The family that moved into the rental next door had a reputation. I sort of ignored it – people in Crown Point were petty and spiteful as a rule, quick to spread rumors, and since the daughter was a bit darker-skinned I assumed that the rumors about her grew out of the toxins the townspeople expelled with their CO2.I had encountered the daughter once or twice and liked her. She hadn’t bothered me any, and not bothering me was pretty much all that was needed for me to think someone nice or OK.
My mother took one look at her and the spite began. She commented that the daughter could have made “two of me at my largest.” I had no idea what she was talking about – the girl was average size as far as I could tell, and even if she wasn’t, so what? I liked her, or at least I didn’t think of her as another tormentor, so I was happy to let it be.
Unfortunately, this girl’s family was just as toxic as mine, and their toxicity got a lot more exposure to light, likely because of her brown appearance. As it turned out, the entire family was fond of stealing – constantly borrowing things, never returning them, and delighting in violating the trust of others. An attempt on our family encyclopedia set was thwarted by my mother, and then when they showed up after seeing she left to try again, I was somehow blamed for my sister inviting them in the house. Over the years of living next door the toxicity between our mothers escalated, with weird phone calls about me backing the car out of the driveway when I didn’t drive yet, vandalism, this girl’s brother following me home and the entire time just spewing vile comments about me and my body and the way I dressed, that escalated every year in a fucked up standofff over Halloween candy. My mother hated Halloween – or she hated being generous to those she had no reason to manipulate, just as likely. So every year she made a stand about teenagers being too old to trick or treat and leaving me stuck telling the kids next door that I couldn’t give them candy. (She never did this herself, she just dumped this duty on me knowing how the consequences would land at school.)
Years later I heard from my mother – but oddly, no one else – that this girl had spread rumors about me the entire time I lived next door. I don’t know if anyone believed them, or maybe they did, just for the sheer, heady, toxic spite of it. Supposedly she told people that I climbed out of my bedroom window at night, and then ran down the block to visit boys that lived in the condominium complex at the end of that block. I have no idea how my mother even heard these rumors. The only reason I thought it might be true this girl was spreading them was because she got very weird and intrusive at a high school event I attended with my boyfriend, acting like I was a huge slut for holding hands with someone I had been dating for more than six months at that point.
I don’t know if anyone questioned it and no one repeated these rumor to me when I lived in that town. Those that had been to my house would have dismissed it immediately: my bedroom window was barely three feet by three feet, and even if I could have made that squeeze there was no safe way to get from the garage to the ground – and I was a chickenshit about heights. The boys down the block were vile, violent, and they hated me. They wouldn’t welcome my company and I never sought theirs. I tried to avoid talking to them at all because they were so violent, and extremely sexually violent even in word and tone with girls. At one point there was even a turf war over me riding my bike back in the condos as a shortcut to my house and one guy assaulted me for daring to bike through “his” territory. I don’t know if anyone thought to question this girl – how did she know what I was doing after I snuck out of the house? I didn’t talk to her.
What I was doing was reading on my bed for hours at a time. I had a few friends, not many, and my parents controlled who saw me and when with a great deal of stringency.
The other gossip case was another neighbor, across the street. We had been friends until she took to shouting very nasty opinions at me and then running away before I could respond. Rather than connect the end of our friendship with her behavior, or talk to me about why I withdrew from her, she and her mother began concocting stories about why. I was jealous. I was competitive. I talked to my mother about them all the time, badmouthing them.
My mother certainly badmouthed them. I was just hurt by her behavior towards me and trying to understand it.
Looking back, I wonder if some gossip stopping witchcraft might have helped me. If it might have reduced the strange looks and weird attitudes that followed me through that town. Then again, when a violation of my privacy brought out that I do practice witchcraft, my mother made sure I knew she was spreading rumors about me doing that as far and wide as she could – basically making the town the most toxic environment possible and then expecting me to move back to it.
Gossip stopping, I suspect, may be one of the better defensive magics out there. A lot of trouble can be shut down just by stilling tongues. There’s so much female social violence tied up in gossip, and tied up in judging one another, that it amazes me anti-gossip work isn’t one of the first things high school students are taught to work for themselves.
Witchcraft would have helped me back then, but without it, I was motivated to get out and stay out. Now I just wonder if I’m still some gossipy anecdote – or if, Facebook or not, I’m forgotten in the wake of much more satisfying scandals.
It’s OK that I wasn’t a witch – I built faith. I built prayer. I was made of something different from the rest of my family, something less toxic, something less delicate – and I got out, because that was not my native habitat. I can’t thank my Christian past self enough for that.