My present living arrangement involves sharing the main floor of a house with two men. Both remind me of different aspects of my father. Psychologically, I am back in the house I left behind more than ten years ago. And physiologically, I am secretly returning to my old familiar places as a result.
One of the men I presently share the main floor of the house with actually lives in the basement. His name is Mark, and as of this writing, there are criminal charges pending against him for spitting in my face, grabbing me by the neck, and pinning me against a wall. Over dishes. Approximately six of them. That neither belong to him nor remained laying around dirty for longer than 2 hours in total while I took a break from cleaning the rest of the kitchen.
Despite more than ten years of distance with barely a word uttered between my father and I, I still have the automatic instinct to know immediately when I am living with someone who wants control over everything. And my instinctive coping mechanism? Hiding as much as possible and not even trying to explain it to him. Something like exactly how little power an LCD monitor and a 10.1″ laptop uses when left unattended for an hour while I’m not in my room at the time, is an affront to him that challenges him to take immediate action upon discovery, without regard for the disproportionate scale of how invasive his chosen action is.
Hiding is exactly what I’ve been doing, and even that isn’t enough to de-escalate Mark. He blew a shit fit when I didn’t have the full amount of rent ready in cash a full four days before it was due when I first moved in here. I retrieved the rest of it a day later, and then I started looking for another place to move that very day. He talked down to me like I’ve somehow put him in the role of babysitting me when he found out I had left my laptop on while I stepped out for groceries and came right back again. I’m 30 years old, and he’s 15 years older than me at best, but he hasn’t figured out yet how to address the simplest little thing without going nuclear — because he likes getting that angry.
He also called me an ignorant cunt the day before rent was due, demanding that I borrow the sum that would be delayed a whopping 2 business days. It would be one thing if I said I just don’t know how I’m going to be able to pay this outstanding amount, but I was able to tell him exactly when and where it was coming from, and that wasn’t good enough. He also asked me an invasive series of questions about my personal finances and remarked about my personal property, telling me to go pawn it.
He served me an illegal 10-day eviction notice the day rent was due, citing non-payment of the entire sum. The sum that would be delayed for 2 business days was for just $125. I had already paid the rest. On one of these nights, he started talking about me so I could hear how condescending his bullshit was. I didn’t make a sound, and didn’t emerge from my hiding place (my room).
I listened in as he literally wound himself up more and more with each passing minute, while the other flatmate (Dave) repeatedly responded in such a low and calm voice that I couldn’t distinguish what he was saying. It’s exactly what my parents did every single night of the first 18 years of my life, with one exception: the night my mother found out about the affair my father was having with a known ex-convict at the time, who opened a joint bank account with him and ripped our entire family off. I waited 15 years to hear her tell him “Fuck you!” at yelling volume, and I would never hear it again. She stayed with him, and I became his preferred punching bag that year (and it hadn’t been the first round between us).
When hiding, I turn to music for safety. It’s something to listen to that is creative, rather than belittling and full of rage. It grounds me. I know what to expect from it, and that it’s not going to spontaneously change its tune and vocalize a threat on my physical safety or my life. I can just listen, and quietly explore my emotions. I can hear another human being’s voice, or listen to the way their fingers pluck the strings of a bass guitar, and not have to feel isolated. I have been playing a constant stream of music here. Barricading my thoughts into this room and using goth/industrial music as white noise.
I didn’t see them coming, and hadn’t accounted for this possibility when I moved in here. There are two of them, and they are both young adults. One is shy and soft-spoken, constantly seeking Mark’s attention when he’s here, and hiding with her sister when he’s not. The other is assertive, carries herself with remarkable confidence, and reminds me of how I was living when I was 18, right after I left my parents.
The first time they arrived here, it was along with about a half a dozen men Mark and Dave brought back to the house to drink with. The two young women attempted to socialize while everyone seemed jovial, and went to the basement to barricade themselves in privacy when they became targets for badgering on the completely baseless suspicion that they had put vodka in their orange juice — which they also abandoned.
It was like watching two copies of me on the rare occasions my own father would drink. Complete with Mark acting exactly like my own father: guzzling booze down as if he had absolutely no impulse control whatsoever. The moment everyone’s back was turned was when Mark would pick up another one and pound it back as fast as possible, at a speed just shy of chugging it straight down. My father didn’t do this with even a passing thought of discretion towards me, and neither did Mark, with his own daughters right in front of him. Neither my father’s friends nor Mark’s stood up for myself or Mark’s daughters, as they just kept on drinking.
Then there’s watching them hang around waiting for him while he hides alone in the basement all night. Because I’m hiding in my room and they were hiding in the basement when they first met me, I come off as unapproachable. If only I knew that this meant that an alcoholic who drinks and smokes pot right in front of them would be left with the responsibility to look after them and make sure their needs are met. I regret not being able to have made myself more approachable from the very first night I very briefly met them. I just couldn’t deal with all the men standing around in their 40s, drinking in front of two teenage women and hassling them for drinking orange juice.
