The Wicked Witch of Wilmington
Life in a Psyche Ward
(The names have been changed to protect the idiots.)
Hi, you might remember me. I used to write for the San Francisco Herald from 1999 until 2002. My stories were usually about life in the city, many simply describing my experiences with roommates. I looked up my old friend Gene Mahoney the other day, and found he still puts out his paper, and since I’ve had yet another traumatizing roommate experience, I decided to send him this story.
I’ve spent the last three years overseas, working in the most boring country in the world, Qatar. I’m not making a joke. Qatar was voted the most boring country in the world by Lonely Planet. I can’t dispute this. After three years, I was close to killing myself out of sheer boredom, especially since I worked on night-shift. You think Qatar is boring during the day? Try night time when everything closes at 10 pm. (The Islamic based government deemed it “Islamic” that citizens can only paint their houses and buildings one of several “authorized colors”, which were beige, white, brown, or any shade of the three.)
At the end of my third year (and contract), I decided to come back to the states, if for nothing else than to simply get away from that place. The company I worked for flew me back to the place I signed up three years earlier, which happened to be Wilmington, North Carolina. Why I was here at that particular time is a story for another day.
I arrived on a Monday morning and immediately checked into an extended stay hotel for $180 a week. I retrieved my Jeep and started sorting through my storage unit. I had left in a bit of a hurry, and it showed.
I also started scanning Craigslist for a room to rent, but many of them specified age limits (what?) so at 42 I experienced age discrimination for the first time. I found an ad for a nice place with an older Chinese lady, but saw it was so far in the suburbs and so far away from downtown, I would have been isolated out there.
Also, I planned on taking a 2 month vacation later in the year and didn’t want to sign a 6-month contract just to rent a small room. I really needed a month-to-month place, if possible. Wilmington is a college town, so there are plenty of rooms, but they all wanted 6-12 month agreements.
Finally, after a week or so, an ad popped up advertising a small room for rent in a three bedroom apartment in which the owner converted the living room into a bedroom, so there was no communal area, which was fine with me. The place much cheaper than others listed on Craigslist, so I was a little hesitant when I showed up to look at it. It was in an older neighborhood about 7 blocks from downtown, and the house was a little shoddy with old cabinets in the kitchen and no closets in the bedrooms.
I didn’t see anything that I couldn’t deal with though, and for $275 a month, I signed a one-month lease agreement.
The landlord was a younger guy, he couldn’t have been over 25. He said he bought the house 2 years earlier and converted all of the apartments into rooms which he said were easier to rent out.
He told me I would be living with a 21-year old dude who worked at a restaurant at night, and slept all day, so I would barely see him, which turned out to be true. He said the other room was rented to a 30-year old unemployed Hispanic woman that he didn’t know much about. He said everybody seemed cool, he never had any complaints, and that everyone pretty much kept to themselves. He gave me a key and took off. I started moving in the next day.
I didn’t see the dude, “Darrell”, until after a few days, but I met the woman, “Maria”, right away. As I was moving in, she had the door to her room open, and I could see her sitting on the bed watching me. I said “Hi, I’m James” to her, and she suddenly came alive, jumping up, talking excitedly, asking all kinds of questions. We chatted for a little bit, she asked what I did, but when I asked what she did, she rambled on for a minute or two, something about how she lived in DC for a few years “fighting for her rights”, etc.
I asked her what exactly did she fight for, thinking maybe… civil rights? Abortion? Because she was Hispanic, I thought maybe illegal alien’s rights? She waved her hands in the air as if to dismiss the question and said, “It doesn’t matter now, nothing does.” Having lived in San Francisco for all those years, I met more than my fair share of whackos and crazy people, and she fit the description perfectly, so I just moved her from my “possible friend-with-benefits” column into my “slightly whacky” column. No problem.
Maria was 30 years old, about 5’5, chubby, and not terrible looking. She always wore her hair in a pony-tail and always wore a white jogging outfit. She didn’t have a job, although she wouldn’t admit it. I am guessing she got money from Social Security for being a whacko. I know she admitted once to having food stamps.
Almost immediately, I started noticing odd things happening. It started as I was moving in. Every time I went out to my Jeep to get a box, when I came back to the door, it was closed and locked. As in dead-bolt locked. I had to keep getting my keys out to unlock the door to get back inside. When I re-entered the apartment, the other roommates’ doors were closed, so I had no idea who was doing it.
