For some people, it’s an empty beach at sunrise. For others, an isolated cabin on a rainy mountaintop. For still others, the corner table of a familiar diner; a late night ride on a quiet subway car; a childhood home. For me, it was Madrid. Madrid was my happy place. Madrid was a place where everyone was good and everything was fun; where I was carefree. And then I met Tere.
I moved back to Madrid at the end of August in order to find a good apartment before my job started in October. Eight days and 15 apartment viewings later, I had it down to two, which happened to be located in adjacent buildings: Calle Ruiz 13 and Calle Ruiz 15. Both had a perfect location on a relatively quiet street near the metro in my favorite neighborhood, both had a quaint balcony onto the street from the bedroom, and both came with two roommates. In each apartment, I was only able to meet one roommate since the other was out of town. I had to make a decision before their returns or the apartment might be offered to someone else. I decided to go with Calle Ruiz 15, since the guy showing me the apartment, Nacho, was a sincerely nice, laid back guy and proved to be a great roommate. But then, after moving in, I met Roommate #2: Teresa the Witch.
She seemed normal enough at the beginning. Not the friendliest girl (cough 30+ year old girl) I’d ever met, but she cleared a shelf in the bathroom for me so I thought everything would be okay. And then it began. Slowly, at first, just every now and then, I’d get an angry or aggressive message from Tere, always addressed to both Nacho and me in our roommate Whatsapp group entitled “casa.”
State of the apartment: Not a mess
A message from Tere, “Guys, the house is a mess.” It wasn’t. “I don’t know whose turn it was to clean but you have to respect the order of the list, and if not, switch with someone.”
Of course she knew whose turn it was. She made the damn cleaning schedule, probably slept with a laminated copy of it under her pillow and likely had it tattooed on her hip. I knew she knew it was my turn and I had a legitimate (I thought) excuse anyway, so I owned up to it.
“It was my turn to clean,” I said, “I was sick in bed all weekend and didn’t feel like cleaning. The house looked clean to me so I thought it could wait until Monday.”
I seriously don’t even know how she knew I didn’t clean. The house was, as I said, clean.
“I hope this doesn’t happen again,” she said, “The list is on the refrigerator and I cleaned first, so I expect the same on your part.”
Nacho chimed in in his typical cheery “let’s all get along” fashion, “It’s fine! You clean this week and I’ll clean next week.”
Tere retorted, “I prefer that you follow the order of the list on the fridge and if not, switch with someone.”
The list in question was one she made without consulting any of us, but whatever. I cleaned. I cleaned to, I hoped, her heart’s content.
State of the apartment: Normal
Tere happily messaged in the group telling Nacho that she had already cleaned the living room, guest room and hallways, all he had left to do was the kitchen and the bathroom. This was a passive aggressive reminder for Nacho to clean, but at least she put a :-D and :-P in her message to him and had even done some of his cleaning for him. I never got such treatment.
At just six days after her last hissy fit over our already clean house, I started to realize she might have some sort of issue.
State of the apartment: Still clean
Newsflash time with Tere: “Ok, guys. We share a flat in case you didn’t know…And I’ve been waiting and waiting but it cannot be that no one puts the dishes away (dishes she used), that I go to take a shower and there’s hair everywhere (wasn’t mine! Surprisingly, that hair actually belonged to Nacho. Who is bald.), that the toilet seat cover is up (The cover. Not the seat. Nacho and I both admitted to leaving it up, as was custom in our sane households growing up), and that someone left a piece of dental floss on the sink yesterday and it’s still there today. We live together and I, especially, like to have things the way I left them: clean.”
Dental floss. This tortured soul is flipping a shit because someone left an 8-inch long piece of unused minty string on the bathroom counter. Literally one of the smallest and most unobtrusive things that could be left anywhere. Dental floss. Give me a fucking break. I feel compelled to admit that I do not regularly floss my teeth, unless regularly means “when I eat popcorn,” which, okay yeah, is often enough I guess. But the point is: that dental floss was not mine. (Twist: It was actually Eduardo’s, my boyfriend who was visiting for the week and, bless his soul, could not have known that my roommate was a fascist dictator.) But, as usual, I cleaned.
