The Landlord's Daughter, Part III
Updated: Mar 8
Click for Part I.
Click for Part II.
A butterfly flapped its wings, and caused a hurricane on the other side of the world. A horny young college kid went womanizing around town, and I got evicted from my house in the chaos of his wake. Finding a new place in a rush created problems that I'm still setting right. But karma brought her fist down hard on that boy's life, and there will be no recovery from that. At least, not in this lifetime.
As I settled in my new home, Paul (my former flame) and Priscilla (my former landlord's daughter, former roommate, and former friend) kept hacking away at their on-again-off-again relationship. He never stopped cheating on her, and her tears never dried. Paul fell ill with what was initially diagnosed as mononucleosis, and Priscilla used this opportunity (at least publicly on social media) to play the doting, nurturing girlfriend, in hopes of proving her superiority over his other love interests.
I shook my head, as I cleaned up trails of mouse poop after setting traps in my new house. Mono is what you get when you're a slut, I was thinking. I was thankful to have these newer problems, like a rodent infestation, for instance, to deal with instead of his drama. To this day, however, I'm still not sure if I chose the lesser of two evils.
The problems in my new home didn't stop there. One night while I was brushing my teeth, the mirror above my bathroom sink fell out of the wall, hanging apparatus and all. Thankfully I was there to catch it, and I felt around to see why it had fallen -- the drywall behind it was soggy. I pressed the wall to see just how widespread the water damage was, and found most of that area was soft to the touch.
When fall became winter, we decided to turn on the heat, and smelled natural gas throughout the house. The landlord denied this was a problem, explaining that when the heater gets started it always smells of gas and would go away after a few days -- but it never went away. Finally we called the gas company, and within the hour they made us ventilate the entire house. The old furnace was so defunct, they'd discovered, that it was blowing heat, raw gas, and carbon monoxide through the vents.
My cat suddenly came down with fleas, and I had to try three new treatments before I found one that got rid of the infestation. Upon talking to the neighbors, I learned that my landlords had lived there before we moved in, and they had a little dog that was always infested with fleas. They'd treat him occasionally, but never consistently. So I inherited a new strain of fleas resistant to many common medications, living in my rugs.
The trees on the property were old, sickly, and not maintained. Huge limbs of oak would fall, and posed a tremendous threat to our roof and our neighbor's house. After a storm, one such limb clobbered the roof of my brand new car. My landlord's homeowner's insurance refused to cover it.
The deck was rotting off the back of the house. It swayed under the weight of a human, and certainly couldn't be used as an entrance or exit when moving furniture. The door on the deck could barely latch, let alone lock. With a gentle lean of a shoulder, an average sized person could push their way into our kitchen with minimal force.
A tree root grew so large that it cut off the pipe connecting the septic tank to the plumbing, and the sewage backwashed up through the lowest point in the house: the shower drain in my bathroom.
Eventually one of my roommates got a dream job in California, and myself and the other roommate, Hunter, had to find someone else to fill the vacant bedroom. My friend Dawn moved in for a while, then found a better living arrangement closer to work. When she moved out, Hunter found Wes to take her place. I didn't trust Wes in the slightest, but Hunter felt confident that he was a reformed sinner, and needed to be given a chance while he was putting his life back together. Wes was a redneck, in the literal and figurative sense. He was tall with deteriorating muscles and a huge beer gut, with a perpetual sunburn on top of his sloppy tattoos. He wore wife beaters, baggy pants, and a backwards baseball cap, while chewing gum in his bad teeth. He mumbled when he spoke, and wouldn't make eye contact in conversation. I peacefully disagreed with Hunter's choice, and Wes moved in anyway.
During all this turbulence, I kept in touch with my former roommate Genna. She still lived with Priscilla and was very sick of Paul -- but was now happily dating Paul's friend William, from the a cappella group they sang in together. We hung out from time to time, and during Paul's bout with mono, the drama seemed to ebb. But Paul wasn't getting better. He was well enough to resume his classes, but still needed treatment, and perhaps a new diagnosis.
