I live in a strange neighborhood. I engage in running narratives about my neighbors stemming from my over-active imagination and my lack of social life coupled with my tendency to snoop and their odd behavior.
Brian, let’s call him, is the man I sometimes refer to as Creepy Neighbor Number Two. For a long time I suspected that Creepy Neighbor One might be a serial killer, but I digress . . .
Brian is more odd than creepy. I found it suspect that he and his wife, let’s call her Nancy, had a baby that we rarely saw, nor did we see evidence of said baby. On the couple of times when I saw either Brian or Nancy with the baby, they didn’t seem to know what to do with him. On one very cold day they had the baby in the stroller at the grocery store. He had on a hat and jacket, but nothing on his feet. Nothing at all. I hoped they’d get him home soon. Then other times, for weeks at a time, the couple would hold weekly yard sales, selling antiques, and though both were home, the baby was not.
When I was in the midst of exterior renovations and landscaping, Brian used to walk behind my home at least once a day, say hello and sometimes chat. He was painfully thin, with short-cropped hair, had bad knees and sometimes walked with a cane. Brian was always friendly and gregarious. I admit I’d go in the house when I saw him out and about. He made me uncomfortable.
But then, he was gone.
After Brian dropped off the face of the earth, I’d seen his wife Nancy from time to time, but not the baby. One fine afternoon she was walking a seriously drunk and belligerent friend home. On another occasion my kids witnessed her having a heated argument with a guy on a bicycle in the alley behind my house. My kids thought it was a drug deal gone wrong. Clearly, they’ve inherited their mother’s tendency to fill in the blanks. The last time I saw Nancy was at a convenience store — she didn’t acknowledge me and was very jumpy and very, very thin.
Drugs, it had to be drugs. Plus, she had no baby with her.
Then in the Spring Brian reappeared in the neighborhood after having been gone for at least a year. His appearance had changed. At first I didn’t recognize him. His hair is much longer and he’s put on a few pounds. He seemed healthier, had no cane and often was on a bicycle.
Plus, he’d taken to going shirtless — most of the time. He is not cut. I mean, on a beach or in his yard this would have been fine, but every day walking or biking around the neighborhood? No.
On Friday evening Brian knocked on my door and invited me to his home for Saturday night. He wanted to cook me dinner.
“Hi Diane. How are you?”
“Good, It’s Roxanne.”
“Oh all this time I thought it was Diane.”
“Well, I have the house fixed up and I wondered if you wanted to come over for dinner tomorrow night, I’ll cook for you.”
“Oh wow, tomorrow? I don’t think so, not tomorrow.” I was caught off guard.
Awkward silence, which I then felt compelled to fill, bad Roxanne, bad Roxanne.
“I’ve had a rough week,” and after another awkward pause, “and plus I have plans with friends that may or may not happen.”
“Oh, well, if you’d like to come another time, just let me know.”
“Okay, I’m glad you’ve got the house together.”
“Yes, well, it’s coming along.”
“Okay, well, see you later.”
Ouch, right? Why didn’t I say yes? Did I actually have plans?
Well, I had plans with old college friends I rarely see that were never confirmed so no, no real plans. It is true that I’d had a hellish week and didn’t want to have dinner with him — or anyone else.
But let me paint a picture. Three of my kids were standing or milling about behind me and heard the whole conversation. I was mortified. He saw that the kids were there and asked me out anyway. The invitation did not include the children. It was painfully awkward. Plus, the kids knew that I had been avoiding this guy and that while I don’t think he’s a bad or menacing guy, I do think he’s strange. If I’d said yes, they would know either that I was lying about not liking him all along, or that I agreed to have a date with him out of pity. Not good either way.
To be fair, I’ll admit that I knew the invitation would be forthcoming. He’d told me weeks earlier that once he got his house fixed up (his wife had trashed it) he would have me over for dinner and tell me all of the horrific things that have happened to him. In true overly polite and dating challenged Roxanne fashion, I’d said, “Sure,” thinking, hoping it would never happen.
