In February of 2015, I was fresh out of college, excited, and overflowing with luggage and positivity. I'd accepted an internship at Walt Disney World, and the journey began at my assigned housing, with five other interns stuffed into a three-bedroom apartment. On move-in day, I first laid eyes on Cara*.
While everyone had a bit of a rocky start, Cara stood out by her sheer force of will. Within weeks, she'd decided her roommate wasn't a good fit. That roommate was terminated a week later. She did the same thing to my roommate. I was tired of the screaming matches that went on between the two of them, so I let it slide. Plus, I got a bedroom all to myself for a couple of weeks! That was great.
When you live, breathe, and sweat Disney World, as you're expected to on the Disney College Program, you form a very close bond with those you live with, and we remained close during the yearlong hiatus we took from living together. After the six-month internship concluded, I was given a part-time position at the Happiest Place on Earth, took another job at Universal Studios, and got an apartment with my college friend Ellie*. Meanwhile, Cara went back home to save money and planned to return to Florida.
When she visited Ellie and me that October (both to visit and to scope out the location she'd be living in come the next August), I was delighted and relieved to see that nothing had really changed. We practically assimilated into each other in a way that, in hindsight, was not entirely healthy. Secrets were nonexistent. We enabled each other's bad habits. Sometimes it was difficult to tell where she ended and where I began, and the line became even more distorted over time. She'd pick up my phrasing, become obsessed with the shows I watched and the music I listened to, and wear my makeup and clothes. I'd never really had a friend I could do that with, and the emotional support was so, so nice, especially since I'd just emerged from a traumatic and abusive relationship.
Cara was convinced she was destined for some divine purpose, and she assured me that the universe favored me, too. I don't know about you all, but I'm not cool arguing with the entire universe. So I didn't argue or protest as our personalities slowly merged. I never said a word, and that August, Cara moved in with Ellie and me.
Maybe that was when the veneer started flaking.
Immediately upon move-in, Cara found something wrong with every aspect of our living situation: the price, the state of the apartment, how we cooked. If there was something to nitpick, she'd pick until the scab bled. I wasn't too worried, because I considered Cara to be one of my dearest friends, but didn't take long for Ellie and Cara to butt heads.
Ellie wasn't having a good time at home; she needed socialization and a group that the transient nature of Kissimmee, Florida, simply didn't allow for. Cara reacted badly to Ellie's attempts to make friends and wound up drafting a plan to get rid of her, just like she'd gotten rid of both of our roommates when we were Disney interns.
By November, the Florida heat wasn't showing any signs of subsiding, and maybe that's what made the tensions creep up faster than the thermometer. It wasn't long before my roommates were full-out feuding. I don't know how it started, how it progressed, but the wound had burst before I noticed it festering. It hadn't even been three months since Cara's arrival, but Ellie had to go, simply because Cara said so. She went down a list (that she'd apparently been making since her arrival in August) and marked off every offensive thing one by one:
"Doesn't take care of the common areas."
"Refuses to be realistic with money."
"Tried to poison us."
For the record, Ellie had no intention of poisoning anyone, but the air filter hadn't been replaced in an embarrassingly long time. Cara, being highly sensitive to mold (and literally everything else), decided to take the extreme route. Actually, everything she said was extreme, but I, being newly unemployed and dealing with a new bout of depression, went along with it. Cara's plan included a quick little ritual, some black stones, some lit incense, and a powder made from brimstone, sage, and a few other herbs. She took the powder and drew huge arrows from Ellie's room toward the door, put the powder down, and dusted her hands.
"I wanna make sure she fucking goes," she said.
And go she did.
I'm happy to say that Ellie is now living the life of her dreams upstate, but she didn't get out without one final scrape with Cara: She attempted to steal a glass sculpture, one that Cara claimed she felt a "spiritual connection" to. When she was unsuccessful, she asked me to buy it for her, which didn't happen.
We got a new roommate a week later, and everything was smooth sailing. At least, there were clear skies in the apartment.
I'd been dealing with a breakup for the past five months and was slowly coming to terms with the abuse and trauma that I had been put through. It wore away at my mental health until absolutely nothing but depression, anxiety, and personality disorders defined me. At this point, I was still unemployed and living off the charity of my family. I was on the bottle and the pressure was building.
