Last year, I wrote a post about the worst writer person I ever met, a person who started writing M/M romance for the money while being unabashedly anti-gay in her personal life. I named names, and everyone freaked out because I might hurt her career. And I was like, “I’m going to be a better person and not do that again,” despite my belief that someone who hides behind a pseudonym to profit from fetishizing gay men while voting and advocating against them in real life doesn’t actually deserve to have a career doing that and maybe that’s a position that a queer person is allowed to take and has a right to call out but whatever let’s not rehash that.
I’m not going to name names in this series of posts, not because I’ve grown as a person or I’m suddenly nice to wretched people, but because I’m legitimately afraid that speaking the name of evil will summon it forth. She’s also not profiting from the misery she causes, so revealing her identity wouldn’t be merited. However, I have been itching for a long time to tell you this story, and I know there are more of you out there who will have had similar bad experiences with people whose toxic and destructive behavior pushes the boundaries of that which can be believed.
It is the story of the worst person I’ve ever met.
Some of it is funny, in a “can you believe the nerve of this woman?” way. Some of it is sad, in a “what happened to this person that she’s like this,” way, and a “how horrible that she maimed so many innocent bystanders with her shitty, shitty behavior” way. Some of it is heartwrenching to me, because of the severe emotional and spiritual damage my brief association with her was. I guarantee you will not believe some parts of the story, either because they are too bizarre, or because they deal with spirituality and not everyone is into that. But I’m still going to tell it. Because it’s a doozy.
In the fall of 2001, I enrolled in what was to be a short-lived attempt at earning a college degree. My mortuary science major required a surprising amount of art history classes. That’s where I met Cathy. I saw that she had a copy of Vanity Fair featuring a young, not-yet-famous Daniel Radcliffe on the cover promoting the upcoming movie adaptation of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. I eagerly engaged her in conversation, and we hit it off instantly.
Cathy was only a couple of years older than me, but she really seemed to have her life together. She was engaged to Dan, the father of her one-year-old son, Marvin, and she lived with them in their own apartment in a decent part of town. As someone who had just quit two jobs on a capricious whim and had to move in with her grandparents, I was in awe that anyone so close to my age could go to college, work, and raise a kid at the same time. She also prided herself on her street smarts; she’d been homeless before, couch surfing and struggling to make ends meet when her Marvin was first born. She would come to campus straight from her job at a local daycare and change from her polo shirt and khakis into a broomstick skirt, long sweater, and pentacle jewelry. She stashed her work clothes in the baby changing station, because “I’ve never seen anyone use it.” Artistic, witchy, and unapologetically Cathy, she seemed like someone I should aspire to be, not someone to avoid.
I’ve since learned that people like Cathy are good at hiding the worst parts of themselves so that they can draw you in.
My first indication that something might be slightly odd about Cathy was her tendency to say hurtful things, then follow them up with “just kidding!” Most of these comments were related to my weight; my 140lbs.on a 5’8″ frame struck her as grotesquely obese–just kidding! of course–and she had an almost pathological need to compare our bodies. Once, when we were getting ready for a night out, she emerged from her bathroom completely nude and said, “Look how thin I am! If someone looked at the two of us side-by-side, they would think you were the one who had a kid, not me.”
Before this incident, I had disclosed to her that I was insecure about my weight and had been going on starvation diets with restrictions of five hundred calories a day. She had responded that she, too, had been struggling with an eating disorder, restricting herself to two hundred calories a day. I thought she was commiserating; I realize now that she was competing.
Cathy and I shared a love of community theater. She could rattle off an impressive list of starring credits racked up in her hometown: Sophie Scholl in The White Rose. Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ, Superstar. The Narrator in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (which I had once told her was a dream role of mine). When I mentioned I would be auditioning for a play at a small experimental theater, she asked if I would be too intimidated if she auditioned, too. I bristled at that question, but I’d learned at this point that Cathy wasn’t always good at being tactful. I didn’t think her question was mean-spirited.
At the audition, I realized that either Cathy had greatly exaggerated her theater resume or the theater scene in her hometown was very small. Maybe she was just having an off night. Either way, only seven people tried out for the six available roles, and Cathy got a part.
