This section will begin to delve into the spiritual abuse I mentioned in the introduction of part one. We here at Trout Nation come from many different backgrounds and belief systems. I have been locked in a spiritual struggle for almost ten years now, but I have returned to practicing witchcraft. If your beliefs don’t match mine, that’s absolutely cool, but it’s a part of this story and the damage this person did to my life. I’m not asking you to believe, but I am asking that everyone is respectful of everyone else in the comments. Which you probably would do anyway, because you’re awesome.
Shortly before they married, Sam and Cathy moved into a new apartment. This required the help of their friends, as the apartment they moved from had been thoroughly trashed. As someone who struggles to keep my house clean due to mental illness and my work schedule, I was sympathetic–to a point. Sam and Cathy’s home was nothing short of disgusting. Sam gets a pass for much of it; when Cathy decided she couldn’t handle working and going to school part-time, Sam was forced to work three jobs while trying to attend college himself. On a few hours of sleep per night with no time to socialize and no days off, he could hardly keep up with things like showering and eating, let alone cleaning the house. So, the task fell to Cathy.
Cathy, thinking herself a great intellectual and serious academic, made no secret of the fact that she believed her education (now in its sixth year at a two-year college, due to the “major course load” of one or two classes every term) was more important than Sam’s. She derided him for needing audiobooks to focus. “Okay, but you’re not really reading,” she would say with an indulgent smile as though she were allowing him to believe he was capable of understanding a book. Once, when I was telling a story to a group of our friends, I said, “but anyway, that doesn’t really matter to [Mr. Jen] and me.”
She gave the same benevolent smile and interrupted me. “[Mr. Jen] and I. Sorry. English major.”
I mocked that smile right back. “Actually, it’s [Mr. Jen] and me. If you removed him from the sentence, ‘that doesn’t matter to I’ is grammatically incorrect. Sorry, published author.”
She pushed back her hair and said, haughtily, “Well, I’ve never heard of that,” and sulked for the rest of the night.
Because of the immense power of Cathy’s staggering brain, she required more sleep than most people. Her I.Q. was so high, she once explained, that it taxed her physical body. “It’s exactly what happened to Stephen Hawkins,” she said, without a note of irony. “But it’s a little worse for me because my I.Q. is actually slightly higher than his.” In order to stave off ALS-by-intelligence, Cathy spent most of her time “resting” by chain-smoking (a habit she couldn’t quit because a doctor allegedly warned her that quitting would instantly kill her), reading, and singing along to Broadway musicals. She simply couldn’t clean their house, because it was too taxing. The four cats they kept shared one tiny litter box in the kitchen, beneath the table where they ate their meals. This went over about as well as one could expect, as the box was rarely if ever changed. Loose litter scattered across the kitchen floor, along with feces. When Cathy made everyone in our circle of friends Christmas cookies, we all made a pact to throw them in the garbage.
When we arrived to help Sam and Cathy move, we found that not only did they expect us to pack their things for them, they also expected us to do all the cleaning so that they could get their deposit back. They’d purchased absolutely no cleaning supplies in the time they had lived there and hadn’t picked up any for the move. Someone went and bought trash bags to clean out the refrigerator full of rotting food. I used their dish sponge to scrub the toilet by hand. As I was on my hands and knees trying to scour a year’s worth of feces, calcified urine, and menstrual blood from the bowl, Sam stepped into the bathroom and pointed to the sink. “It’s only fair that you do this one, too,” he said. “You stained it when you took off your makeup at Halloween.” I’d gone as the Wicked Witch but had a bad reaction to the makeup, so I’d washed it off in their bathroom. Sure enough, the sink was still stained green in March. At first, I was mortified and almost offered to cover the damage if their landlords deducted it from their deposit. Then reason kicked in and I asked, “Wait…did you try to clean it off?” He gave me a blank, horrified stare and said nothing.
The sink wasn’t stained. The year-deep layer of filth on their sink was stained.