Should it ever become a reality, I had decided that I would not accept his dinner invitation.
When Brian made a followup nonspecific dinner suggestion more recently I’d given him the classic girl response,
He had not been dissuaded, however, and he had showed up at my door.
This time, I just had to say, “No.”
Though I’m single and I need more purely social interaction with adults, I don’t have to date the guys that walk by my house, just because they ask.
Plus, he’d previously turned me off by saying stupid things, like;
“We should get together sometime. Wait, how old are you?”
Dude, no, seriously?
And repeating the same statements to me. “Did you know you can get free mulch?”
One week later: “Did you know you can get free mulch?”
Another week later: “Did you know you can get free mulch?”
And he’d stopped by to chat on one of his walks, reeking of liquor. He’d done the same with the workers at my house, reeking of liquor. Though this was before the disappearance.
More recently he knocked on the door and asked to borrow DVDs from my son, though we had never had a previous conversation about sharing movies.
Just the other day he waved at my house even though no one was outside.
He’s just not quite right.
Call me shallow, but these are red flags to me.
People can get down on their luck, I know I am. But my instincts told me to say no.
And let me add more color and texture to the picture I’ve painted. The last time I had a conversation with Brian he confirmed some of my suspicions, telling me that his estranged wife is indeed a drug addict– a coke-head actually, and she’s crazy, that his child is in foster care (hence no evidence of a baby), that he’d been in prison for the last year for trespassing on his own property. Ahhh this is why he’s been, as the lawyers at the firm used to say, “out-of-pocket.” But for trespassing? Really? Now, given my experience with my own War of The Roses situation, I know that absent physical abuse or a restraining order one cannot be arrested for being on a property that one owns jointly with a spouse. So it must have been something else, or there was indeed a restraining order against him, which opens another can of worms. Brian also told me he used to make a lot of money in computers but is now unemployed and that Nancy and her mother had scammed him out of everything he had, including his unemployment checks. He also offered that he had recently called the police to have his wife removed from the house when she showed up uninvited. This information did not make me want to pass a pleasant evening at his home.
What if his drug addict wife showed up again?
Yet, even given all that, Brian seems like an “okay” guy, and it sounds like he’s trying to get his life together. If he has an addiction of some sort, it’s always a good sign when a person puts on weight. Truthfully, I’d been worried about the baby and was relieved to hear that the child has been removed and is in a safe, temporary home. But I didn’t want to hear any more of his stories, not over dinner alone at his house.
Maybe he needs someone to talk to and is reaching out, but he has always made me uncomfortable. Plus, I just wasn’t in the mood. Thanks to some of my own problems, I probably wouldn’t have dated any of People’s Sexiest Men Alive last weekend. So the usually shirtless Ex-Con didn’t have much of a chance.
I wanted to be alone, truly.
Still, when I refused him, he looked so sad I and I felt guilty. I hadn’t meant to hurt him.
It’s okay to say, no, though. It is. I don’t have to date the guys who walk behind my house unless I really want to. This I know. This, I’ve learned. See Not Digging the Landscaper Guy – Part I, Landscaper Guy and the Female Chandler Bing, Part II, The Landscaper Guy and The Phone Smarter Than Me – Part III and The Snowman.
Just Me With . . . no date on a Saturday night. And that’s okay.
Damn, this is an unusually long post that I apparently needed to write to convince myself that it was okay to say a very short word, “No.”
I had Another Encounter With The Ex-Con which confirmed my decision. Even the dog knew something wasn’t right.
I think I’m done. I’m done agreeing with the generalized small talk and factually inaccurate praise of the mere suggestion of the presence of my Ex-husband in our children’s lives — like he’s some kind of magic man.
People who know, know better.
An ex-neighbor dropped by yesterday. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. We don’t have much in common and she does not read people well. She’s had four husbands, yet when my husband up left me and the children and I was visibly devastated, dehydrated and malnourished, she went on and on about how we should stay together and that maybe there’s hope.
“I wish I’d tried harder. Don’t give up. Maybe he’ll come back. I hope you can work it out.”