Several times I would come back into the apartment and see Maria walking from the hallway where my room was, into her own room and shutting the door. My room was the only room in this hallway, so she had no business being there. Well, you know how it is when you move into a new place, people are curious, I was thinking maybe she was shy or paranoid, and so far she hadn’t done anything “too” strange. Of course, living in San Francisco, my threshold for “odd behavior” is pretty high.
Well, that was just the beginning, and it all went downhill from here. The first week, whenever I took a shower, I would come out of the bathroom and see her scurrying out of my hallway into her own room and then shut her door. Me, being the unsuspicious and trusting person I am, never locked my door when I was in the apartment, even when I was in the bathroom.
Honestly, I didn’t think she was stealing or anything. I just thought maybe she had a bad experience and wanted to see what was in my room. Since I had a storage unit and planned to leave in 2 months anyway, I left most everything there and only moved a few things into my room: a desk, a sofa-bed, my old TV, clothes and some books. There was really nothing IN my room that was worth anything, so I didn’t think about it. After that, though, I always brought my wallet into the bathroom with me, just to be safe.
Being the new guy in the apartment, I was hesitant to say anything to either of my roommates that they might take as complaining or whining. One weird thing about living here was that there wasn’t anybody “in charge”. The landlord owned the building, so there was no lease holder in the apartment to issue any rules, make people clean up their messes, or complain to about anything. Maria had a habit of leaving her dirty dishes in the sink overnight (or longer), but I didn’t feel I had the right to say anything to her just yet, having only moved in a week prior.
Other little weird things about Maria soon appeared, and I quickly realized something wasn’t right. She would take 2 hour showers, which pissed Darrell and me off as we all had to split the water bill. We felt like we were subsidizing her hygiene. Hers was the only room that didn’t have an AC in it, so she would leave her room open all the time to get some cool air from the AC in the kitchen. Meaning we could all hear her TV because her door was constantly open, and the electric bill would be higher because the AC in the kitchen was constantly running, even though it didn’t need to.
Sometimes, after waiting for her to get out of the bathroom, she would come out and go into her room, and I would find a nice present in the toilet. Your choice as to what she left, either is correct. Also, you know how when women have their period, it is normal for them to try and conceal it, or at least be discreet about it? As in taking the used feminine product, wrapping it up or stuffing it under the other trash in the small waste container? Not Maria! She acted as though she was proud of it and simply placed it in the trash can on display for all to see. Sometimes it looked like she an abortion in the toilet.
Maria had a strange obsession with the bathroom, as if it was a sanctuary for her. Sometimes, when leaving my room, I would unlock the door and open it, and suddenly see her running from her room into the bathroom ahead of me, locking the door behind her.
Then she would stay inside, locked up for hours on end. One time I walked to the bathroom, and not knowing if anyone was inside, simply opened the door. Inside was a fully clothed Maria, sitting on the toilet (with the seat down), staring out the window at the backyard. She jumped up in shock and slammed the door in my face.
One night, after a week or so, I had been in the shower for a few minutes and was just starting to shampoo my hair, when I heard a knock on the door. I thought to myself, I guess someone needs to use the bathroom, and decided I would hurry up and not waste a lot of time. Me, Mr. Compassionate. I had just finished shampooing when I heard another knock on the door, this time louder and faster. Man, I thought, someone needs to go, now! I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, drying myself off as I opened the door to the bathroom. There was no one waiting outside. I could see Maria’s door open, and she was sitting on her futon reading a magazine. She didn’t even look up at me. I walked to my room and once inside, left the door open to see if anyone was going to use the bathroom. No one did. I left the door open for a good 10 minutes and not one person went to the bathroom.
It was around this time I decided to stop being the “new guy” and start telling people to fuck off. I walked to the bathroom, saw the door was closed and could hear water running. I assumed someone was taking a shower. I turned and started walking back to my room when suddenly I heard yelling in the bathroom. It was Maria arguing with herself.
“I told this motherfucker that I didn’t have to do it, and he told ME I had to, and blah blah blah”. I stood outside for a good ten minutes listening to her cry, scream and argue with herself about life.
I tiptoed to my room and called the landlord.
“Hi, this is James, the new guy. Uhmm, is there something you wanted to tell me about Maria?”
The landlord told me he had suspected something about her, but thought she was just a harmless whacko. He told me the guy who lived in my room before me had suddenly left with no warning. He suspected it was something to do with Maria, but the guy never told him why.
The landlord said he had some complaints about her in the past, and finally told her that he was giving her one last chance and then he was kicking her out. He told me Darrell also complained about her. That one night his girlfriend came over to hang out, and Maria came knocking on his door and started yelling at them. She said his girlfriend needed to leave, that she wasn’t allowed in the apartment! Of course, we are totally allowed to have friends over. There is nothing in the lease agreement forbidding that.
