To read part 1: click here
I am watching my neighbor from a window as her body dissolves and disappears into a pile of dark smoke that rises up to the ceiling in a pink room. She leaves behind a bed full of human shit.
I had this peculiar dream a year ago in early August the night my neighbor died. When I awakened I could sense her absence. What surprised me was that I felt sad because this neighbor had never befriended me, although I had done my best to get along with her for so many years. There were things I liked about her; she had a good sense of humor, loved animals and plants, the color red. She could be explosive, and I understood that because I got openly angry too. There were periods during which time we had brief conversations but they were always punctuated by periods of what seemed to me to be inexplicable silences until I finally began to uncover a complicated and still incomplete story.
She and I had our differences, most of which were rooted in her belief that it was just fine that her dogs (and those belonging to her daughters) could bully my dogs each day when we walked up the hill to get to the road beyond her house. My dogs were always leashed; her big dogs were never leashed and never under her control and she repeatedly let them run towards us frightening my 5 -15 pound canines, but none of them were mean except the one that bit me on the thigh (in a public place) forcing me to get a tetanus shot. Repeated attempts to get the dog control officer to do something were squashed.
Why the attempted ongoing intimidation? I was baffled. I tried to talk to her about her dogs (before reporting her) but the woman refused to change her behavior. One fall one of her daughters with a very mean dog moved in, and in order to get by that animal safely I had to agree to call my neighbor every single day to tell her I was leaving the house for a walk. I did this for a whole year, which should give the reader an idea of how far I was willing to go to cooperate.
This neighbor loved flowers – especially orange and red and I grew nasturtiums and in the fall during the times we were speaking I gave her bouquets of them. I also started passionflower cuttings from my beloved plants and gave them to her more than once. Once, another daughter asked for a cutting and I rooted and gave one to her as well even though both daughters had bullied us with their dogs when they visited their mother.
One of her son – in –laws attempted to force me to take down my little camp by claiming it was built too close to the water (it was not). Even though the town manager went along with the charade eventually he backed out and the issue was dropped.
The same son in law shot off guns with his son for 7 or 8 hours a day for the month when he was home one year. At the time I had a dog who was terrified of gun blasts so I went up the hill behind my house and begged this man to stop shooting. He threatened me. “Get out”, he sneered, you’re trespassing.” I was weeping.
It’s important to clarify that while these bizarre happenings continued periodically with my neighbor and her relatives, the only other neighbors, the two lived right across from each other, were even more hostile towards me. The three developed a fast friendship, if you could call it that. (We too had differences, which they refused to work out. But that’s a whole other story). Shunning by use of the silent treatment was their modus apprendi (except for the wife who once met me on the road and spit out “Fuck You”). I can’t even remember why, if I ever knew.
What kept me confused was why these people refused to work out anything. Everyone has differences, and most people try (or once did) to get along, especially if they are neighbors.
In retrospect I see how deeply immersed I was in the ‘good neighbor policy’. Too deeply. I couldn’t give it up. I was also hopelessly naive. I really believed that with hard work and patience this one neighbor and I could come to appreciate each other because we shared some common ground. Needless to say this day never arrived.
As the years wore on I did my best to accept the situation as it was. Slowly, ever so slowly awareness dawned. I am relationship oriented, bullies are not. All the members of this family really got off on attempted bullying. Power over is their game. What I was witnessing/living was just what bullies do – bully anyone who is different and perhaps more vulnerable in their eyes than they are. That and intolerance of the Other. By the time the 2016 election was starting to heat up I recognized that what I had endured was becoming a way of life for many. Bullying and Hatred of the Other was becoming endemic to the culture as whole.
When that light dawned I was finally able to let go of the ‘good neighbor policy’ that had kept me hooked for so many years. I adopted a stance of indifference; this attitude of mine became permanent. I did consider moving; I spent some winters in New Mexico and made a number of friends; all were neighbors! But in my absence their destructive behavior continued and eventually I had cameras installed in various places to get plenty of proof for prosecution if necessary.
I had learned a powerful lesson the hard way. Bullying for some is considered to be fun and bullies will never change their behavior. Having power over someone (even if it is an illusion) is more important than having a relationship. Once a bully, always a bully –BEWARE.
A few weeks before my neighbor died I was coming home from a walk and caught the Ugly Sisters (there were three in all) removing my “no trespassing” signs on my I phone. They were also caught on camera. By this time I was so indifferent to them I wasn’t even annoyed when one of them sniped “we don’t like you Sara”. Like I didn’t know? When one of them added something about the song Kumbaya I realized politics was also part of the game (I have always been an Independent). A friend and neighbor who lives in this area named them “the three ugly sisters” and wrote a children’s story about these destructive women which I posted and then published. It was funny! And such a perfect title!
And this returns me to the beginning of this saga and the contents of my dream. My neighbor died, and yes I was sad because change is poignant. However, the warning was clear: the shit my neighbor left behind remains.
Dreams never lie.
As I finished this story I went outside and saw a huge black grackle on my birdfeeder, the first this summer. On our walk we were screeched at by black crows. Yesterday while picking up debris in the woods I uncovered the blackest toads I have ever seen… Blackbirds, black toads. Animal messages are clear and context dependent. Not all black is about the good rich earth…some stories do the dark.
BIO: Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.