Ever shared a house with someone so awful they made your cat do anxiety pees? Sally-Anne Hayward has. As our week-long exploration of unusual living situations continues, the comedian reflects on two long months of accusations, aggression and Britney Spears.
The signs were there from the beginning. A tantrum when the pretty registrar didn’t acknowledge her in the hospital cafe: “That fucking Angelina Jolie just fucking blanked me.”
“Maybe she didn’t recognise you out of the office,” I replied, already uncomfortably familiar with such outbursts. “I sometimes see people and can’t work out where I know them from. Or perhaps she just didn’t see you?”
“She fucking saw me alright. She just thinks she’s better than me.”
There was a tantrum when her boss tried to make polite conversation.
“He looked at my wedding ring and asked me about it. He was turning his fucking nose up at it because it isn’t massive and expensive.”
“Perhaps he was just asking you a question and was genuinely interested?”
“He fucking wasn’t.”
I’d known Gemma*, a work colleague, for around six months. She’d just split up with her husband and needed somewhere to live. I’d just split up with my boyfriend and needed a lodger.
So I ignored all the signs. The anger, the aggression, the defensiveness, the door-slamming and the near-sociopathic jealousy. I ignored them and I invited her into my home.
We’d decided, after a fortnight of deliberation, that she would have the small room for less rent. As I heard her dragging her bags up the steps to the front door, I found myself consumed with a sense of dread. “I still might want the big room,” she said, by way of greeting.
The first couple of nights were OK. We shared a bottle of wine and got to know each other a bit more. I knew I didn’t really want a housemate but I did need the money, so I made an effort to live in a shared household. I was out a lot at night working so we had our own space at home often enough.
Then, one evening when I was making my way home from a gig, there was a phone call. “I’ve drunk all your wine,” she said.
“I took to pausing at the front door in order to rearrange my face. I cultivated a flat, toneless ‘Hi’ to accompany the expressionless façade. This became the only way to enter my home without attracting an argument.”
I arrived home to find Gemma in the bay window, one foot on a chair, with her headphones on, rocking out with force to Britney Spears. She didn’t hear me come in – she was too busy dancing. I walked around the room in an effort to attract her attention. I even said hello a few times. Nothing. Eventually she saw me. “Whhhaaaaaa…! You scared me,” she shrieked. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING???”
Me? I’m just walking into my own home after a night working.
“When I walk into town I wear my earplugs because the noise of the street does my head in,” she said.
I laughed at the image. I thought it was funny.
“Oh you’re such a fucking snob. You think it’s funny to laugh at me, don’t you?”
“No, I genuinely thought the image was funny.”
“You constantly look down your nose at me.”
By now, Gemma’s mood swings were making me anxious. I didn’t know her well enough to know what she was capable of physically, but she was certainly not afraid to attack me verbally. It was apparent that she was an extraordinarily jealous individual. One evening she pointed her finger at me and told me that she was funnier than me. (She had a bit of dinner between her teeth at the time so I found it difficult to disagree.)
I started to wear a blank look on my face when I walked into my home so as not to upset Gemma in any way. I took to pausing at the front door in order to rearrange my face. I cultivated a flat, toneless “Hi” to accompany the expressionless façade. This became the only way to enter my home without attracting an argument.
“After two months of awkwardness, aggression and mounting anxiety, I found myself walking into a stable and calm house. I opened the windows and exorcised the place.”
One day my lovely, gentle cat walked over to me and proceeded to wee everywhere. If I couldn’t read that sign that something was very wrong then I wouldn’t be able to read anything.
The other cat I had at that time was a bit of a terror. He’d worked out that sometimes Gemma got out of bed at 5am, so he started to position himself outside her door at that time and purr really loudly, thinking he might be getting some early morning food.
Thankfully, this did her head in.
I was in Manchester when the phone rang. She left a message saying she was moving out at the weekend. I texted her back to say it would be best if she went immediately. I imagine my name was thrown about that day in ways I wouldn’t want to hear.
When I returned home, Gemma was gone. She’d moved in with her parents. After two months of awkwardness, aggression and mounting anxiety, I found myself walking into a stable and calm house. I opened the windows and exorcised the place.
The day after she left, the phone rang. It was Gemma. She wanted to know if I was looking for a lodger because she might be interested in moving back in.
Funnily enough, I wasn’t.
In the six years since she moved out, I’ve heard from Gemma only once. She got in touch via Facebook and apologised for her behaviour. I responded in a way that I thought would close off the conversation but obviously it wasn’t clear that that was my intention. She responded with questions which I decided not to answer.
On reflection, Gemma had inadvertently done me a favour, as this would be the last time I let ‘interesting’ people into my life.
Never again, I vowed. Never, ever again.
*Not her real name
Sally-Anne Hayward: Something Old, Something New, Nothing Borrowed, Quite a lot Blue is on until 18 August at The Canons’ Gait, 232 Canongait, Edinburgh, 2.25pm with free entry.857 Views