Anyway, I told the landlord everything that had been going on, and he said he would ask her to leave. The next day he filed papers for her to get evicted, and suddenly the real Maria was released. I would be in my room and hear her out in the hallway, pacing back and forth, arguing and yelling with herself.
“They’re slowly killing me! You know, when you have a gun, you kill someone quick! But what they are doing to me is torture - killing me slowly! I hate these people!”
She was good at switching it off, too. It was during this incident that the landlord and I hatched a plan to get her out of the apartment. We called 911 in the hope that when the cops showed up, they would see how crazy she was, they would take her away. But the second the cops knocked on the door, she was the sweetest person you ever saw - totally rational. The cops didn’t know what to do or say, so they left.
Darrell and I both noticed our food and other belongings slowly disappearing. I had a new bottle of $15 shampoo from the Body Shop, and after the second week the thing was almost empty. I was in the shower and tried to squeeze some shampoo out, but instead a very watery substance came out instead. She had obviously used most of the shampoo, and then half filled the bottle with water to try and cover it up.
Darrell had bought a large bottle of mouthwash, and 2 days later he came knocking on my door. “Dude, I just bought this fucking bottle, and look! It’s half empty! What the fuck is she doing, drinking it? Does she pour it into little bottles and keep it in her room? Or is she simply throwing it away? What the fuck?”
We soon learned that if we had anything that was opened, she though it was fair game. ANYTHING we had in the kitchen, if someone else had opened it, she would take. If I put new milk in the fridge, unopened, after a week it was still unopened. But once I opened it, the next day it was about a quarter full. I took it, filled it with water, dishwashing soap and red food coloring, hoping to ruin whatever she poured it on.
Darrell, being a redneck working-class kind of guy, noticed his ham slices disappearing. So he started wiping his ass with them and putting them back in the plastic bags they came in. He said they were his meat and he had every right to wipe his ass with his ham slices if he wanted to, and if someone was going to steal them and eat them, that was their problem. He said it was a problem he was willing to live with. He was pretty scuzzy, so even though a guy wiping ham slices on his ass is gross anyway, the fact that he didn’t take a shower everyday and always had BO didn’t help much either.
Although I didn’t agree with his methods, he did encourage me to participate in my own way, which I am ashamed to admit I did. I poured the water out of my once full shampoo bottle, filled it about ¼ full of shampoo from another bottle, and peed in it until it was full. Then I put it back on MY shelf. Oh, I forgot to tell you - we all had our own shelves, which we all agreed were off limits to everyone except the owner. So you see? Lines were drawn, and rules were made up and agreed upon. If someone took something from someone else’s shelf, it was obvious theft. Darrel and I felt free to sabotage our own things as much as we wanted to.
One day Maria knocked on my door and I opened it to find her fuming. She accused me of using her toilet paper, even though I have my own and kept it in my room. I showed her my shelf where I pretty much kept everything by this point. She calmed down, satisfied. My toilet paper was expensive, made from virgin rainforest trees, while she owned the really cheap stuff that immediately disintegrates in your hands.
So she walks across the hall and knocks on Darrell’s door, waking him up (Mistake. Never wake up a redneck after a hard night of work, and then accuse him of stealing toilet paper after you’ve been stealing all his food). Man, he let her have it.
“Bitch, you got some balls coming here accusing me of that shit, when you been stealing every fucking thing me and JD have in this place! How about my mouthwash?! And where the fuck is my toothbrush?! I’ll tell you what, you touch one more thing that’s mine and I’ll drag you out the front door and beat the shit out of you!” He slammed the door in her face and went back to bed. Poor Maria could only stand there, shocked. I don’t think she knew, that we knew, she stole from us. She mumbled something about “It stops!” and went back to her room. We would often hear her in there, yelling, shouting, arguing, etc. The girl who lives above her called the Landlord more than once to complain about the noise downstairs.
One day I walked out of my room and found Maria sitting in the hallway, as if waiting for me. She asked, “Did you used to be a writer?” I was shocked and could only look at her, and stammer something.
So tell me, how the hell did she know I used to be a writer? I haven’t written a thing since I left San Francisco 8 years ago, and Mahoney took all my stuff off the Herald’s website. If you Google me, you won’t find a thing about me being a writer. There is nothing in my room to suggest I do or did write, unless she saw the books and my laptop. On my laptop I have a folder labeled “Documents”, and inside it another folder labeled “Articles”, but that was it. I was never away from my room long enough for her to dig around on my laptop. I take quick showers. Besides, after the first week, I always locked my door when I was in the bathroom, once I realized she was a thief.
