Give a Man an Inch and He Takes a Kilometre

Part One – The Tale of the Hot Water Bottle

When I was younger, I had a quick temper. I was mostly a quiet reserved child, but when I got angry, I flipped a shit.

…yup, this was me

As I quickly learned, this was not ok. I got in trouble in school and at home for being “disrespectful” and once or twice I got “the silent treatment” from people I had yelled at. In my teenage years, I thought it would be a good idea to work on this temper, and through methods varying from counting backwards in a foreign language to thinking of eating chocolate when I was angry, and even just not speaking unless spoken to for 3 months, I was able to tame my emotions and my tongue.

Two months ago, I was caused to reconsider my zen approach when I was aggressively accosted in the middle of the night by my landlord’s (former?)girlfriend for using a hot-water bottle when she wanted to use it. This flask does not belong to her, but is common property for those of us who live in the house (there are four of us, and this number does not include my landlord’s ex), or at least it is what I was made to believe when I first got here. Some more background: my landlord and his girlfriend bought this house together about 2 years ago. But then they split. I do not know how they settled the details, but my landlord kept the house and decided to rent out the extra rooms to cover his living costs (as well as the tax payments on the house I suppose).  And that is why I am here.

The (former?) girlfriend lives in a different town but up till this March, came frequently back to this house, when she had “business” to do here. I don’t know much about her because I tended to  stay away from her. She just gave off that vibe. Plus she’s a chain-smoker, so since I’m not into that second-hand-smoke-lung-cancer business, whenever she came I just stayed in my room. Reciprocated “Bonjour” was the extent of my relationship with her. Despite that, she still managed to find ways to get on my nerves. The four of us who live here, while we cohabit, do not necessarily share food. We have a shelf where we keep shared food, and then individual shelves where we keep things we would rather not share. We also partition the fridge so that we don’t unwittingly take anyone else’s food. It’s a good system. And one that le girlfriend couldn’t care less about apparently. On three different occasions when she came to “visit”, I came home to find my 1 litre carton of milk empty. None of my housemates drinks whole milk, so I know it wasn’t them. Besides, this only happened when she was around. And one time she finished my shower gel – but I won’t go into that. Anyways, instead of making a big fuss (really, it’s just milk, I could buy another carton at the supermarket) I started hiding my milk. And I felt rather proud of myself for taking the high road (or at least I think that was the high road).

Fast-forward a few weeks, and she was back again. One night, she used the hot-water bottle that we keep in the kitchen. I also needed it because I had sore muscles in my arm and they helped soothe the soreness. But, she took it first so that was that. I massaged my aching arm as best I could and went to bed. The next day, she left the flask in her room (actually, my landlord’s room which was where she slept – which confused me a little bit, but I mind my business) and went out. Actually I wasn’t sure if she was coming back. I waited, and waited, and waited till about 10.30pm. I figured she was not coming back so I took the bottle.

At around 12.30am, I was lying on my bed with earphones in my ears. Then I felt the walls and floor vibrate a little. Earthquake? Unlikely. Perhaps someone else in the house is back and is hammering something. Whatever it was, I was about to fall asleep and I didn’t want to leave my bed. But then there it was again. I took off my earphones only to have my ears assaulted by the sound of le girlfriend yelling my name and banging on my door.

My initial plan was to put my earphones back in and just ignore her.

Till today I don’t know why I changed my mind. I opened the door and she spat out at me: “did you take the hot-water bottle?”

“Err, yes”.

“I want it back”.

Well I’m using it so go hug a pole. I didn’t actually say that. Ever the peacemaker, I gave it to her, but that wasn’t enough for her – she added: “If you want a hot-water bottle, go buy your own” and stormed off.

I was really confused, and tired, so I just went straight to bed. The next day, I was surprised to learn (from another housemate) that the landlord was in fact around during the night’s episode. When I confronted him about it, he tried to wave it all away as “oh, she was tired, she’d had a long day; you don’t need to take her seriously, that’s just how she is” and then lamely added “she wasn’t upset about the bottle, just that you went into the room to take it”. Well since I don’t have telekinetic powers, it was difficult not to. Besides, she had left the door wide open and the bottle very close to the door. I was less than satisfied that he had let his pet attack me without intervening and now was taking the coward’s way out, but again, not wanting to make a fuss, I let it go. And he said I could go ahead and take the hot-water bottle (le girlfriend had gone).

Two days later, as I was filling the hot water bottle with water from the kettle, the landlord told me I had to put it back in his room because le girlfriend was coming back.

“I don’t understand” (I really didn’t). “Does the bottle belong to her or does it belong to the house?”

“Well, it belongs to me, but I let other people use it. Besides it’s a very personal item. It’s like a toothbrush.”

Right. “This is not what you said when I first moved here, or even two days ago.” I poured out the hot water and turned to leave the kitchen. Since I wasn’t speaking, my face must have looked Hell’s fury because he then said:

“Why are you getting upset over a hot-water bottle?”

Um… Why didn’t you ask your girlfriend that question two days ago when she attempted to break down my bedroom door? Of course, this was in my head. Out loud I said: “I am not upset over a flask; I am upset that you let your girlfriend attack me in the middle of the night“.

“But you, don’t you think there’s something weird about going into someone else’s room to take things?”

Things? Plural? REALLY? You need to just stop talking. Aloud: “I only did that once, and that was because you both weren’t around”.

“Well she only came and banged on your door once”.

Wha…? I can’t… I don’t…

I told him that he could be rest assured that I would never enter his room or touch the water bottle ever again, did not wait for another response (because it would most certainly have been even dumber than anything that he had said up till this point) and went into my room.

I was furious. Since I’ve lived in this house, I have made an effort to respect everyone(including their not-quite-so ex-girlfriends), and I don’t think it is too much to expect to be treated with the same respect. But that’s the thing about certain people: if they see that you’re quiet, patient, and anything short of bat-shit crazy, they feel like you’re the perfect target to take out whatever frustration they might be carrying, because there won’t be any repercussions. I don’t think I’m making this up because this is not the first time something like this is happening – to me or to other quiet, reserved people I know. It is possible that some people see politeness and courtesy as weakness and think they can step all over you for that reason. I am starting to consider resurrecting some of my old crazy again.

Maybe not all the time, but certainly for those moments when ill-humoured people who are unhappy about their lives think that they have a right to treat me like dirt in my own room, in my own home, and when their coward boyfriends cower behind them. We’ll see…

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