That’s what she said to me. She said this to me, though she knew that my husband had, suddenly, cruelly, left me. Now that I’m thinking back, it is quite possible that this woman is a nut job.
She was one of the people I avoided back then. Some people say the wrong things. They can’t help it, they won’t change.
Yesterday, she dropped by unannounced to invite me to her mother’s memorial service. She arrived just as the kids were preparing to go on a dinner visit with their dad. Like before, she went on and on about how that’s so good that he sees them, that –the alternative in her mind — total abandonment — is so bad, and told me a story about how her daughter-in-law’s absentee father showed up on her wedding day and practically ruined it. So she reasoned that my situation is so much better. blah blah blah
I don’t recall asking her opinion at all.
I did not enjoy our one-sided conversation. There are always stories of the most horrendous parents, male and female, but if you set the bar at those folks, hey, everybody looks good. I have one good father and know many more. The fatherhood bar is high in my world, or actually, it’s where it needs to be, but I digress . . . Not only did this woman irk me, but she went on and on while there was a child within earshot. I wonder how it makes kids feel to hear an adult praise their father for merely seeing them? Completely clueless, the ex-neighbor didn’t notice when I tried to change the subject by talking about the children themselves, their accomplishments. I was being polite. Perhaps too polite.
“Bitch, you don’t know my life.” Is what I wanted to say.
I’m sorry folks, I don’t usually talk like that, but sometimes people piss me off.
In fact, I’m a polite sort –to a fault, really, I can make small talk and seem to agree to the most ridiculous statements for the sake of decent society. But sometimes, it seems, this gives a pass and an exaggerated sense of importance to people who don’t deserve it, as well as an acceptance of past, current and likely future bad behavior. And sometimes, it just makes me mad.
As we sat in my tiny living room, on a house on a busy street, in the neighborhood of “The Help” that I had to work my butt off to get the Hoarders smell out of , it seems that no matter what transpired and how well the children have adapted to and excelled in a difficult situation, the most important thing for her to discuss was the seemingly magical appearance of their father.
I call bullsh*t.
So now, instead of nodding politely, I’m going to try to opt out of the small talk that makes me blinding mad. I think it’s better that way, don’t you?
And before I get the “What about the kids?” speech, I’m talking about conversations between grown folks. Children are not invited.
From now on every time some random acquaintance inquires about the time my kids spend with their dad and says,
“Oh that’s good, he still sees them.“
My new response will be,
“Yeah, I hear there’s gonna be a parade.“
And then I will launch on full-out campaign, an attack, if you will, describing the awesomeness of my children in excruciating detail. And I will note that my elderly parents, even at their advanced age, rarely miss a concert and get to many sporting events each season — because they enjoy it and they are so proud . . . and the kids are . . . wait for it . . . AWESOME!
And then I will turn and leave, because, you know, I’ve got things to do. I will not talk about or allow discussion of the perceived importance of the (magical) father’s (mythical) encouragement of said real accomplishments by these awesome kids. His is not my banner to wave, or shoot at. As I said, I’ve got other things to do.
My point is this: It is presumptuous to make sweeping statements about the perceived importance of an absent party, without any knowledge of or inquiries into the actual situation, and expect me, the one clearly in the trenches, to agree.
And frankly, it’s rude.
Just Me With . . . good manners.
The general public’s persistent blanket praise of fathers who may neither be good men nor good fathers is a disservice to men who are both. It’s a disservice to the mothers who are doing the best they can with or without (or in spite of) the existence of “the father.” It’s a disservice to the brothers, cousins, friends, sisters, uncles, aunts, neighbors, teachers, grandparents and whole loads of people who provide support and encouragement and love even though they have no parental ties nor court ordered obligation to do so. It’s a disservice to the kids, the children who should expect parents to do for them, without kudos.
So I’m opting out.
I have other things to do.
For other misinformed comments, see: Weekends Off .