Also in the production was a longtime friend of mine, Sam. He was one of those guys who made it clear he wanted to date you, even after you made it clear you weren’t interested. I was naive enough at that point to think guys like that could still be good friends, and since he was supportive and fun to be around otherwise, I just brushed off any sexual comments he made. Sam and Cathy met at auditions; by the second week of rehearsals, Cathy called off her engagement to her Dan and abandoned Marvin.
In a matter of two weeks, Cathy went from being a working mom with an infant at home and a college degree on the horizon to a woman who only went home for a few hours once every three days. She believed doing so fulfilled a technicality that would prevent Dan from getting sole custody in family court. The child she credited with “saving my life,” and who was, “my whole world,” suddenly became a hassle and a pawn to punish her ex, who had gone from the perfect romantic partner and devoted father she bragged about to a selfish, abusive demon Cathy desperately needed to escape. The nights she spent on couches at friends’ homes–Sam lived with his parents, who wisely shut down the idea of her moving in with them–exhausted her; she lost her job at the daycare when she fell into a sound sleep in a room full of toddlers she was supposed to be supervising.
Cathy’s fall elicited nothing but sympathy from me. After all, she was fleeing an abusive relationship. When people pointed out that she had fled without her Marvin, I argued that women and children are most at risk of being killed when they try to leave the situation. When they countered that she had no problem returning to her alleged abuser’s apartment every third night–sometimes, with Sam in tow–I would insist that we might not know all the facts. And to this day, I don’t see this as an unreasonable position to take. I believe people when they say they’re being abused or are in a bad situation. Sam did, too, so I assumed he accompanied her to Dan’s house to protect both her and Marvin.
Later, I learned it was so they would have a place to have sex. On the couch, in the apartment Cathy had shared with Dan, while Dan and Marvin slept in the other room.
Cathy’s toxicity consumed not just herself, but the people around her. She got a job at the store where Sam worked when he personally vouched for her, but she called off on the first day, resulting in her termination. At a New Year’s Eve party, she had sex with a stranger in the bathroom of our castmate’s house while Sam slept only a few feet away. They had an “open relationship” that consisted mostly of Cathy seeking out anyone I’d ever dated in an attempt to have sex with them. “I would never betray a friend like that,” she’d sworn when her Dan started a relationship with a woman Cathy had considered a close friend. Yet, within months of knowing her, Cathy had coincidentally met and fucked four men I’d previously dated and whose existence she’d learned of through private conversations with me. She bragged about having sex with two married men, not out of attraction to them but as a victory over their wives, who’d committed the cardinal sin of not liking her.
While I wanted to be a good, supportive friend to someone going through a rough time, Cathy’s behavior was becoming difficult to rationalize or sympathize with. At a dinner with an acquaintance and one of his good friends, Cathy mocked the woman for being overweight, to the point of making pig noises at her–followed, of course, by “Just kidding!”
“Just kidding!” was always delivered in the same tone and rhythm, an obnoxious sing-song with an emphasis on the shrill, high-pitched “JUST” and a nasal, drawn-out “kid-DING”.
She constantly asked me for money, needing cigarettes, bus fare, coffee at the local, trendy coffee shop where she liked to sit and be seen reading important literature. She couldn’t apply for government assistance, citing her lack of a driver’s license and debilitating arthritis in her knees as the reason she couldn’t look for a job as the program required. Sam, however, scraped together enough money to put down a first month’s rent and security deposit so they could have somewhere to live together. While I was hospitalized with sepsis caused by a severe kidney infection, Cathy called my grandparents and asked if they could co-sign on the apartment she and Sam had found. That was the last straw. I made excuses to cancel our once weekly karaoke nights–I had been paying for their drinks more often than not, anyway–and stopped returning her calls. She told all of our mutual friends that I’d cut off our friendship because I was Pro-Life (which was true at the time) and she’d had an abortion (which I didn’t know about, but would have supported).
I moved to another city with Mr. Jen and wrote her off as a learning experience. But I didn’t learn anything because two years later, I allowed her into my life again.
Stay tuned for Part 2, or “No, it’s my wedding day.”