Sunday, May 3, 2009
Remembering the Neighbors from Hell
I was musing the other day, about how lovely it is to be out in the backyard now. Things are quiet, except for the sweet twittering of birds, the rustle of the breeze and the occasional drone of lawnmowers. For many years, however, this was not the case.
Screams, cursing, incessant barking and bad, top forty music filled the air on our part of the street, every sunny day before the neighbors from hell finally moved away.
Things had started to go downhill when the girl who'd grown up next door found that she was expecting a child, and decided to move back in with her parents, who happened to be our neighbors. Along with her other baggage, she brought the father of her child with her and a backyard wedding soon took place. Within two years, they had two sons. Her parents had never bothered us in the least, but this couple and their sons were to become the bane of our existence.
Things weren't so bad at first. While the children were very young, the worst thing was that the couple screamed at each other frequently and for long periods of time. The sound of swearing and doors slamming was the norm during good weather. It almost made us appreciate winter when they stayed inside with the windows shut so we didn't have to listen to it.
They also had a love of placing a radio out on their patio in the summer, turning the volume up as high as it would go. The cacophony would continue all day and into the evening. They'd frequently go inside and forget about it, leaving it on, blaring away, to torture the entire neighborhood.
They also had a series of dogs during their nearly two decade occupation of that house. The poor animals spent most of their lives tied up next to the back door. The family would go out for the day or the evening and leave the dog tied outside all alone, to bark pitifully, for hours. The first one they had was given up for adoption after they found him too difficult to handle. The second met his fate in the form of a car on the busy street out in front of the house. The third simply disappeared one day, and was never seen or mentioned again. I've never understood why someone would bring a dog home in the first place, just to scream at it, kick it and ignore it the rest of the time. They never played with them or walked them. It was sad.
The real trouble began when the two boys reached school age. I remember an early incident when my daughter had just gotten her first "big-girl" bike. It was her birthday and she was outside, proudly showing off her new, pink and white two-wheeler with the flowered basket. Suddenly she ran into the house, crying. I got to the window in time to see the two boys heaping black mud onto the bicycle, which was on its side in the grass. From then on, it was an endless series of problems with those two boys. Neighborhood soccer games always ended in fights and tears, our house was egged, and the barn windows were broken too many times to count. My husband Mac started a golf ball collection with all the ones he found in the yard, or amid shards of glass on the barn floor.
We'd started out on friendly terms with them. We tried to be neighborly. I watched the boys before school and got them on the bus when the parents had to be to work early. When a big tree came down in their yard during a hurricane, Mac went over with his chainsaw and spent hours cutting it up for them. We did our best to be kind and cordial, but it became more difficult with each passing year.
A favorite game of the two boys was "army". It involved running and screaming through their yard and ours, with toy rifles and machine guns, pretending to kill one another. This happened almost daily and lasted well into their high school years. In junior high, they once again targeted my daughter, taunting her on the school bus, and yelling things at her whenever they saw her outside. When they were in high school, they started a campaign of cyber-harassment, sending her instant messages, pretending to be an anonymous girl who was supposedly dating my daughter's boyfriend. This continued until we got proof that it was them, and let them know about it.
Late one night, Mac was coming in from the barn and saw them with a few of their friends, and their father, huddled in the backyard, passing around a pipe. I'm guessing it wasn't a peace pipe ceremony. Another morning, just at dawn, Mac stepped outside and observed the father out in his yard, vomiting into the bushes. So this was the role-model these kids had grown up with. Meanwhile, the screaming and slamming of doors continued, only now the two sons joined in.
One fine summer day, I was sitting under a tree, reading in the yard. My neighbor was mowing his lawn, and he stopped to inspect some pine trees I had recently planted near the property line. He got down on one knee and was really studying them. He didn't notice me sitting in the relative darkness of the shade, a dozen yards away. He finally went back to his mowing, but the incident stayed with me. The more I thought about it, the more odd it seemed, and I finally went back there myself to look at the trees and see what was so interesting. When I did, I saw that the needles were turning brown and all the trees looked sick. There was a grayish-white powder packed around the base of each tree, and when I scooped up a handful, I was overcome with a strong, chemical smell. It was either a weedkiller or more likely, chlorine. Our neighbors had a swimming pool in their yard. As strange and unbelievable as it seemed, our neighbor had apparently poisoned our trees.
Then, I recalled how our rabbits had mysteriously died. We'd had three rabbits over the past few years, and Mac had built a beautiful wooden hutch for them, out behind the barn. All of them had died, one by one, for no apparent reason, although two of them had been relatively young. We just went out to feed them in the morning and found them cold and stiff. Now I had to wonder if my neighbor had poisoned our rabbits as well as our trees.
I called him on the telephone and casually told him that we'd inexplicably found chlorine in the soil around our trees, and I wanted to make him aware of it. I suggested that he make sure his pool shed and all his chemicals were safely locked up. I stopped short of accusing him. Wow! He had no idea how THAT had happened. He thanked me for alerting him.
It was about four years ago that the "For Sale" sign went up on the front lawn next door. The youngest son was graduating from high school, and having had enough, his mother had filed for divorce. His grandfather had recently passed away, and grandma put the house on the market. The neighborhood breathed a collective sigh of relief, as the moving van pulled away from the curb in front of their house that fall. A nice young couple moved in shortly thereafter, along with their little Shih Tzu. The neighborhood is peaceful again. It's a joy to be out in the yard now, enjoying the sounds of tree frogs and mockingbirds, just breathing in the calm. It feels like heaven once more.
It's a mystery to me, how people can live in such discord and misery of their own making, but obviously, some do.