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.

true crime

Would you sell your child for $1 million?

Today’s post is going to be graphic. Proceed at your own risk.

Yesterday, I finally watched Leaving Neverland, a two part documentary about Michael Jackson that was directed by British filmmaker Dan Reed and distributed by Britain’s Channel 4, HBO, and Kew Media. I had to wait for the film to be made available on iTunes. Maybe it’s good that I waited. I remember reading the comments about it when it was fresh news. Of course it was going to be hot on the agenda. This was a film about the rumors that swirled around Michael Jackson and his alleged penchant for pedophilia and child molestation, which dogged him for many years. (There is a difference between pedophilia and child molestation. A person can be a pedophile and never molest a child. Likewise, a person can molest a child, and not be sexually attracted to them.)

Two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom are now married to women, and both of whom used to swear that Jackson had never sexually molested them, were interviewed for this film. The men, who were both children in 1993, when Jackson was first accused of molesting a child, had both enjoyed intimate friendships with Jackson back in the 80s and 90s. Both men now claim that for many years, Jackson sexually abused them. They include graphic accounts of things Jackson did to them. Their families were also interviewed extensively. Both of their mothers seem aggrieved that they were taken in by Jackson’s largesse.

I have a couple of friends who are diehard Michael Jackson fans and doubt the film’s veracity. I can understand why they’d prefer not to believe what these men are claiming. It’s hard to hear that someone as amazingly brilliant, charismatic, seemingly kind, and talented as Jackson was, could be so capable of hurting small children. In Robson’s case, he really was small. At one point in the film, he explicitly discusses how, as a seven year old, he found himself giving Jackson a blow job. I cringed when I heard that, especially as he reminded everyone what that would be like for such a young child. Frankly, I don’t even like thinking about doing that as a grown woman… I can’t even imagine the horror of it as a young child. Robson also describes receiving oral sex from Jackson as a very young child, right down to feeling his hair, which he said felt like steel wool.

The film ran for about four hours total. I can’t say I found it entertaining. I’m glad I watched it, though, just because I was curious about it. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music very much. I own several of his albums. I never went to any of his concerts and was too young to watch his variety show with his family, but I certainly was well aware of the Jackson entertainment empire of the day. When I was about eleven years old, he was at the top of his game. Everyone loved him… everyone had Thriller and songs from it were constantly being played on the radio. His videos were all over MTV, which everyone was watching at the time. He was everywhere, and it didn’t seem like he’d ever come down from his pedestal.

Wade Robson wows on the Bad Tour in 1987.

Wade Robson joined Jackson’s life during the Bad tour. Jackson had come to Brisbane, Australia, where Robson is originally from, to promote his follow up to Thriller. There was a dance contest. At five years old, Wade was too young to enter, but he was so gifted that the promoters decided to let him perform anyway. He caused such a sensation that the was declared the winner of the contest, even though he was too young to be a contestant. The prize was tickets to Jackson’s show. Wade and his mom went to the first show and afterwards, met Jackson, who was very impressed with the little boy’s moves. He and his mom had tickets for the second concert, so Wade was brought up on stage. From there, a “beautifully” toxic friendship developed.

Meeting Mr. Jackson…

James Safechuck, who used to go by Jimmy, came into Jackson’s world in 1987, when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial that featured Jackson. He was an adorable boy, and although he wasn’t necessarily one of Jackson’s biggest fans, they had a winning chemistry in the ad. The cameras captured Safechuck’s face the very first moment he saw Jackson in person. I have to admit, it really was special. We don’t see ads like that anymore. In 1987, it was an endearing ad that evoked fantasy. The boy was enchanted by all of Jackson’s stuff. Then Jackson shows up. The boy is delighted, even though Jackson sounds like they’re both in a nightclub and he’s about to hit on him.

Both men explain that they and their families were swept away by Jackson’s generosity. Jackson invited them to his famous home, Neverland, where there was a “theme park” and a zoo. They were given first class accommodations and transportation. Jackson would call them on the phone and talk for hours. During the daytime, it was like having another friend their age, who happened to be in an adult’s body. At night… it would turn into something else… something much more sinister. Or, at least that’s what these two men claim. A friendship formed and the boys became regular visitors to Jackson’s home. They’d play video games, watch movies, eat junk food, and then share Jackson’s bed.

