Once upon a time there was this neighbor. First impressions colored him as a quirky, fun-loving character who was enjoying his first year of retirement tooling around with his mini cooper, singing off-key to Pop Reggae tunes. I appreciated his zealous personality and his way of embracing the music he blared as he pulled into his driveway each time.
Then one day, this neighbor showed his sassy, low-key rude side by confronting me about the way our handyman was going about disposing scraps from the bathroom remodeling we were having done. All would have been fine and well, if it weren’t for the fact, he had stopped me in the middle of the road as I was trying to quickly let my dog out in between telehealth sessions. The cherry on top were the classic power-move words “young lady”.
*Insert major eye roll here*
Quick tangent- Unless a person is an obvious minor, please never under any circumstance, refer to a woman as “young lady”, especially if you identify as male. This name is a commonly used power move that men slip in to demean a woman’s presence in a conversation or interaction. A fabulously irritating microaggression against a woman, that will most likely cause her to lose a substantial amount of respect for said man utilizing said phrase.
After bluntly exiting that lovely disruption to my peace, I began to hold onto the belief that this quirky neighbor was not so delightfully quirky after all. I’ve worked my tush off to get to where I am in this world and am in no mind space to entertain a lad who uses his status as an older lad to exude judgement on my intelligence or competency as a working woman.
Fast forward a few months, and this story finds itself in the middle of a sleepy September morning. Per usual, my husband took our fur child out for his morning constitution as I sat perched at the dining room table, quietly munching on my chocolate Cheerios absorbed in the Today Show. Husband and fur child return, husband kisses wife goodbye, and heads off to work. I follow soon-after and find a white envelope stuffed neatly under my windshield wiper. Puzzled, I open the envelope to discover a very grumpy handwritten letter folded up with a picture of my husband holding the leash of our fur child relieving himself on his front lawn.
You would have thought we threw a flaming poo bag through this man’s window. The letter practically spit venom as he ranted and raved about the audacity we have to let our dog pee in HIS yard. To keep our fur child’s bodily fluids in OUR yard.
All sorts of things about this letter flustered the hell out of me. From leaving the letter on my car after waiting for my husband to depart, to being irate about a dog peeing in his grass, to the passive aggressive nature of the whole thing.
You can probably guess what followed. My hot-headed nature got lit on fire. I was over the passive power plays, the self-righteousness I perceived, and the chronic nitpicking. I wrote a very…poignant letter in response not-so-kindly requesting he check his self before he wrecks himself.
Thankfully, my husband has an incredibly level head when confronting conflict, and helped me process my uncomfortable emotions that did not involve joining in this neighbor’s petty communication styles. I left the letter tucked away in the computer and relied on my nonverbals to communicate “DON’T”.
Now, we referred to this neighbor as “mean neighbor”. He was avoided and dismissed. He would wave and I would blink back in response and carry on with my day. I had resolved it in my mind. He was dubbed “mean neighbor” and no act of kindness could sway my mindset.
Until last night.
My husband and I got home late, a normal occurrence nowadays with how the world is spinning. We decided to walk fur child together, a chance to get some fresh air and air out the day’s heaviness. As we exit our driveway, mean neighbor comes out of his garage and exclaims “Hey can I talk with you for a moment?”
“Oh boy” my mind sighs, my body brisling at the thought of interacting with this man.
Then, something unexpected occurs.
He said, “I’m sorry.”
We dove into a somber conversation regarding his passive aggressive actions and ways of communicating. He shared that this year has not been kind, and that he was having some bad days and seemed to leave his frustrations in my windshield wiper or in the way he regarded me.
In that moment, I did not just see mean neighbor, but a whole human standing in front of us. A human whose experiences have been just as rough as mine this past year, and the heaviness he was so passionately trying to carry. His reactions to how unfair this world has been in the past 10 months or so were a product of his vulnerability and fear.
It’s safer to be angry. We all have experienced an insurmountable level of pain and fear as occurrences have reminded us at a rapid rate how little control we actually have. How little weight our plans carry. Pain and fear are perhaps the most vulnerable emotions we can experience. It cues our instincts to “cover up” in desperate attempts at self-preservation. So, what do we do after we “cover up”? We choose things we believe we have control over to express our discomfort through. It could be a number of things from the election, or conspiracy theories, masks vs no masks, food, alcohol, exercise, or in this case, a letter in a windshield.
I was thankful for the reminder and the reframe that this simple, but powerful interaction with this neighbor brought. It reminded me that everyone has a story they are writing that carries its own narrative of pain, fear, hardship, and discomfort. That sometimes, it’s human nature to relocate our uncomfortable emotions into outlets we have a sense of control over. Sometimes, it’s easier to hide behind anger, because we fear we will shatter into pieces if we drop the tough exterior. I get it.
So, mean neighbor is now empathetically regarded as the “whole human” who lives across the street.