Back when Chef and I were doing our Marriage Death Dance, I often voiced concern about not letting all that was happening make me bitter and angry for the remainder of my life here on earth. I can say happily, that hasn’t been the direction I took. Life’s too short for that crap.
However, I’m renting a room from a woman who took that sad, lonely path 20+ years ago, and to say that this experience has been unpleasant would be a giant understatement.
I’m in a whole new sort of crisis.
I would have to say that I’m generally spot on when assessing a person I meet. I knew during the interview that this landlord, (we’ll call her Janet), had some deep wounds from her own marriage falling apart decades ago. She spent a great deal of time explaining to me, in detail, the pain she had felt when her husband had left her for another woman, and how she felt her own children had sided with their father and his new wife against her. Since the conversation was happening days before Christmas, I chose to chalk up the deep sadness she was conveying to holiday depression. All of this had happened to her when I was still a teenager, but I know firsthand how much things like this hurt. Still, the bitterness was shining through.
After 27 years, it seemed to me that it shouldn’t be this fresh kind of pain. Who could live so mired in that kind of devastating pain day in and day out for so long? If I’d been hurting like that in Year 3, I’d have lost my mind. 27 years? Yikes!
One of her sons had recently had a baby, and she was upset that she hadn’t been able to see him yet. She was also angry at her ex because she felt he was poisoning her now middle-aged children against her still . The new daughter-in-law was barely able to stand being in Janet’s presence for a mere hour, and staunchly refused her repeated invitations to stay over one evening so Janet could enjoy her first grandchild. Janet described her a cold and unkind. I just wanted to rent a room, so I listened to all of this quietly, trying to offer a word of encourage here and there. I didn’t know any of these people, so it was hard for me to really offer anything to the conversation. There was a lot of misery to be heard in that first conversation we had. And, personally, super bitter people make me nervous. I kept waiting for her to bring up the Lord, as she had mentioned her Christianity in her ad along with a few emails we swapped. She toted her home as a place for wounded people to recuperate and rest before setting out on their own again. It was a nice thought. Towards the end of the conversation, I steered her towards her views about the Lord, and it quickly became clear that along with her ex-husband, new daughter-in-law, and her children, she was also bitter towards God. She mentioned that she was waiting for God to punish her ex-husband and his now 27 year marriage to his new wife, and since He hadn’t done it yet, she was angry.
Rest stop for the emotional weary? I don’t think so.
Rebekkah and I tend to stay to ourselves. Even when I owned my own places, we spent a great deal of time alone with our books, writing, etc. Since the room was very large, with a lock on the door, I felt like we could stand this environment for a little while so I could find a more stable, permanent home for us. I mean, really! How bad can it be?
There is a pettiness here that literally makes me want to pull my hair out. Janet doesn’t seem to understand that people renting rooms from her doesn’t make them her foster children nor her housekeepers. Tony, the injured veteran, has to stay warm because of the metal in his body. When he adjusted the thermostat one evening, Janet turned the heater off at the breaker. The cold was almost unbearable for me, and I rarely feel cold, thanks to hot flashes accompanying my change of life. I can’t imagine how Tony was feeling. Rebekkah was coughing in her sleep, and we were all generally miserable. We have a fireplace, but she stoutly refused to even entertain the thought of us using it to stay warm. The next morning, she turned the breaker back on, after Tony basically lost his cookies all over her, and she blew out the motor. For the next 6 days, we watched a stream of church friends come in to look at the heater, fiddle with it somewhat, and then leave. One guy told her that she had fried the motor, but she wouldn’t pay the money to have the motor replaced. She hinted to her tenants that we would have to pay for it. Finally, Tony, Mindy, Bekkie, and I confronted her about the problem, and when she had no choice, she finally had a real heating and air person come fix it. It was terrible. People were yelling; she was trying to blame the very same people from her church that were trying to help her. Accusations, lies, excuses, and justifications were bandied about like a hellish volleyball game. It sucked.
I’d already been having my own issues before this happened. I couldn’t get her to give me my lease, nor would she take anything for rent except cold, hard cash. I’d paid her with cash, trusting she’d give me a receipt….twice. Neither time did she give me anything at all. According to the other roommates, our rent is unreported income and she wants no paper trail. I wished I’d known this from the beginning. Some of my expenses are paid for through work, and without receipts, I don’t get that money back.
I find that no matter how well things are going for Janet, she is consistently unhappy, and has sharpened her self-pity into a tool to use against others. Every person I’ve talked to that has come into this house to fix something for her has expressed their sympathy for this poor, trodden-upon soul. She’s often on the phone in her room lamenting the suffering she is experiencing at the hands of almost every person in her life. And of course, her own actions are never brought up in those conversations.
I finally began confronting her about things she’s been doing to spite us. Turning off brewing coffee pots. Locking me out of the house when I step outside to smoke. Hiding important mail. Going into my room without me there. Opening the backyard gate and letting Ella run into the neighborhood. There are tons more, but you get the general idea.
Rebekkah and I are looking for our own place, having pretty much been completely soured by this atmosphere.
But even now, I have to say that even in this situation, I’m glad to have experienced it. I’ve seen the results of bitterness, un-forgiveness, and a myriad of other destructive emotions when they are left unchecked to take root in our hearts first hand. It is a hard thing to see.
Bitterness is a destructive and repulsive weapon we use against ourselves. It’s a cage of our own making, and we hold the keys to it in our own hands. Like the seed of a tree, left alone, something small can grow to engulf a person’s entire life. Forgiveness isn’t designed to help the person we are forgiving. Instead, it is designed to help ourselves mend from wrongs suffered, and to move past things in our lives that are best left behind us.
Is there hope for a woman who has been bitter and angry for 20+ years? I’m sure there is, but without her own decision to let the past go and accept her own part in the crumbling of her life, she will remain stagnant in this cesspool. People quickly move in this home, and move even more quickly right out again. In some way, surely she has to notice that the only thing any of us have in common is her?
I haven’t used any real names, nor do I want people to throw stones at this woman. She’s made her own life much more unbearable than she has been able to make mine, and soon, I’ll be saying goodbye to this house, and to this person who is so unhappy.