All the while, I couldn’t help wondering what the hell their mothers were thinking. Robson’s mom spoke of how Michael conditioned her to accept his proposal of letting her son spend the night in the entertainer’s home, alone. When they took trips, her hotel room gradually got further and further away from Michael’s… and Wade’s. At one point, Jackson asked Ms. Robson if she would let Wade move in with him. He promised he’d help Wade with his career. Ms. Robson, to her credit, vetoed that idea. But she still let Jackson have almost unfettered access to her child. Later, in the film, she emphatically states that no amount of money was enough to sell her child’s innocence. And yet, that’s kind of what she did… unfortunately.

The same thing goes for Safechuck’s mom, who talks about how Jackson offered her and her husband a very low interest rate on a home loan. And then, once the scandal broke, he told her the house was a gift. Jackson bought the Safechucks a house. Essentially, he bought their silence and loyalty at a time when he was seriously in jeopardy of being sent to prison. Maybe he’d still be alive if he had gone to prison.

I guess there’s nothing new about this phenomenon of young, innocent, naive children being taken in by larger than life, powerful men. A few days ago, I wrote a post about a woman named Katie who did a video about how Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein victimized her when she was thirteen years old. The reason she was in their company in the first place was because she wanted to be a model. I’m assuming she had a family out there. Where were they? Why was she at a party, alone, with a bunch of men?

I can’t help but think that while these folks are definitely victims, they have also been caught up in the concept of reciprocity. As humans, we are conditioned not to get something for nothing. If someone does something “nice” for you, you feel compelled to return the favor. Or, conversely, if someone does something “bad” to you, you want to get them back. Reciprocity, as a social psychological construct, has led a lot of people to serious trouble, particularly when one of the parties is toxic. Reciprocity comes into play when a person feels indebted or beholden, even if the reason they feel that way is due to an uninvited favor.

Here’s a less salacious example of what I mean. My husband, Bill, went to an African country a few years ago with one of his former co-workers. The co-worker was someone Bill didn’t like that much. The guy was narcissistic and overbearing, and he was always trying to force others to do what he wanted, without any regard for their needs or desires. One night, while they were in country, Bill’s colleague suggested that they all go out on the town. Bill didn’t really want to, but the guy had already arranged transportation. At an earlier time in his life, Bill might have caved and gone along with his colleague. After all, the man had gone to the trouble of getting the car and everything, even though Bill hadn’t wanted to go anywhere. Fortunately, this time, Bill said “no”.

The co-worker was surprised and got upset. He said, “After I arranged this car and everything, you’re not going to go?”

Bill said, “I never asked you to arrange a car. That was your decision.” Even though it felt strange not to comply with his former co-worker’s wishes, Bill stood his ground and stayed in while his colleague went out by himself.

At an earlier time, Bill would usually cave in to pressure from others, even if it was against his own self-interest. He wanted to be nice, and avoid conflict with other people. So when they’d make a request of him, particularly if they’d “sweetened” it with a favor, even if it was an uninvited favor, he felt compelled to comply with their wishes.

I think Wade’s and James’ mothers, and to a lesser extent the rest of their families (Wade’s dad was pretty much pushed out of his family’s life, thanks to Jackson), felt beholden to Jackson for the showbiz “opportunities” he gave their, beautiful, gifted sons. There’s no doubt these guys did make it in showbiz. They probably would have made it anyway, since they are genuinely attractive and very talented. But Jackson “helped”… and he introduced them to the trappings of being super rich and famous. They felt obligated to “be his friend” and support him, even when there were signs that he wasn’t such a good person.

Robson’s mother even pressured Wade to testify at Jackson’s 2003 trial, even though by that point, he wanted no part of helping him. She told him Jackson was her “friend” and that prison would kill him. Now that she’s heard his story, I wonder– was it worth it? Was it worth it to these mothers that their very young sons were allegedly sucking Jackson’s dick before they even knew what sex is? She says she would have stopped at nothing to put anyone who abused her son in prison. But she apparently missed all of the clues for seven years, or simply turned a blind eye to them. Why? If Jackson had been a normal guy, would she have let him share a bed with her son? Would she have not seen how truly strange their relationship was? Good for her for at least not allowing Jackson to keep her son in his home for a year or more. That would have been a true disaster!