She was always asking me questions whenever she ran into me (which was often, as she rarely left the house). “Who did you work for? You said you worked for the government?” Stuff like that. Yes, I worked as a military contractor overseas on a “secret” airbase. Yes, I own a registered handgun. Yes, I own a black suit.
One day she followed me outside and confronted me - one hand on her hip, the other waving a finger at me.
“So tell me, who are you really? Uh huh, uh huh? You work for the government, right? Uh huh? Right? Why are you here again? What do you want from me? Uh huh? I noticed you took the passenger seat out of your Jeep, why did you do that?”
(I went camping and needed the room.)
“Uh huh? You knew I was going to ask you for a ride, didn’t you?”
She often asked to use my phone (she didn’t have one), or even my laptop to check her email. One night she knocked on my door and I opened it to see Maria all dressed up in a nice dress, her D-cups pushed up, standing seductively against the side of the hallway. She asked if I was going downtown. Another time she asked if I was going to order any delivery food. I think she figured that if she flirted like that I would give her things. Who knows?
Anyway, because I was between jobs (and not in a hurry to find another one), I would often hang out on Front Street, which, despite the rest of America, has managed to retain its small town charm. This is where they filmed “Dawson’s Creek” and currently film “One Tree Hill”. The downtown has some brick roads, large weeping willows and some great architecture. I can usually be found hanging out in one of the independent coffee shops. I befriended the owner of a small gourmet grocery store up the street, and one day I mentioned to him I was having roommate issues. He immediately asked, “Is her name Maria?” I swear to you this is true. Believe it or not, he said he once let her stay in his apartment for 2 weeks before kicking her out.
He told me she did a lot of the same things that I told him about, as in running to the bathroom before you could get to it and locking herself inside for hours, stealing food and shampoo, and generally just being a disgusting pig. To be fair to Maria, he said he heard that she was once a smart college student, and that she was in a terrible car accident and suffered brain trauma and is now mentally disturbed as a result. Whether this is true or not, I can’t say. But she definitely IS mentally disturbed!
He told me that she used his phone to call the FBI every other day, and that he only found out because the FBI called his number asking to talk to her! He told me he tried to be friends with her, and that she came by his store every evening or so to talk and lock herself in his bathroom for an hour or so. But then she screwed him.
One evening she asked to use his store phone, which he made sure was only good for local calls. Maria gets it and sweet-talks the AT&T operator to change his contract to allow international calls, claiming that she is his WIFE! This moron operator goes along with it, even ignoring the fact that she didn’t know his PIN, and she then proceeds to call Puerto Rico, among other places. Needless to say, she rang up quite a bill which the owner of the store soon found out about, and kicked her ass out. He is also fighting with AT&T now, saying HE had a valid “local calls only” contract with them, and HE didn’t change it, SHE did! And also, that HE had a PIN with them to prevent any changes like this, which AT&T ignored! Sounds to me like he has a valid point.
He told me everything I needed to know about her, the most important being that her own mother and sister had restraining orders against her!
Also, she has spent time in jail for assaulting cops in a prior evection, and that she has spent time in quite a few mental health facilities. He told me she was banned from most of the businesses downtown for various offenses - one being assault! Evidently she was sitting in a coffee shop talking to herself, and the lady next to her got up to leave, and as she bent over, Maria lashed out and whacked her in the face!
In my travels and adventures in life, I was drawn to the Buddhist philosophy. While I am not, nor do I consider myself a Buddhist, I try to follow their way of living - their lifestyles. I am mostly a vegetarian now, rarely ever eating meat. I practice tolerance and compassion as much as I can remember to, although it is hard sometimes. If I catch a moth or a spider in the house, I try to catch it and release it outside.
I was always aware that Maria was emotionally and mentally fucked up, and I tried to be compassionate to her and her situation, feeling that this was a test of sorts. But when her own flesh and blood, her own mother and sister, have restraining orders against her for God’s sake…..what can I do?
I took a deep breath and swore I’d at least make an attempt to help. I called several women’s shelters and mental health facilities, but they all told me the same thing. She could only commit herself, or be committed by a family member or by the police if they felt she was a threat to herself or others. I told them that she was being evicted and would soon be living on the streets, and that she was totally irrational and delusional, thinking I was with the FBI and there was a big conspiracy.