A team of six people took ten hours to clean their five-hundred square foot apartment. The Dyson vacuum they’d received as a Christmas gift and which had never been used broke down after sweeping just the living room. They were overwhelmed, I thought to myself. You know what that’s like. And I still sympathize with Sam, though I have never in my life told a friend they were morally obligated to clean my house after a year of not doing it myself. These people were my friends, and you help friends out.
In their new apartment, which was much larger and cleaner than their previous one due to the efforts of a roommate they’d taken on, Cathy took to hosting Sabbats and Esbats for her friends of various Pagan traditions. Like me, she’d turned to Wicca as teen, but unlike me, she’d stuck with it. Wicca had never seemed quite right to me, but Raymond Buckland’s Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft had turned me off from the idea of a coven entirely. I returned to practicing as a solitary witch, incorporating a loose framework of ritual from Wicca, but I didn’t want to worship with other people–especially if they expected me to engage sexually with them, as per Buckland’s writ.
Cathy knew I practiced on my own but she let me know I was always welcome at their rituals. “We don’t do the ‘skyclad’ thing,” she’d said with a roll of her eyes, as we had discussed our mutual reservations about Buckland’s teachings (for the record, my experience with Cathy so warped my own beliefs, I went back and re-read Buckland prior to writing this; I still find much of it a framework for and encouragement of sexual abuse of the spiritually vulnerable, but that’s a post for another time). Aside from her wedding, the things we talked most about were spirituality and magic. We spent so much time talking about our beliefs that I started to feel she was the only person who truly understood my path. Cathy set herself up as an expert, which I accepted because she’d been a practicing witch for longer than I’d been, and offered me guidance and advice in a gentle, nonjudgmental way. Eventually, I did attend one of their Esbats, where she and Sam ‘stood in’ for the Goddess and God. They cast a circle but never invoked or evoked any deity, and those of us in attendance were expected to make our offerings to Cathy and Sam. Instead of worshipping the God and Goddess, we were expected to worship and pray to Sam and Cathy. At the end, Cathy passed around slips of paper for us to write down bad habits or dark secrets that were weighing us down. She cast them into a tiny cauldron to burn them, but not before reading them silently to herself first. When it was time to finish the ritual, there was no cleansing, no banishment of any kind, and she didn’t disperse the circle because she didn’t believe it was necessary. I watched in disbelief as everyone simply broke the circle and wandered off.
I didn’t attend another.
With the date of the wedding growing closer, Cathy’s hunger for bridal adulation grew. When I received a large advance from one of my publishers, her response was not to congratulate me, but to tell me there was a two-thousand dollar bed she’d been eying at a furniture store that would make the perfect wedding gift. She also made it clear that she expected a very large bachelorette party. Though I explained to her that earning an advance didn’t mean money in my pocket immediately and that I would have to live on it for the year, she countered, “Well, I’m on food stamps. We have nothing. I think I deserve to have my dream wedding.” I rallied the other bridesmaids (one of them a total stranger who’d only met Cathy a few months previously, but who had been sucked into the role by virtue of being the fiancé of one of the groomsmen) and we pooled our resources. Cathy wanted a spa day, a trip to Chicago, maybe even Las Vegas. When we approached her before her wedding shower (held at the home of Denise, the innocent bridesmaid who had been inadvertently drawn into Cathy’s orbit) to tell her what we had planned for the bachelorette party, I fully expected a screaming tantrum. That was one of the reasons we chose the venue that we did for the conversation; any scene she might have created would have been subdued by the arrival of guests, and her ego would be soothed by the mounds of gifts she would receive.
“I love it!” she exclaimed, surprising us all. “Honestly, I’m so busy with school and wedding stuff that a big thing would have just stressed me out.” It looked like we had escaped the worst, though she still wanted total control over the items we purchased for the event. She wanted a bridal veil tiara headband and a sash proclaiming her the bride, and she’d seen an idea online for a t-shirt with individually wrapped Lifesavers candies stitched onto it. The idea was to go to various bars and let men bite the candies off. Everything she wanted sounded very far removed from the things she’d said before, but I (foolishly) assumed she’d realized that a small affair that wouldn’t bankrupt her friends would be more fun than a miserable trip with everyone counting their pennies.
