When Your So-Called Virtue Becomes Your Greatest Vice
I met Juan the third time I moved to Bogotá, Colombia. We had friends in common, and we likely met at a party. I don’t remember. We were never close, but we kept running into each other. I always knew Juan was a hardcore party animal. He’s always had a reputation because he’s an alcoholic and will take whatever drugs he gets his hands on.
PHOTO CREDITS
photography: Irina Dyachenko MODELS: Daria Shunina, Tatiana Steshova, Kristina Kalinina

I remember going out with him and my friends, questioning how I could handle him. But I’ve dealt with hardcore party animals before, and I’ve never gone down the hole with them because I always know which drink is one-too-many, and I stop right there. Plus, hard drugs don’t really attract me. We used to have a lot of fun dancing, talking to people, laughing, and taking silly photos. The usual. He’s gay, so no flirting was involved, which made things easier. 

Over a year ago, I returned to Bogotá from Miami, and after a couple of months, I was living at my parent’s house in the countryside, 45 minutes to an hour away from the capital, depending on traffic. I needed a cheap place to rent in the city, so I contacted my friends who could host me for a few days, him among them. It so happened that his father, an old and scary military man, had died very recently, and Juan was living alone in the city in this vast house. He wasn’t sleeping or eating, only drinking alcohol and wanting to die. He needed the company, and I needed the space, so we agreed on a price, we calculated I’d stay there for around a year, and I rented a room.
I moved on January 1st with my cat and my clothes. A couple of months later, I brought my books and the little furniture I had left. At first, his sister was around, and things were peaceful. I thought myself lucky. Eventually, his sister left, and Juan’s party pattern became clear: From Wednesday to Sunday, all day long, non-stop. But I put on earplugs and turned on a fan in my room so I wouldn’t hear a thing. Not a single thing. That was during the night. During the day, I’d play my music and work without a problem. 

Then his kitchen habits became clear: Used to being served, he’d prepare these very elaborate and sophisticated dishes, the kitchen would end up looking as though the dog had taken cooking lessons, but he wouldn’t clean or even organize a thing, and didn’t seem to understand the concept of a trashcan. If I wanted to use the kitchen, I had to organize and somewhat clean up, or else it would have been impossible.

Then he started eating my groceries. He’d come home absolutely inebriated; he’d open the fridge and eat whatever he found. The following day, he wouldn’t remember doing so and never replaced what he took. When I told him I wasn’t making enough money to feed him, he accused me of being selfish. When I started hiding my food in my room, he became offended.

Still, up to this point, things were manageable. We spent a significant amount of time together, where he’d tell me about his most profound, most personal, and painful memories. He opened up to me, and we became friends. He started to drink the moment he opened his eyes and ended up going to bed at night, sometimes unable to speak. I would fix him a sandwich and convince him to go to bed. 

His sister kept thanking me for taking care of him; I tried to. I thought I could help because I had so much love for him. I thought love was my superpower. I thought I could make a difference with Juan. I understood his pain, still do. I knew his demons; he showed them to me. He would let me hug him and would cry. I thought I was strong enough to deal with him. I thought I could do something good for him.

One morning I woke up and found a man in my room. Juan had come home with some guys; it was around midday, and they were drinking, snorting cocaine, and listening to music. I got out of bed and started screaming, GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! My room had a glass door that opened out to a patio on the inside of the house. This patio was also linked to Juan’s room. The guy had exited Juan’s room, walked through the patio, and entered mine. He was too drunk to understand what was happening, so he went out and sat down on the patio while I kept screaming; I wanted him to leave. I knocked at Juan’s room, told him what had happened, and he replied: “If you don’t like it, you know where the door is.”

A few months later, Juan’s close friend moved into the house, and it was the three of us. People kept telling me they didn’t understand how I could live with these party animals. Still, his friend’s arrival made it easier because although Juan became very unpleasant with me, his friend was very friendly, so I didn’t feel so lonely.

I couldn’t move out because I didn’t have a job contract, so that no one would rent me a room. Plus, I wasn’t making enough money. I had to stay there until something better came along. I started spending all my time in my room and only left to heat-up food or do my laundry, and every time I ran into him, he’d make me feel as though he didn’t want me there. Then he’d turn around and smile at his friend. The message was clear.

His emotional abuse became so hard to deal with that one day, and I decided to give him back all the gorgeous gifts he had given me. He learned to show love through gifts, but I wasn’t willing to keep his stuff if he couldn’t treat me with love and respect. I told him so, but he kept blaming me for everything. It was the beginning of August, and I had agreed to leave on November 1st. The following ten weeks were hell. He became a full-blown bully. He wanted me out of there.

Then, around October 13th, he lost complete control of himself. At the time, I didn’t know it, but he had been taking psychiatric drugs, and as he hadn’t stopped drinking alcohol, he started having psychotic episodes where he directed all his rage against me. He started banging on my room’s glass door, saying he would break it. He was yelling at me, telling me to leave. He then started repeatedly calling me “Fat shit” and “Jew,” among other harrowing and humiliating words. This happened for two days, and on the second day, I became so scared for my well-being that I ran out of the house. My friends helped me; I took all my stuff out and left.

I cried for 5 to 6 days straight. I felt as though I had lost my powers and wondered how he had harmed me with the almost 10-month emotional abuse he subjected me to. And then I understood how wrong I had been. It became clear that I never had the power to do anything for Juan. I understood he took advantage of me because I was a woman and was vulnerable in his house. I spent years fighting with Colombia’s feminists, denying a man would abuse a woman just because she’s a woman. I was wrong. I judged women because they allowed men to abuse them. I was wrong. And I owe feminism an apology. I have no superpowers, and having thought so was my most dangerous and greatest vice.

I am a feminist; yes, I am. And I am roaring.

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