I won’t go into length about what it was like the last two months living there. Yes, it was two months, because Maria fought the eviction with every ounce of energy she had. She showed up to court with a totally fake lease agreement, and when the judge dismissed it, she rushed him in a fury! They had to haul her away, and the eviction was granted.
Near the end, Darrell and I had pretty much everything we owned in our rooms. We had both stopped buying food, and our rooms were filled with boxes of things that we would normally keep in the kitchen or bathroom. I am an AC nut, and I always kept my room cold enough that keeping lunch meat or milk in it wasn’t that big a deal. Darrell told me it was the same with him, that he had “Sunny D” and pork rinds stacked to the ceiling.
When the day came for her to leave, she wouldn’t. She acted like she wasn’t going anywhere. So the landlord goes to the sheriff with all his papers, and believe it or not, the sheriff doesn’t have time. So the landlord has to make an appointment about 10 days after the official eviction date!
The last freaky thing to happen between Maria and myself was the night before she was evicted. It was 3 in the morning, with rain and thunder outside. I was having trouble sleeping, as I knew Maria was bumping around the apartment. (By this time neither Darrel nor me left our rooms unless to leave the apartment. Yes, we were pissing in Gatorade bottles by now, as Maria was usually locked in the bathroom. It was either that or go outside behind the house. Also, I had parked my Jeep far away from the house in case she wanted to do something to it after being evicted.
So here it is, 3am, and I hear a slow, dangerous knock on my bedroom door. I jolt up from the bed and stare at the door, noticing there is no light shining though the space at the bottom. Nice. 3am and she is standing outside my door in the dark. The chances of me opening that door, much less even acknowledging that I was in the room, were about….let’s see….ZERO?
Here I am, a grown man, a veteran of the Iraq War, with a loaded handgun in my room, and I am about to piss myself. I can only envision her standing there like Carrie, covered in blood with a large kitchen knife. I didn’t move a muscle, afraid she might hear the floorboards creak. I don’t even think I took a breath for 5 minutes. Finally I got on my knees and crawled over to the door and looked at the bottom. It was dark, but I didn’t see her feet. I went back to bed and laid down, but, of course I didn’t sleep. Don’t laugh at me for being a coward unless you’ve lived with a psycho and seen the things she’s done. (For fuck’s sake, a restraining order from her own family?)
I was lying there around 4:30 am now, sensitive to any sound, when she knocked again. This time louder and slower. I felt a tingle up my spine as I lay frozen in bed, my right hand reaching for my 9mm. I was thinking, Could I get in trouble for shooting a roommate who was crazy?
I lay there motionless until I heard her shuffle away and heard her door close. I relaxed my grip on the gun, but was too wired to sleep. The sheriff would be here in 4 hours, I kept reminding myself. I might have dozed off a bit as the sun came up, and at 8:45 I received a text from the landlord to unlock the front door at 9 sharp and walk outside, which I did when the time came.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t much drama. The landlord was there with the sheriff, and he changed all the locks. Maria had somehow acquired a U-Haul van and started carrying all her junk to it. She saw me standing across the street and beckoned me to come help her. I laughed at her “balls” and said, “No thanks. You steal all my food and then you want me to help you move?” I know, it’s not being very Buddhist, but I didn’t even want to be near her, fearing she might stab me. She DID blame me for getting evicted, you know.
Well, finally she got all her junk out by herself, and we closed the door behind her and locked the deadbolt. I felt like hugging Darrell and crying, as if the Americans had just liberated us from Buchenwald. The landlord hung out a little bit longer, arguing with us when we told him that since HE chose Maria to live here, that we didn’t feel like we should have to pay the utilities bill that SHE rang up with her three-hour showers and constant running of the apartment A/C. He also told us that Maria had emailed him the day before asking “for more time”, that she hadn’t found a place to move to yet. (We all found this funny, because for the last two months she had gone to the public library every other day and had found the time to send nasty emails to the landlord and his wife. But she was unable to scan Craigslist for a room?)
He left, and walked back in about a minute later saying, “The bitch ripped my windshield wiper off my car!” He called the cops and filed a report. He also told them that she was driving a U-Haul without a license, as we all knew she didn’t have one.
We immediately started cleaning up the apartment. I deep-cleansed the nasty refrigerator, Darrell sterilized the bathroom. We took all the things that we had been hiding in our rooms and put them on the shelves throughout the apartment. We were amazed at how much room we now had! For the first time since I moved there, I cooked in the kitchen and ate at the table in the small dining room, it was great.
As I write this, it has been 4 days since we exorcised the demon from our apartment, and we still hear reports of her driving that U-Haul around Wilmington.###
James Dylan can be reached at email@example.com.