The shock of not being abused…

If you’ve ever been in an “abusive” relationship with someone– be it a friend, a significant other, a co-worker, a spouse, or a landlord– it can be kind of a shock when you’re not anymore. When you’ve been in abusive relationship, you can get “used” to being abused. Then when you deal with another person who isn’t abusive, it’s a surprise. One would think this would be a great thing, and it is. But it’s also confusing and ultimately infuriating, not because the next person is decent, but because you’ve spent time tolerating someone who is malevolent.

When I think about how much time I’ve spent feeling guilty for upsetting an abusive person, it makes me angry. Even though I’m away from that person and they can’t hurt me anymore, I have these lingering aftereffects that don’t easily go away. It’s like recovering from a bad case of the flu, when getting rid of the cough and fatigue takes forever, even though the acute illness is gone.

For the past year, I’ve been recovering from the four years of abuse I put up with from our former landlady. I know some people reading this don’t believe me when I classify her behavior as abusive. That’s fine with me. You can believe whatever you want. I was the one living this experience, and I’m still recovering from it. I’m still angry about it, although I’m slowly getting better.

Our toxic living situation has left me with some very unpleasant aftereffects. For example, it took many weeks before I stopped worrying and obsessing about things in our current house that I knew would have upset the ex landlady. It took a long time before I started feeling comfortable in my own home. She would come over and spot a pile of leaves where the trash bins are. I would watch her body language change to one of fury, as if we were the dirtiest people ever. She’d grab a broom and furiously sweep.

Or, say I didn’t completely shovel all of the snow from the driveway because I wasn’t going anywhere and wasn’t expecting visitors. She’d come over without calling first and get super bitchy because I didn’t sweep or shovel to her standards. Or say there was a small clump of dog hair in the doorway that she’d claim was “encrusted”, but was actually just akin to a dust bunny that took seconds to wipe away. I swear, if I had known it would have caused her so much angst, I would have made sure it wasn’t there when she came over. But she rarely told me when she was coming, so a lot of times, I wasn’t prepared for company.

Even though she didn’t live in the neighborhood, we were expected to keep things to her standards. But she never really told us what her standards were, so I’d always have to guess– and it was virtually always after she’d chewed me out. And frankly, I don’t think I should be expected to keep my housekeeping to her standards. Not when we were paying rent to her. It’s one thing if something is so dirty that it’s a safety, health, or legal issue. It’s another if you’re simply an obsessive clean freak and feel like everyone else should be one, too.

Our current landlord lives next door, but he leaves us alone. I’m not even sure he knows that one of our dogs died. This morning he reminded Bill to turn off the water to the sink in the garage, since the weather is about to turn cold. He actually trusts Bill to do it. Our former landlady, by contrast, would have to come over to do it herself. Whenever there was a repairperson or inspector coming by, she had to be there to supervise. She rarely trusted Bill or me to handle these tasks, even though we’re middle aged people who have been renting for years.

While Bill was talking to our current landlord today, he told him about the tree in our backyard that died over the summer. I don’t know why it died; it just did, and it was leaning over. On Columbus Day, we cut the branches back and stocked the wood for the fireplace, but left some of the tree. The whole time we were cutting, I was thinking that our ex landlady would have had a conniption if we had taken it upon ourselves to cut that tree on our own. But our current landlord was fine with it and said he would take care of removing the rest of it. No fuss, no muss, and he treats us like adults, instead of children or employees. Ex landlady would have probably accused me of killing the tree… or she would have claimed the dogs peeing on it killed it, or something else asinine like that.

Our current landlord also noticed the green wire for the robot mower, which has a border wire that goes around the yard. He was about to pull it up when Bill explained what it was. Instead of being angry that we were using a robot mower, he was intrigued. And when he came to get the tree, he went through the back gate instead of through the house because he’s been doing yard work and is dirty. Former landlady never would have passed up the chance to inspect/snoop. I would not be the slightest bit surprised if she came into the house when we weren’t there and had a look around.

When I think about spending four years in that living situation, I feel angry, even though it’s over now. I’m appalled when I think about how much stress we experienced and eggshell walking we did to appease that bitch– someone we were PAYING a lot of money to every month. When I realize that I actually fought to stay in that inferior house because I was afraid the next landlords might be worse, I am absolutely gobsmacked.

I actually tried to stay in our prior house because I had gotten used to the abuse and passive aggressive behavior, and I didn’t want it to start anew with someone else. I knew ex landlady was abusive, but at least we knew her. A year ago, she was mostly ignoring us, which was actually the best part of our four years living there, because she stopped showing up unexpectedly, disrupting my peace. I didn’t like her behavior; it made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. But at least I knew what to expect and we’d managed to “break her in” somewhat. I was afraid the next landlord would be worse. What a mindfuck! We should have left when she screamed at me the first time.

I remember Bill would tell me he’d gotten an email from her, and I would always groan because I knew there would be some kind of complaint or insult within it. In the beginning, when we were in the “honeymoon” phase, she was always pleasant and polite. Bill would remark about how “nice” she was. But then, as time went on, she turned into a total harridan. I dreaded seeing her or having to speak to her, because the relationship had become so strained. And not a single one of our meetings was initiated by me; she would simply come over and knock on the door. In retrospect, I should have refused to answer unless she made an appointment.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve lived with an overbearing and intrusive landlady. When I was in Armenia, my landlady lived in Hungary, but came home for the summer. While she was in Yerevan, she’d let herself in to my apartment when I wasn’t there and let her son help himself to my food. I’d find dirty dishes in the refrigerator. One time, I came home after an evening out– I’d been at the embassy watching a movie and drinking beer. She and her father were waiting for me in the apartment– they’d let themselves in while I was gone. Dad was smoking a cigarette, even though I’m a non-smoker. When I came home, they confronted me with accusations that I didn’t pay them rent one month. It was patently untrue, and I had proof, although she still accused me of lying and theft. They wrongly assumed they could squeeze an extra month’s rent out of me because they had accused me of “theft”. At that time, I was easily upset and they probably thought I was a pushover. I got so upset that I hyperventilated in front of them, which made them so uncomfortable that they left.

Once they were gone, I went on the rampage and called the admin officer at the Peace Corps office, where the ex landlady had been working before she moved to Hungary for the year. I told them what was going on and how fed up I was. When it came time to move out, we had someone from the Peace Corps observing the inspection, just to make sure they didn’t screw me over. I wish we had done something similar when we moved from our last place. We should have had someone from the Mieterverein come over. I think that would have helped the ex landlady modify her hostility, plus give us a third party witness as to how the house looked when we gave her the keys.

It feels strange to have a “normal” relationship with someone after having been in an abusive one. Bill can attest to that very well. When we first got married, I think he was afraid I was going to be like his ex wife. I often had to remind him that we are different people. I am not perfect by any means, but I have never treated him the way she did. I may get angry at times, but I don’t belittle him. I tell him I love and appreciate him, and I care about what he thinks. He deserves all of that and more.

There have been times when Bill has said ex landlady was like his ex wife. Knowing what I know about Ex, I know our ex landlady wasn’t as bad… I mean, she never sexually abused Bill. But a lot of the behavior patterns were similar. It makes me wonder how she treats her friends and family members. She’s probably very controlling towards them, too.

I’m glad to be out of that living situation and relieved to be in a better one. And though it’s kind of strange getting used to not being abused and insulted anymore, I’m determined to do it. No one should have to live that way.