By the way… I think Robson’s and Safechuck’s accounts are very credible. I highly doubt these men are lying about what happened to them. Wade Robson, in particular, is very believable to me. When I listened to him describe the abuse, I could tell it affected him very deeply. He would have to be a stellar actor to be able to pull that off as convincingly as he did.

Besides the stories of graphic abuse these men suffered, particularly Robson, I think the saddest part of the tale came when they realized they’d been replaced by younger, more malleable boys. Robson explains how one day, the hotel wasn’t paid for… there was no hired car to take him to the studio; they had to drive themselves. And when he got to the studio, there was Macaulay Culkin, cozying up to Jackson the same way he once did. Culkin claims Jackson never harmed him. Robson had been usurped by new boys, but we knew it was coming. I don’t know why their mothers didn’t see it coming.

Of course, I write this as an armchair quarterback. I don’t know how I would feel if I had a child who was super talented and someone like Michael Jackson wanted to spend time with them. I’d like to think I would keep a level head, but it’s really hard to tell. We all have dreams… and people like Michael Jackson, with his larger than life presence and talent, make it easy to forget life here on Earth. Most people dream of touching that world of celebrity, forgetting that celebrities are people too. A lot of celebrities paid a big price to be where they are… they might have been abused themselves, or they may have substance abuse issues or mental health problems. Then, there’s the fact that a lot of people in power are extremely narcissistic and they have the ability to justify harming other people to meet their own needs and desires. Just look at the ever growing list of people who were “heroes” in the 1980s… people who were supposedly above reproach in every way, like Bill Cosby. Where is Bill Cosby, “America’s Dad”, now? He’s in prison. That’s probably where Jackson should have gone, too.


German style toxic passive aggression…

Part of the reason I moved my almost nine year old blog to a new site is an indirect consequence of passive aggression. It’s been on my mind lately, as Bill and I reflect on the four years we spent living near Stuttgart, dealing with the frankly toxic effects of people who refuse to clear the air in a direct way. It’s hard to live in a situation in which a person is obviously angry, but refuses to confront that anger constructively.

What is “passive aggression”.

Most people are passive aggressive sometimes. There are times when it doesn’t feel “safe” to be directly confrontational, so angry feelings are pushed beneath the surface. Sometimes, being passive aggressive is a matter of self-preservation. For instance, when I was growing up, I was often very angry with my father. However, I learned very early not to confront him directly, since it would often lead to painful physical and emotional consequences. So I would often seethe when he was around… anger festered, and I must admit, it’s still an issue today, almost five years after his death. In fact, I would even venture to guess that some of my problems stem from unresolved issues with my father, who often treated me with contempt and disdain. I was rarely allowed to address my issues with him and I almost never got validation when I did address them. The end result is that I have a lot of baggage and very little tolerance for people who show me disrespect.

I think “German” style passive aggression, is kind of different than “garden variety” passive aggression. I think it comes from German culture, which gives it a particularly nasty quality. I’ve noticed it a lot during this stint in Germany. This week, I read about two true crime cases that illustrate it quite well. The first case took place in Fischbach, a hamlet near Kaiserslautern. A lot of Americans live near there, since there is an Army installation close by. An American woman, now living in the United States, had rented out her house to other Americans. Prior to renting out her home, she hired gardener Bernhard Graumann to design a garden for her.

Evidently, the homeowner didn’t like Graumann’s work. They had a dispute. Graumann was angry enough that he booby trapped the woman’s carport with a log that had a bomb within it. The landlady moved back to the States before the trap harmed her. Fortunately, the trap was found before anyone else was hurt; presumably, that would have been the innocent American tenants who were living there. Police determined that if the log had detonated, it would have destroyed a wood stove. They detonated the explosive in a safe way, so no one was harmed. However, other people who had dealings with Graumann were not so lucky.