The night of the bachelorette party, we met at Denise’s house. I brought a cake I’d made to look like a penis, as per the tacky, ribald theme Cathy had been surprisingly enthusiastic about. We’d all worn casual stuff because the vibe was supposed to have been laid back but Denise showed up in a short, tight leopard-print cocktail dress. We thought it was in the spirit of fun. Instead, Cathy’s plan for the evening had changed. Her new mission was to have a final night as a single woman, her goal to get as much male attention as possible. She just hadn’t bothered to tell any of us. She looked at the bridal veil tiara and sash she’d wanted and said, “I went to a lot of trouble to look good tonight and it is my night. I’m not wearing that.” She took one look at the cake and balked. “No, thank you,” she seethed; I learned later that she’d thought the cake was meant to “sabotage” her pre-wedding diet. “I hope you guys are taking me out to dinner,” she snarled, “because I want to go now!”
Completely caught off guard, we explained we were planning to surprise her with dinner at her favorite restaurant. We’d thought that would make her happy but it wasn’t enough to appease her. Instead, she sulked all the way to the restaurant, and when we arrived she bolted down the sidewalk ahead of us, her shoulders hunched. We called out to her to wait for us, but she walked faster. When one of the other bridesmaids jogged to catch up with Cathy and asked her what was wrong, she whirled to face us and shouted, “This was supposed to be about me! This was about what I wanted! Nobody has told me how hot I look or made a big deal about me yet tonight!”
We stood there stunned. How could she say no one had made a big deal about her? We’d acquired all the bachelorette trappings on a shopping trip Cathy had supervised and purchased only the items she’d hand selected. One of us had made her a stupid shirt with candies attached to it, as she’d asked. I’d baked a penis cake ejaculating “Congrats, Cathy” in icing semen, for Christ’s sake. What more could she have wanted?
Cathy march into the restaurant. She still expected us to take her out to dinner. We looked at each other in confusion and horror. What had just happened? I seriously considered going to the car and leaving her there. I’m sure the others did as well. But none of us moved. I didn’t want to be the bad friend who walked out, but with a week left before the wedding, Cathy’s entitled, bridezilla behavior had hit its peak. There was a horrible, tangled-up cost looming over all of us. Denise didn’t want to complicate the situation between her husband and Sam by ruining Cathy’s night. One bridesmaid was Cathy and Sam’s roommate and would face homelessness at worse, arctic chill at best. I was the one with the least to lose: my friendship with Cathy, which somehow still felt valuable to me. Then, there was the material cost of everything I’d purchased for the wedding, from the dress and shoes and the matching forty-dollar necklaces she commanded us all to wear, to the money invested in her bridal shower, bachelorette parties and the incidentals that kept stacking up. Cathy’s wedding was starting to eat into the funds for my own, which was barely planned and only two months away. It wasn’t just that all my time and money were tied up in Cathy’s Big Day, but I was so tired of all things matrimony that I couldn’t bring myself to want to moon over dresses and flowers.
I don’t know why I stayed. There must be some toxic friendship equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. But we did all stay. I don’t remember what was said among the rest of the group, but I do know that the night was a joyless, obligatory sort of blur. I supposed we visited some bars. I only remember two. Cathy did apologize to us, citing stress over the wedding and school, an oft-repeated refrain we all knew by heart but accepted out of sheer exhaustion. She did put on her stupid Lifesaver t-shirt and run around every bar we visited, sexually harassing men into biting the candy off. When she started pouting about not being hit on enough, we called it a night. Her bachelorette party was over by eleven P.M. I dropped her off at home with barely a word of goodbye. She asked me if I wanted to take the cake home. “If you don’t, I’m just going to throw it in the trash.”
To my knowledge, she never genuinely apologized to any of the other bridesmaids. She certainly never made amends with me. The cake presumably went into the trash, and the evening was never mentioned again.
Next time: “Cathy’s Special Day”