Sunday, 3 October 2010

Farewell, I Guess...


This was unexpected.

I've just been told that Diane - the landlady of the sharehouse I lived in during my last year at university - has died from cancer.

And I'm not sure what to feel.

When I first moved into the sharehouse Diane was living in Thailand so it was just me, another Australian girl, a Norwegian girl and a German girl living in the house studying, sharing food and generally having a good time.

I had been a little bit thrown by the 10 page double-sided list of house rules that Diane had left for all new housemates to acquaint themselves with but after having a bit of a snort - and assuming they were for people who had up until now been living in the mouth of a mine - I'd forgotten about them.

Then the university year ended, our international housemates finished their exchange years and went home for Christmas.

And Diane came home.

At first she seemed lovely.

Well-read, well-travelled, easy to talk to, with one of those slightly plummy more-English-than-English accents some Australians over 50 develop.

But gradually things started to go wrong.

If you didn't do the vacuuming at the appointed time (according to the house roster) you were 'reducing your housemates to living in squalor'.

If you left your cooking things in the sink whilst you ate your meal instead of cleaning them first you were being 'terribly inconsiderate'.

She would, with a gentle smile, say things like 'your mother never really taught you how to scrub, did she dear?'

You would slowly realise that she had this weird 'noble savage' view of the Thai people whom she claimed to love so much, whose language she was learning but whom she patronised with every word she spoke about them.

And just when you were ready to throw your hands up, pack your bags and get out of there, she'd crack open a bottle of wine and spend an entire evening talking to you about Australian troops in the Great War or her time travelling in Asia and completely discombobulate you all over again.

The most frustrating thing about her was that she was Never Wrong.

Not literally, she just would never take anyone else's arguments on board.

She wouldn't deviate from her beliefs and if you had given into the urge to start arguing with her about this, swearing or raise your voice this would have just confirmed her view that you hadn't been raised properly.

I spent the last 6 months hiding in my room, not wanting to interact with her and unwilling to bring friends home when they were left with no doubt that they were fundamentally unwelcome.

Finally, she kicked me out of the house.

A week before Christmas.

Literally seconds after I'd just read the most upsetting part of Harry Pottter And The Half-Blood Prince. Which is neither here nor there but was terrible timing as far as I was concerned.

She'd been dropping hints that I'd completely missed for weeks along the lines of 'Gosh that's a lot of groceries, will you need that much?' and 'Well, I'm feeling quite nostalgic, this is the last time you'll pay rent!'.

She had told me that the next year she wanted the house to be 'a student household again' and as I wasn't studying any more I expect this was as good a reason as any to kick me out and get in her preferred boarder - international students, preferably Asian girls who are too nervous about being in another country to speak back.

So I assumed I had until late February or early March to find a new place before the new semester started. I hadn't even started looking yet when she knocked on the door and told me that she'd need me out before Boxing Day so she could paint and redecorate.

No problem, I said numbly, that would be fine.

So I packed up all my things, bunged them into the back of my Dad's car and went home for Christmas.

I then spent all of January living in my Uncle's house - while he and my cousins were out of town - so I'd be close enough to the city for work and to look for a new place to live.

My self-esteem was in the trash.

I spent a whole month getting squiffy every night and as someone who hadn't started drinking until she was 19 and had never got drunk until she met Diane, guess who I blamed?

I moved into a new sharehouse with an easy laid back group and after about 3 months I had managed to relax properly and stopped drinking so damn much.

But I couldn't forget Diane.

It drove me crazy that she got to keep thinking about me.

Being wrong about me.

Being patronising about me.

Then years later when she'd finally drifted from my mind I found out she'd had an operation and chemotherapy but was in remission.

For a second I thought 'serve's her right' and then felt terrible.

I knew from little comments she'd let drop that she'd had a truly awful childhood and it was fairly clear even to someone as self-absorbed as I was at the time that her entire personality had been constructed as a way to distance herself from that and protect herself from the world.

I still didn't think it was fair on me or any of the other people who came into her sphere of influence.

And now I've heard again from the only housemate to stay in contact with her that Diane has died.

And that she was so estranged from her family that she left strict instructions that they weren't to be informed of her death until after her estate had been settled and her ashes scattered.

She was a very lonely but stubborn woman.

And I don't know how to feel that she doesn't get to keep thinking about me anymore.

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