A couple nights after Dentalflossgate, I was in my room when I overheard Tere, who obviously didn’t think I was home, yelling about me to her boyfriend (Surprise! The spawn of Satan is dating!). She was ranting about how she hated me, how if it were up to just her, I would have been kicked out of the house weeks ago, how she never wanted to live with a dumb foreigner again.
This sounds like the part of the story where I decide it’s finally time to move out, right? Oh, how I wish I had! Instead, I messaged Nacho saying, “I just overheard Tere yelling about me to her boyfriend. She hates me. I think I’m getting kicked out.”
He assured me that she couldn’t kick me out without his consent and that this is just who Tere is. She doesn’t hate me, she just takes a while to warm up to people. I wasn’t sure I could spend another minute in that contradictorily icy hellhole.
It was the end of October at this point, and I planned to go home for Winter break in December, so with Nacho’s word that I wouldn’t be kicked out, I decided to take my time looking for a new place, so as not to end up in another bad living situation, and move out of Calle Ruiz 15 before I went home for winter break at the end of December.
After that dreadful night, things actually seemed to get better over the next couple weeks (if only by not getting much worse). The biggest trouble was that it was starting to get cold and the house didn’t have heat, which I knew when I moved in. The house also turned out to have an incredibly low electrical capacity, and our power would go out anytime I would microwave popcorn and, coincidentally enough, floss my teeth. Before I even moved in, Nacho had told me I could use one of the electric heaters in the storage closet so after double checking with him, I rolled one into my room and plugged it in. It stayed on for about 10 minutes and then the power went out. I flipped the circuit breaker and plugged the heater back in. Three minutes later, the power was out again. After plugging and unplugging and flipping and bopping things a few more times to make it work, I gave up and took my favorite position in the center of my bed: fetal.
The only thing I hate more than bitches is being cold. Between the bad roommate, the insufficient electricity, and the cold air seeping in through the old windows, my home was looking bleaker and bleaker to me. Unfortunately, I was having some trouble on the apartment-hunting front. By the end of November, with probably another 15 unsuccessful apartment viewings under my belt, I was still too afraid to give my month’s notice to Tere without having a set place to move to. So I paid another month’s rent before hopping a plane for a weekend trip.
The morning I returned from my trip, I got a message from Tere. “That heater in your room isn’t yours, it’s my sister’s. Put it back where you found it. Don’t ask Nacho, ask me.” Her sister lives in Belgium. I found it in a closet.
I told her Nacho had promised me I could use that heater even before I moved in, since I never would have moved to a place with no heat. He offered it to me again just a few days earlier when I let him know I was thinking of moving out “because it was too cold” (I didn’t want to be fought on the whole Tere thing again).
She responded, “Okay, but it’s my sister’s so leave it. Sorry if he told you that. It’s not my problem. You can’t just steal things.”
LAST STRAW. LAST STRAW ALERT.
This asshole has accused me of being a slob, being a “dumb foreigner,” being a TOOTH-FLOSSER, and now STEALING? FUCK. THIS. SHIT. I’m outta here.
I knew it, but I didn’t tell her right away. Mostly because I prefer not talking to her over talking to her. I was at work while this conversation was happening, but I was ready to head home and pack my bags. Funnily enough, I ran into Nacho at the metro station. We spotted each other on the platform. He’s cheery, I’m seething. “Nacho,” I said, “I’m moving out. I have to move out. I can’t take it anymore.” He was sorry to see me go, but he understood. He knows she’s crazy.
I got home and hid in my cell I mean my room and started to pack my bags (like, three weeks before moving out. A bit impractical), not knowing where I’d go when I came back from winter break in January. And then, a message from Tere. My dear sweet Nacho must have broken the news to her in order to save me an interaction with the beast.
“You’re moving out?” she asked.
