Shortly after we moved to our current neighborhood, a lot of stressful changes started hitting me, one after the other. I mean, there were obvious ones: moving—and not just moving, but moving in with my then-boyfriend, Honey, and then the two of us establishing a home together in a neighborhood that was new to both of us. The day Honey and I each turned in our keys to our old apartments, I got laid off from my boring-but-well-paying job. In addition, I started noticing some pretty severe health issues that cropped up fairly suddenly, which ultimately led me to the gluten-free diet I’ll now be on for the rest of my life. This lead me to deeply challenge my identity as a Pretty Good Baker. And eventually I got a new job temping for a woman who made it her life’s ambition to tear me apart, piece by piece, but we needed the money to pay the rent on the apartment we had JUST signed a lease on. In short, 2013 was a challenging year for me.
Right after I landed that new job, I met one of my neighbors for the first time. She lives on the same block as us, so it’s pretty hard to avoid her space. She is one of the most caustic people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. That first time I met her, her opening words to me were so venomous and her attitude so devoid of any sort of humanity, I felt like I had been physically attacked, which is a pretty strong greeting for someone you’ve never met before. Her behavior was such a shock—how can any human being act that way toward a total stranger?!?!—that it literally ruined my whole day. I spent the whole time wondering “How dare she!” and “Why would she?” and “Who seriously worries about getting their lawn dirty? How does she deal with feral cats and raccoons, who relieve themselves wherever they damn well please? And why doesn’t she put up a stupid sign if it’s that important to her?”
Even after I got over the initial shock, I carried this woman’s negativity around with me for months, wondering, wondering, wondering. And hurting. I tried to explain to Honey, to friends, to anyone what had happened, but words failed me. I just couldn’t get it across how nasty she was. People probably thought I was being overly sensitive. (I don’t know HOW they got that impression. Maybe.) This attack felt significant, but the rest of the world just kept rolling along. Finally, I decided that she must have had a Really Bad Day, and to just let it alone. I mean, really, people generally don’t do things like that, and everybody has a bad day from time to time.
Around the time I came to that conclusion, I ran into her again, and her behavior was exactly the same. My reaction was pretty much the same too, except by this time, I had been working at the temp job with the evil supervisor for a few months, so my defenses were really low. I didn’t even see her coming. Her nastiness, again, came out of the blue, so I had no time to prepare. She didn’t just ruin my day, she decimated it. The interaction was brief and blunt, and at the end of it I was just left standing there, shocked, angry, and unable to do anything about it.
As the days passed, and my anger grew, I considered leaving some of the dogs’ droppings at her front door. On fire. I considered calling the cops on her for bad behavior. (I know you can’t do that, but I still thought about it.) I even considered the “kill her with kindness” method, by sending her some sort of saccharine note about being so welcoming to her new neighbor, but I figured then she’d have my fingerprints and she might actually call the cops on me for harassment. I guess I’m not devious enough to come up with some sort of revenge straight out of Real Genius, although I cannot tell you how many times I have wished I were.
RevengePopcorn is a moral imperative!
But where did all that leave me? Angry. Hurt. And unable to do anything about it. Eventually I got over it. Mostly. But I still have to walk past her house every day with the dogs, so it was really hard to set it aside with a daily reminder that she was There, Watching. Every day, as I passed her house, I’d glance at those darkened windows, wondering if today she’d stick her head out of the door and spew forth some new acrid filth all over my day.
The days and months passed, and I didn’t see her, except for a couple of times, rushing across the street with hunched shoulders, and a ball cap pulled down over her face. I wondered where does someone come up with so much hate? She must be deeply hurting to be lashing out like that. A couple of times, I almost found my way to pitying her. Maybe she was dying of some horrible disease, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Feeling helpless is a leading factor in viciousness. Certainly, there was something awful in her life. Misery like that doesn’t spring out of nowhere. But then I’d hit that same spot in the sidewalk where she accosted me twice, and my feet would move a little bit faster. I’d encourage the dogs a little bit stronger to move along. And I have to admit, when Meetu decided his favorite place to relieve himself was right on the border of her property, I was sort of okay with that. Maybe even pleased? Just a little.
At some point, I decided to Name her, because things with Names do have less power than the Unknown. I refused to call her any kind of a bitch, because I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. Besides, in my world everyone gets light-hearted names—no matter how hard she tries to be otherwise. So after much mulling, I dubbed her Lemon Face.
A few nights ago, Lemon Face made her third appearance as Honey and I were taking the boys for their evening constitutional. I was in a good mood and a generous spirit, so as she got out of her car, I decided to turn the other cheek, maybe kill her a little with kindness, and be as sweetly neighborly as I could muster. And you know, she could be dying. She approached us swiftly, head down and to the side, angled away from us.
“Helloooo,” I said in my little sing-song way.
Picking up speed, she brushed past us, saying bitterly, “Oh, please. We’re not BFFs.” The toxicity was still there. If ever there were a physical cloud of mean-spiritedness, it was gathered up around her like an ugly, crinolined prom dress. Once again, it left me breathless, but this time I had a witness.
“Really?” Honey said in part shock and part calling her out for her conduct.
Lemon Face didn’t respond. I’m sure she practically ran into her house at that point.
“Really,” I said. “That was her. Being nice.”
And again, I was angry. And resentful. The way she treated me—us—was completely unwarranted! How dare she try to shove it back in my face when I was being nice! How dare she try to piss on my good mood?
It was easier to deal with this time, though. For one thing, I saw her coming, and I knew what she was capable of. And this time, I chose to engage, so I was prepared. We went the rest of the block’s length, back to our own home, and I put on the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I only had to push myself a little to sing along as I futzed in the kitchen. And as I sang, I processed. I decided that she was not allowed to dictate to me at her will what MY mood would be. She was no longer going to be allowed to decide that I should have a terrible day, no matter what terrible disease or heartbreak or tragedy is affecting her. I decided that she does not have any authority over my life, and therefore she cannot dictate who I am.
Done taking orders from anybody.
And then I enjoyed the hell out of the rest of my evening.
The following morning, as I was driving to work, I realized something else. Her body language from that last time, was her trying to avoid me. It is entirely possible, that if I so choose, I will never have to interact with Lemon Face again.
Unless, of course, Meetu decides to take another dump on her lawn.
Image found here: http://www.american-buddha.com/ablab223b.jpg