"Looks like he got what's coming to him..." was my input.
But the biggest problem with this new house of mine wasn't the sketchy roommate who went missing and was found in jail, who then began stealing from us; nor was it the mice that were removed or the carbon monoxide that tried to seduce us into endless sleep or the fleas that sucked our blood -- it was the problem that lurked beneath the soggy walls and was perpetuated by the septic backwash -- black mold.
After about a year, I was sick all the time. I couldn't get well from a minor car accident, then a cold, then the flu. I complained of this to Genna, and she mentioned, "Speaking of not getting well, did you hear what happened to Paul?"
"No, I haven't..."
"That thing the doctors kept treating as mono, was actually leukemia."
"Are you kidding?"
"I mean, I knew he had it coming for him -- but I wouldn't wish cancer on anyone."
We paused, in silence.
"What's the prognosis?" I asked.
"Not good," she said. "At least that's what William tells me. It's possible to beat it if they start treating it aggressively right away, but it's not a guarantee."
I logged into Facebook later that night and allowed myself to look at Paul's profile. Sure enough, leukemia posts were all over his wall. Sympathies and encouragement from hundreds of people dominated his timeline. Then I saw a bunch of posts shared from his mother.
She had started a Facebook group called "Praying for Paul Zimmerman", where she posted his medical progress, and some radical fundamentalist Christian prayers. But weirdest of all, she had many posts about something called Bessie, each of which were angry and long enough to be a stand-alone essay. She had named Paul's disease "Bessie" because, as she declared, it made it easier to have something to hate, an evil entity to condemn.
Paul had told me, while we'd been on the brink of dating, that his parents were crazy intense career missionaries, and he'd spent most of his childhood growing up on their missions in Ukraine. Their radicalism had turned him off to the whole faith thing, and made him long to spend his time with less extreme people. Well now I could see what he meant. "Today we SPAT in Bessie's eye when Paul got his dose of chemo..." and "we will stop Bessie from communing with the devil..." were some of the highlights of her posts, mixed in with prayers of salvation and demanding that people turn away from sin!
While Paul battled his cancer valiantly, I was slowly succumbing to black mold toxicity, and developing a dairy allergy. I was in and out of doctor offices, getting misdiagnosed and mis-prescribed treatments, while Paul had to shave his head of thick curls. Eventually I was told that nothing could help my new condition short of a tonsillectomy, and removal from black mold exposure; eventually a serious bacterial infection took hold of Paul's lungs while his immune system was at its weakest, and he moved into the hospital.
Then on February 27, 2013, the news reached me that Paul had succumbed to his battle with cancer. The news was stunning to the community -- he was only 21 years old.
I decided to bury the hatchet on my personal beef with him and Priscilla once and for all, by paying my respects at his funeral service. Hundreds of people filled the church in which his parents and older siblings were leaders. People shared their memories of him singing and dancing, and of what his friendship meant to them. Then his mother and older sister took over the service.
They were "elders" in this church. Neither of them shed a tear, nor choked up once. They campaigned on with finely polished public speaking skills, the kind that gave Hitler his rise to power -- that same charisma that makes brainwashing seem appealing. They turned Paul's death, the death of a 21-year old college student, the death of her son and her brother, into a crusade for Christ! "If just ONE person steps forward and confesses their sins before the altar, Paul's death will not be in vain!" they clamored. "Join our church, we have dozens of staff waiting in the lobby with brochures on our ministry! They can answer all your questions!"
If that had been all they'd said on that point, I would've lasted to the end of the service, to say hi to the family and pay my respects -- maybe even find Priscilla and give her a hug. But this went on, and got louder as they reiterated themselves, and the crowd was falling for it. Hit them hard with your propaganda when they're down, you'll get a few more souls to tithe. Never mind the high likelihood that there may be devout members of other faiths in attendance who could take offense, when all those people wanted to do was wish Paul and his family peace. The service was no longer about Paul and healing those who mourned him. It was marketing for recruits.
I walked out, and decided to pay my respects in my own way -- I drove straight to a salsa dance and dominated the floor in his honor.
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