I Bring the Evil, by Lori Shmulewitz
To be fair, people warned me. Acquaintances and ex-roommates hemmed and hawed when I said I was moving in with her. Closer friends directly balked:
“Don’t do it”
“That girl is crazy, she scares me.”
But the room was just too good to resist. A big, beautiful well-lighted room in a great neighborhood for a pittance of rent was unheard of in San Francisco, during the housing crunch. And sure, my new roommate seemed a little weird, but she also seemed fairly sweet.
To be honest, I felt bad for her. I’ve always believed people should be able to move on from their past follies, even if that past includes a history of mental illness.
Plus, the apartment was great. And that room…have I mentioned the room? Bay windows, hard wood floors, space for gymnastics if I wished…I decided to go for it.
Things went well enough for the first few months. We had gone to college together and had many mutual acquaintances and friends, so in-house happy hours, dinners and parties were had with abundance. I felt incredibly at home and looked forward to hanging out with my roommate. I got to know her friends and she got to know mine. I had a lot guests over, but she seemed to enjoy the company. She even “dated” several of my male friends.
In short, we began to become friends in addition to roommates.
Then I introduced her to my ex-boyfriend, Jay*. Jay and I were beginning to become good friends after a fairly short and uneventful attempt at dating.
Now, Jay is an attractive man, all the gals think so. So I could hardly blame her for developing a crush. And they got along well and I thought that was swell. But I also felt it was reasonable, when she asked if it would be weird if they started dating, to say “yeah, it could be a little off putting to have him here changing in the morning at frist, but if you really like him I’ll deal with it and I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
But I could see how she would hear that as: “I hate you and resent you for having a relationship with him and you should go straight to him and tell him that you can’t see him any more because I am jealous of your love and can’t stand it.”
Unsurprisingly I was a little annoyed when she followed this obvious instinct. But not as annoyed as I was when, whilst attempting to remedy the situation and salvage Jay’s friendship and my pride, she would ‘”accidentally” vacuum out the telephone cord repetitively.
“Oh, were you on the line?!? Just trying to clean up this mess you left!”
Sitting outside my bedroom door, crying loudly and repeating “I am just so sad that I have made you so jealous!” wasn’t doing me any favors, either.
That was my first dose of “crazy” Diane*.
And truthfully it freaked me out a bit. Pissed me off, sure. But it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Heck, I had lived with schizophrenics, drug dealers, passive-aggressive hippies, people who thawed dead rats in our microwave and a man who believed I was “bugging” his room. I could handle this.
And I had seen the worst, right?
A few weeks later Diane decided to go to Burning Man. Apparently a week poking and prodding at her less than stable grey matter with a host of hallucinogens seemed like a wise idea for a woman with already one reality break under her belt.
I didn’t see her for a few days when she first returned. I had been spending a lot of time at my new boyfriend’s house and we seemed to be missing each other quite a bit. I figured this was just as well…sometimes the best roommate is an absent roommate.
My first sign that something was terribly terribly wrong was a call from my best friend: “You really need to talk to your roommate.”
It seems that Jane* had called the house looking for me, made the mistake of inquiring about Di’s Burning man adventure, and ended up in a three hour circular exploration of Darth Vader, telepathy, “Satan: everywhere” and some very disturbing recounts of sexual exploration in a makeshift pyramid.
I resolved to speak to her that evening. I returned home to find the apartment empty and sage burning in every room. Choking off the stench I quickly departed for my guy’s place and returned home late, after she was already asleep.
The next morning I arrived at work to find an email in my inbox from her simply stating “You need to move out, this isn’t working.”
Her response to my confused inquiry was “you never take out the garbage, it reveals your lack of respect for me, it’s too emotional for me discuss this.”
That evening, already set with the notion that I might have to move, I embarked upon a conversation to at least procure a more palatable “reason” for her request. This was my insane move.
It was a little difficult to follow the conversation. She would leap across the room without provocation and point at the pattern on our sofa “see, it’s another symbol! It’s a sign!”
It seemed the garbage, now a metaphor for my tragic inability to read her mind and assess her needs, psychically was not the only issue we had. She gave me a very metered explanation of how I brought “evil” into our home, and how my presence and relationships with those “of Satan” (i.e. “men”) were polluting her home and getting in the way of her newfound purpose in life: to live a “clean” existence and to write epic novels explaining to others the presence of symbols, everywhere and their role in the holy battle between good and evil.
This purpose had been further fleshed out on the Muni underground, when a wise homeless lady explained that she was psychic and should devote her life to helping those less intuitively inclined to find their paths.
How did this woman know? She must have been psychic too!Needless to say I was shaken. I somehow managed to convince her, over several hours, that I could keep the evil at bay. I agreed to dispose of my alarm clock. That was evil. I would keep some of my friends away. They were evil. I would stop using the house phone for my malevolent purposes.
I forgave her in subsequent days when she lured a guest of mine out to the patio with a glass of wine and then locked him out. After all, he was evil, and I understood she had to protect herself.
And I tried, as I was looking for another place to live, to help her. Really I did.
I called her folks, who seemed unsurprised with this new development. I asked her friends to speak to her. And after a few days, the intensity of the reality break seemed to wane, but something creepy and unsettling remained. I was antsy to get out before the next assault.
When I found a new place (after hemming and hawing about why I was looking for a new living situation to every interviewer) she seemed truly offended.
“You are leaving? WHY?”
She offered a rent reduction. She offered to go to therapy to resolve our issues. She offered COUPLES therapy.
Sadly such generous offers I had to refuse.
Once I departed I tried to check up on her, concerned about her mental state, but eventually I lost contact.
Several years later I got a very friendly casual call from her, “Hi! I’m moving back to San Francisco! Know anyone with a room for rent?”