In Otterberg, a woman and her small child were injured by a similar device left to be discovered by an unlucky person. A 64 year old physician in Enkenbach-Alsenborn died last Friday when he touched a booby trap. Police believe that these incidents were also perpetrated by Graumann, who is now himself dead as of last Sunday. The cause of his death is currently unknown. Police are saying that Graumann purposely made these booby traps to deliberately hurt or kill people with whom he had issues. He’d leave them in places where they might or might not be discovered, completely taking his victims by surprise and injuring or even killing innocent people in the interim.

Police set up a hotline to find out if other people had problems with Graumann in personal or professional relationships. Sure enough, over 100 references have been recorded, some of which is information about Graumann’s life and some which regard personal conflicts people had with Graumann, a man many described as “withdrawn”. Graumann, who was 59 years old when he died and was a member of a medieval club where he worked with “black powder”, was married and had two grown children, one of whom is now a police officer. The son who is a cop is not working on this particular case.

The second case I read about is even more sinister. In the northern German city of Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock, a 23 year old man fell into a persistent vegetative state after ingesting high levels of mercury. Investigators were at a loss as they tried to determine how the man had fallen ill.

Another man, who had worked with the 23 year old on the same shift, also got sick and visited a doctor at least five times, complaining of mysterious symptoms. He was later found to have severe kidney damage. A third man, Klaus Radke, went to the police after several instances of noticing a brownish substance in his sandwich he’d brought from home. Hidden cameras were finally installed in the break room where these three men had worked. That’s when they discovered their colleague, Klaus O., was poisoning them.

Why was Klaus O. poisoning his co-workers’ food? Well, it wasn’t because he was necessarily angry with them personally. A psychiatrist who interviewed him explained that Klaus O. was “interested in watching the effects of poisons on his victims’ health”. Klaus O. had his own home lab, which included lead, cadmium and mercury. Klaus Radke, whose sharp eyes had noticed the “brownish substance” on his sandwiches, had brought one to the police for sampling. Lab tests discovered over 71,000 micrograms of lead within it. The police later discovered that Klaus O. had ordered more poisons online just before he was arrested. Investigators also found extremely high levels of mercury on the man’s property.

What caused Klaus O. to so callously harm his co-workers, with whom he’d apparently had no real or obvious conflicts? It’s hard to say definitively, although the court did hear testimony from Klaus O.’s estranged siblings and other family members. They described his upbringing, which was evidently traumatic and marred by poverty. Was this the reason why Klaus O. felt the need to strike out at innocent people by surreptitiously poisoning their food? Maybe… or maybe he’s just a sociopath who would have turned out this way regardless.

Many people are uncomfortable with openly expressing hostility. It’s as if being angry and expressing that emotion is some kind of sin. But anger is a very natural and normal emotion. Sometimes it’s even a motivating and constructive feeling. Bottling it up is unhealthy. On the other hand, expressing it can also be hurtful. I moved my blog, in part, because I was openly expressing anger that was making other people uncomfortable and they were confronting me in a way that was making the situation worse.

Germany is different than the United States is. Things are done by the book. I now live in a country where a person can be sued for verbally insulting another person and flipping someone the bird in traffic can lead to a very expensive fine. I am not German, so I don’t know what they learn when they are growing up in this society where it’s illegal to be insulting. However, knowing how challenging and frustrating life can be, particularly when you must deal with people with whom you don’t mesh, I can see how the habit of being passive aggressive could develop in a place where venting openly can lead to the courtroom. On the other hand, in the United States, expressing anger and engaging in conflict sometimes leads to violence. Here, people insist on civility… at least on the surface. In the United States, civility is less important and, I think, that sometimes leads to real tragedies.

I notice a lot of jokes about German passive aggression. In fact, just Googling it led me to this humorous blog post written by a fellow expat who has observed it. I have also noticed that Germans are also openly aggressive in some situations. If you do something that isn’t “right”, you can expect to be yelled at by someone. It’s happened to me more than once. This is a very “rules oriented” society, and people are very open about telling you when you’ve messed up. But if they stay angry with you, you might start noticing little subtle things that eventually become less subtle.

A good example of German passive aggression spotted in a public toilet. The sign requests that users not throw things on the floor and to use the toilet brush. The handwritten part beneath it requests that the people cleaning the toilets do something about the stench.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love living in Germany and I have developed a real affection for most German people. I’ve made friends here and there’s a lot to love about the German lifestyle. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the German style of passive aggression. I find it maddening.