoid a confrontation when one was so clearly upon me, set about dismantling the oven door with a screwdriver.
Have you ever dismantled an oven door?
Do you know what’s inside it?
I’ll give you a hint: razor-sharp pieces of sheet metal.
After cutting the ever-loving fuck out of my hand, I found myself there, all alone, late at night****, an unskilled craftsperson with no training in appliance repair, surrounded by the guts of a “brand new, eleven hundred dollar oven” (for which I would be “on the hook” for even so much as a single speck of grease), with my vital fluids staining the now-exposed layer of insulation. I am not ashamed to say that I panicked. I panicked for several minutes, maybe as long as an hour, before what I can only assume to be God in the guise of Samuel L. Jackson’s disembodied voice came down from heaven to tell me to “Calm yo tits, woman!”
And so, through some miracle, I (using a rubber glove as a baggie in which to hold my blood) put the damn thing back together. And then, you see, I started worrying that my landlady was going to charge me for the bloodstains I had left behind.
And in that instant, I had an epiphany: here was a job for which I was singularly unqualified, which I hadn’t wanted to do, which I was threatened into doing by a woman who had found a couple of greasestains to be more than her poor heart was capable of bearing, and I was worried (with legitimate cause) that this woman would charge me for costs related to the injury that I had sustained on her behalf.
And in that instant, I realized that this woman was more than merely annoying. This woman was more than merely mentally ill (although I still think that she is this as well). This woman was a villain from a goddamn Dickensian melodrama! This woman was the closest that I would ever come to meeting the real life version of Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and I had spent the last seven months letting her carve “I must not tell lies” into the back of my hand.
So you know what? Fuck her. Fuck her, and fuck every other fucking bully who has ever sucked precious fucking oxygen through their unworthy fucking lips.
And fuck me for being a silent party to my own victimization for so fucking long.
*This also probably accounts, more than anything else, for the popularity of beliefs in Heaven, Hell and Karma, to say nothing of other, more secular beliefs, such as the ‘inevitability’ of a classless society.
**Or as officers in the Ontario Provincial Police
****Dismantling the oven door took me about four hours.