Slowly, I felt the bottle begin to break. I could feel a needle skipping in my head, could feel the scratches, but couldn't express the feeling. Looking back, I can call it overwhelming fear, creeping coldness. I remember pacing around the apartment, I remember lying on the couch and screaming, and I remember the relief I felt when Cara opened the door.
To this day, I am grateful for her. She helped me contact crisis lines, and find a facility for treatment, which I decided to enroll in after Christmas. She helped me in the following days, making sure I was okay, making sure I ate and got out of the house. She also volunteered to be a contact for my mother during this time. Admittedly, there were times when her doting felt excessive, but I understood. She had already been through this.
While I went to therapy and learned how to sort out my issues, however, Cara seemed to be losing herself. As I started dating to get myself out of the house and socialize, Cara began dating as well, only she was seeing twice as many people on twice as many dates. She began a relationship with someone who had cheated on her twice previously. She'd twist and contort her body in social situations to physically shut me out. When I asked what was going on, asked why she was being so distant and if I had done anything to upset her, I was greeted with a barrage of texts telling me I "wouldn't understand." My feelings were in my head. She didn't have time for my insecurities.
When she told me I "couldn't manipulate her," and that she couldn't handle mental illness in her home (and that was why she didn't "put up" with Ellie), I just took it as confirmation. In the end, I had no choice but to drop the subject and watch her drift away, doing nothing.
Shortly after, on a Thursday afternoon, I was surprised by a visit from my landlady. She told me that Cara had reported to her that I was doing things that were "unsafe." These unsafe things included being irresponsible with my money and forcing her to help me with my recovery, among other accusations. I didn't get a chance to plead my case (and, admittedly, most of my time was spent in therapy at that point, so I didn't have much of one) before she told me that she'd reevaluate in 30 days. If I wasn't employed or otherwise up to par, I would be evicted.
I called my mother in tears, but when she told me that this added up to what "Cara was saying," something clicked. I didn't waste any time teaching my mother how to screencap text messages.
And there it was, all laid out in text messages to my mother: Cara insisting that I would have another breakdown, telling her that I was stealing, that I had no coping skills other than drug use and using people, that I was neglecting my medication and washing it all down with top shelf liquor that I couldn't afford. She claimed that a friend of mine who she disliked was my drug dealer. She said that she was planning an intervention. She wasn't.
Everything she'd told me after my enrollment in therapy had been an elaborate, aggressive gaslighting attempt.
No proverbial bottles broke or records skipped, but I still don't really know how to describe the hollow feeling you get when you realize a particularly cruel truth: that someone you love doesn't have an ounce of faith in you. But, when things move, they move. Within seven days, I had a job, one that paid higher than both of my roommates'. Two paychecks in, and I had enough money to start looking for my own place, and I secured my own one-bedroom apartment without telling anyone. Cara, however, had more tricks up her sleeve.
She started opening my mail. Specifically, legal documents containing financial information. She told the landlady that I was holding the internet account hostage because she had lost track of the Wi-Fi password. She also reported me for smoking marijuana in my room and shorted me money on the internet bill. Fine, whatever.
Then I found the remnants of incense, herbs, and ashes outside my bedroom door. Multiple times. I don't know what she did. I don't know what she used. I do know she probably attempted to do some kind of witchcraft on me, and that spurred me into hyperdrive. With two weeks to go, I called the landlady and told her that I was leaving, out of courtesy.
My roommates got a note on the fridge.
After I left, it wasn't a big deal. I was out, they couldn't find me, and all I needed to do was learn how to relax. I was moved in and settled, but Cara had one last surprise for me. When I received my security deposit back from the landlady, she handed me a plastic bag filled with books and other knickknacks and said, "The girls found this under your old bed."
I took a short second to search inside the bag. A book and sketchbook (belonging to Ellie). My shoe. My knitting needle. My cards. And a few other things that had been lost the past few months. I felt that familiar sense of dread kicking in. My landlady noticed and told me to throw it all away.
I threw most of it straight into the trash. Looking back, burning it may have been the better option.