I finally made a clear indication that I was a safe person, yesterday night. The night preceding Mark spitting in my face and grabbing me by the neck. I took on the responsibility of making sure she and her boyfriend didn’t spend the entire night with empty stomachs and jittery nerves, and then showed them one of my favourite mood-raising comedy movies. Mark hid in the basement until they were asleep, and looked for a reason to start acting like I’m his personal punching bag as soon as he emerged.
I can hope, but I doubt, that his daughter and her boyfriend didn’t hear that exchange. They shouldn’t have to because Mark should just have enough respect for other people to not jump to Level 5 anger by default, even over the most petty bullshit. He’s an adult responsible for raising a responsible adult, and it apparently hasn’t sunk in yet — I often wonder if it ever will, given how that went with my own father.
If you reject your children, it’s because they’ve failed you.
But if your children reject you, it’s because you’ve failed as a parent.
Dave both angers and disgusts me. I was told he’s an alcoholic, and that he maintains a jovial disposition. Well that is simply not true. Whereas Mark has two preferred faces, Dave has many more. Depending on who is being threatened or intimidated at any given time, he acts like my mother (the adult child of an alcoholic), like my father (who I have little doubt would have a lot in common with his), as if he’s some sort of conflict resolution expert (with a 30-second time limit), like we’re married, like he married Mark (and I’m his inherited dysfunctional teenage stepchild), or like we’re Buds, Dude.
I see him struggling to adopt a position of authority in any sort of conflict, but most importantly, he always takes Mark’s side. Even if he thinks Mark is wrong, everyone else is somehow more wrong. In the six weeks I’ve lived here, I’ve actually heard him apply the silencing tactic on both Mark and me, and it didn’t work on either of us. Something about the not listening while also trying to diffuse conflict, I guess. You’d think if he’s tried this before and it didn’t work, he would just stop trying it. Except he clearly likes giving himself a pat on the back for being the Better Man® in a conflict.
This is where Dave’s many other faces emerge. He claims he doesn’t hate anybody and always pontificates about why we can’t all just get along. Yet, if you refuse to cooperate with him trying to insert himself in a conflict he renounces from the very start, he’ll start telling you it’s because of your hormones or because you’re an “addict” (look in the mirror lately, Dave?) or because you’re just a “bitch” trying to “play Tough Guy™”. It couldn’t possibly be because you don’t want to talk to him about it, and that can’t possibly be driven by the fact that he is neither entitled in any way to become such an invasive presence and get involved, nor useful when he is. Just take his word for it or take his slurs.
And P.S. it’s your fault, even if you didn’t call anyone names and all you asked for was such a basic level of respect that it should be a no-brainer — even to someone who has an addiction to rage.
Dave also loves to promote what a tolerant man he thinks he is by constantly reminding everyone of all of the essentialist qualities of the various people he tolerates in his day-to-day life. He’s fucked a “tranny”. His stepbrother is Black. His best friend “is a sex change”. He can say this in Spanish and that in Tagalog. So-and-so is a lesbian, and despite the problems this other so-and-so has in their life, he loves them and thinks they’re cool and wishes they wouldn’t leave — that other so-and-so is me. He thinks I’m cool one minute, and the next, he thinks I’m a lizard brain (only apparently he doesn’t know this term, because it seems markedly absent from his regular vocabulary).
If he’s not at appointments or working illegally, he spends his every waking moment smoking pot and drinking beer in between regular cigarettes. And he can’t seem to wrap his head around why, between recoiling in disgust at a joke that just about made one of Mark’s daughters giggle before he ruined the moment, and making faux threats of sexual battery against me when he’s not listening to me assert my boundaries (because that’ll fix it); I just can’t sleep more than an hour at a time.
Maybe “lizard brain” isn’t part of his vocabulary because no one’s ever thought to tell him that’s how he’s acting 24 hours a fucking day. It makes me so uncomfortable even entering the kitchen to make myself something to eat, that I haven’t been eating. And that feeling of emptiness is a familiar one, too. It’s the one thing I can do to take control when it is so clearly being stripped away from me in every other aspect. But more than that: it’s me punishing myself, and I know that’s exactly why I’m doing it.
I’m still trying to understand this, but I know it has to do with that palpable emptiness. My silent, secret masochism — a mere hint of my former death wish that I can control just enough to avoid being policed over it. I only do this when I am this stressed out over attempted intimidation and threats of all varieties. I receive plenty of this kind of abuse at pickets, but I care for myself after. When the place I give myself that kind of care becomes the place where I experience that abuse every way I turn, self-abuse becomes my self-care.
But don’t mistake this as a weakness. It’s self-conditioning. I am stronger than both of you.