Last May I was newly 23, debating whether or not to apply to graduate school, and desperate to get out of my parents’ house. I had a job at an independent bookstore, where I met my coworker Jacob*, who lived with his girlfriend of six years, Melissa*.
They were a relatively introverted couple; they were into fantasy and sci-fi, and regularly attended comic-cons and other genre-related events in the area. They had a bunny and seemed pretty normal, for what it was worth.
At the back of my mind I thought they were an odd pair. He was grounded, exercised and meditated every day. She was different, an over-sharer, the cliché type of person you wish you hadn’t started talking to at a party. They were both into theater; he did the writing and directing, while she planned to move them to L.A. to pursue acting.
I knew we wouldn’t be best friends, but they had an extra room in their apartment, and I could mostly afford the $700 rent on my paltry part-time pay.
I didn’t know they had cleaned extensively before my arrival, and I thought it looked like a pretty regular apartment inhabited by a couple of late twentysomethings. Their living style, as I quickly learned, was one that might be charitably described as “proto-hoarder."
Nearly everything that entered the apartment never left: shopping bags, mail, beer bottles, and the like. Laundry was hung to dry on any available surface. The trash collected in increasingly larger dumping grounds in the communal areas of the apartment.
Within a month, the dining room table could not be located. I left for a week in June, and returned to find every single dish crusted with food and littering the house. Trash and compost sat long forgotten and had begun cultivating a substantial fruit fly infestation. I looked into the trash can after removing the liner and discovered a thick layer of putrid brown muck that had surely been decomposing there since before I’d moved in.
Frustrated and refusing to live in this environment, I spent days cleaning. I cleaned it all. And I cleaned it all for the entire time I was there, because I was grateful to have “my own” place.
Five months later, the apartment was worse, but I could finally afford new digs. I broached the subject with Jacob to let him know I was thinking of moving. He simply looked at me with big eyes, and it was only then I noticed he was folding clothes into a backpack.
“I’m breaking up with Melissa,” he said.
“Ohhhhhh nooo,” I replied, simultaneously shocked and relieved.
But I wasn’t really surprised he wanted to, only that he was going through with it. I’d become aware from living in close quarters that she was no longer laughably oblivious or socially awkward. She lacked personal boundaries, emotional stability, and some necessary medication. She loved playing the victim and failed to recognize the negative consequences of her poor decisions. She told me her therapist had described her emotional manipulation of others as “mind rape,” and I secretly agreed.
The place was so cluttered that Jacob’s packed suitcase went unnoticed by her until he finally ended it and moved out a day later.
The breakup affected her as one might imagine — crying fits, sleepless nights, and calling in sick to work. Her difficult personality meant she didn’t have any friends or support system to help her through the breakup. She stopped eating regularly and started drinking more, always alone. I was sympathetic at first; how could I not have been? But months passed and nothing changed.
I found myself mediating the couple’s interactions because they refused to speak to one another. Melissa was always up through the night in a manic fervor, moving (no, throwing) things around under the guise of "packing" up her ex-boyfriend's things.
When I told her I was moving out on November 1, she began starting fights over trivial things, like leaving the screened window open when no one was home, and accusing me of stealing her belongings. I could feel my resolve slipping after I came home one day to her packing up her dishes and pans, because “she didn’t use them” (I did).
She moved her rabbit, the unused vacuum, and other prized possessions into her room without a word, as if to say she didn’t trust me to be around them anymore. The night before I moved out, she finally snapped.
I’d gone out to a Halloween party in an attempt to trade my all-too-real hellish surroundings for a fantastical one, if just for one night. I arrived home around 2 a.m. accompanied by my boyfriend, who, unlike me, had partaken in the Halloween festivities with exuberance. I deemed him a bit too tipsy to wash off his full skeleton face paint, so I grabbed the trash can out of the bathroom (mine was boxed away) and a pack of makeup wipes and let him at it. After cleaning up, we passed out, knowing I had to be up early to move out in the morning.
At 5 a.m. I heard a screech: “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” followed by crashes and thumps against my bedroom door. It was easy enough to guess her strategy here — throwing my toiletries from the bathroom, the only things I had left to pack, in my general direction.
Face down in the pillow, I tried to ignore her, but my heart was pounding so fast I had to do something. I knew it was the trash can; I’d never moved it back to the bathroom. Throwing open the door, I asked her what exactly she thought she was doing.
“Stop stealing my stuff!” she shrieked, confirming that she was indeed referencing the communal bathroom trash can. It was not the first unfounded accusation she’d brought against me in the past few days.
“The trash can? I borrowed it because mine is packed. I’m not trying to steal anything!”
“You keep doing this! It’s November 1st, you’re supposed to be gone!” She launched into a maniacal tirade about what a terrible thief I was.
She was furious and terrifying, a Halloween ghoul in her own special way, and in my own fear I lost the calm I'd tried to maintain for so many months. I yelled back and showed my anger, but all along remained in the doorway of my room while she was in the hallway.
“I’m ending this,” she announced, “I’m calling 911."
Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at the door, and her demeanor changed. She was suddenly theatrical in the extreme, opening the door wearing only a flimsy, see-through nightgown, and making a visible effort to appear victimized and helpless.
I, on the other hand, while still genuinely terrified, managed to tell the cops what happened: the false accusations and deterioration of her mental state. As I stood in the hallway, staring at the wall and giving information to the cops, my still half-drunk boyfriend came to confirm my story. He’d stumbled out of bed and back into his costume, remnants of pain smeared across his face still.
“I’ll be honest with you officer, I’ve been drinking,” he slurred. Shut up! Shut up! Not helping!
The cop nodded sternly, “Yeah . . . I can smell that.”
The boyfriend went thankfully unnoticed as the cops wrapped things up quickly, and advised that I collect my valuables and spend the rest of the night (it was now past six) somewhere else. And though they neither admitted nor denied who they really thought was at fault that night, their pissed off expressions and offer of a ride hinted that they didn’t blame me.
If I learned anything from the events of the night, it’s to always trust my instincts. Somehow, I felt like I was at fault for mishandling the situation — and by that I mean not moving out immediately after she dove into a pool of insanity and by showing my anger instead of keeping it at bay.
The next morning I dragged myself out of bed and prepared for the worst. But back at the apartment, Melissa didn’t dare show her face. She stayed in her room the whole day while I moved out and into my new place. Which, in case you were wondering, is clean, beautifully decorated, and delightfully drama-free.
*names have been changed
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