“Yes, on December 20th.”
“You’re stupid. Thank god you’re leaving. The sooner, the better.”
Thank god I was leaving! The sooner, the better!
I wanted to set some things straight, so I vented to Eduardo and he helped me craft a perfectly-worded retort in Spanish, which I’ve now translated back to English for your gringo viewing pleasure:
“Look, Tere, I didn’t know that the heater is your sister’s and I had no reason to know that. I’m not psychic. Nacho told me I could use it even before I moved in, since I wouldn’t have moved to a flat that didn’t have the possibility of heat. If I can’t use it, I’m not getting what I pay for. I have no problem with buying my own heater, but I wouldn’t even be able to use it because the apartment has an insufficient electrical capacity which, in all this time, has not been fixed due to your negligence. There are also loose outlets and circuits coming out of the walls, which is dangerous and could light the whole building on fire. Considering all these things, this apartment is barely inhabitable. I’m giving you 27 days notice, and I expect you to pay me the difference in my deposit.”
She responded, so eloquently, “You don’t understand anything?!!!!!! Poor you!”
And with that, fellas, I was out of there. Gone with the wind.
I KNOW in my heart of hearts that I am not a difficult person to get along with. I also know that I am not a slob (in common areas, that is. Whether or not I can see the surface of the desk in my own room is nobody’s business!). I couldn’t understand why I’d been made the target of Tere’s attacks but I was done making excuses for her. I’d previously sympathized for her, thinking that perhaps she was stressed about something. Or sick. Or had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But I get stressed. I get sick. I have OCD and never in my entire life have I ever made anyone the subject of such blind hatred as she did me.
I had a running list of all the ways I would sabotage the apartment upon my leaving: I’d get hair trimmings from a hair salon and leave them all over the bathroom, I’d smear toothpaste on the mirror, place raw fish under the sofa cushion, pour tomato sauce over all the dishes, crack eggs in the drawers, sprinkle flour all over the floor, and last but not least, completely remove the toilet seat cover at its hinges so that our poor sweet baby darling angel little girl could never put her precious cover down on the toilet seat (the toilet was in its own separate room, by the way. I still don’t understand why she cared about that so much). I never did any of these things in the end. In the end, I left without a peep. I just wanted my deposit back and to tell her off. When she deposited half of my money into my bank account, I knew that was all I was getting. It was time. I sent her one last Whatsapp before blocking her:
“You’re the worst person I have ever known. I don’t know if you realize how incredibly insane you must be to have created such animosity towards me out of NOTHING. I never did or said anything remotely bad to you, and you only ever treated me with disrespect and disdain. You’re just a mean little girl and you need to grow up and learn not to involve other people in your misery. I hope you get the opportunity to live abroad, and I hope you are received in a foreign country in the very same manner in which you have received me here. Karma’s a bitch if you are. Also, I saw my towel and you are deranged. Hasta nunca!”
I guess I didn’t mention the whole towel thing in here, but that’s fine since it would probably traumatize you as much as it did me.
So there it is. This one horrible lunatic managed to ruin a whole city for me. My favorite city. I hate to think that one evil witch has changed my experience and perception of an entire country and its people, and I don’t know if it’s just my heightened sensitivity, personal contempt, or simply the end of my “honeymoon phase” with Madrid, but I have since then seen such ugly qualities in so many of the people around me. The negativity has permeated my everyday life, making me wonder if my place in this city is worth fighting for. What good is a happy place if, in order for it to remain that way, it has to be separated from everyone else who calls it home?
FYI: A week after I moved out so did Nacho.”
Update: Huge public shout-out and thank you to Sam and her awesome roommates and Miguel who all let me crash on their couches for a couple weeks at a time, to Danielle, Kimia, and Sam for letting me store my stuff and to Cara, Erin, Eduardo and everyone else who offered me a place to stay or leave my things, who listened to me vent and re-read angry Whatsapp messages, and who hated this bitch right along with me. I get by with a LOT of help from my friends.