For other misplaced praise, see: The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations
For a couple of years my husband and I rented an apartment in the city. (Ironically, just blocks away from where he lives now with his new wife, but I digress . . . ) It was in a semi-circular stone post-war building that in its hey day was probably luxury living but had since come to disrepair. If I had a few million dollars sitting around I would have bought and refurbished the whole thing, it had great bones and was located near a golf course, it just needed an overhaul. All the units were attached around a shared courtyard with the “A” apartments downstairs and the “B” apartments upstairs. We all had separate entrances but “A” and “B” apartments shared a back door. The complex had an absentee owner but it was managed by one of the tenants who lived in the “B” apartment above me.
At the time, my husband and I were child-free and I was a student, so although he had regular day-time work hours and nighttime sleep hours, I was out a good portion of the day and up a good portion of the night.
The manager/neighbor upstairs was a nice enough guy, at first. I’ll call him Kenny. Kenny’s day job was managing the complex. I soon realized that Kenny’s other day job was selling drugs. There were too many short visits, too many exchanges of small items. Yet Kenny was a “family” man. He was married to, let’s call her, Laura. They had a son, little Kenny, who at the time was about four years old. He was a really cute kid, an unusually cute kid, actually — and a real sweetheart.
A neighbor next to me used to come out and practice Tai Chi and little Kenny would just sit down and stare at her, but he was very quiet and respectful. When I sat outside with or without my dog he would visit and talk with me about life the way only a four-year-old could. His mother knew where he was and that I was cool — meaning safe. I really liked that kid, and I admit I don’t warm up to every child.
I started to cool on Big Kenny, though. I soon realized that big Kenny had another dark side, other than the illegal drug activity. My husband and I would hear he and Laura arguing, yelling, screaming. It wasn’t pretty. Actually, we would hear him yelling at Laura. The building was old and the walls were very thick and we couldn’t always make out words, but there is an unmistakable tone of voice — that sound that means somebody has lost control. Some couples are screamers, that’s the way they argue. My husband and I were no strangers to the occasional loud argument, but we could sometimes hear Laura crying and as I said, there was something about Big Kenny’s tone. Laura worked during the day so these “situations” usually happened at night.
Occasionally, I would see Laura come and go. She was a small woman, probably in her early twenties, but looked like she’d lived a century. Her hair was usually just pulled back in a short ponytail, no make-up, her eyes were sunken with dark circles. I could tell she was brought up with manners, because she always spoke nicely but she avoided eye contact and small talk and almost scurried away. Maybe she was embarrassed by the thought that I could hear how her husband treated her? I don’t know. Maybe Kenny didn’t want her making friends with the neighbors.
During the summer months big Kenny spent more time outside, not working on the apartments, of course. No, he was working on his car, listening to gangsta rap, meeting “visitors” and, as I could tell when I had to pass him, sampling some of his product.
Drug dealing is a dangerous vocation. People get angry, people get ripped off, people get paranoid. I wasn’t going to live there forever, but in the meantime, I’d keep an eye on this guy.
Kenny started to get even meaner. The late night fights with his wife escalated in intensity and frequency. My husband and I would lay in bed and hear muffled yelling. Soon we heard crashes — things got broken.
My husband and I discovered that if we made noise, it would stop. I guess once Kenny realized there might be a witness he would calm down. So my husband and I got into a habit of making noise whenever heard them fighting upstairs. We would start talking really loudly, knocking on furniture, making our dog bark, turning up the television, etc. It would usually stop. One night it got so bad I sent my husband to actually knock on their door. Of course, they didn’t answer. Still, our noise making temporarily stopped whatever was going on up there. It became a semi-regular routine.
I would see Laura from time to time. I admit I didn’t know what to say. I was much younger then, and I was a different person, up to my eyeballs in a co-dependent yet not physically abusive relationship with a man. I wish I had known how to help her better back then. The Roxanne now would have been blunt in offering help, talked about shelters, asked to drive her somewhere, anywhere. But back then I took a more passive approach by making my presence known during the fights and when I saw Laura, hoping she would just know that I cared, that I knew, though I didn’t say the words out loud. I didn’t realize that perhaps Laura might have needed a more direct approach.
I handled many things passively back then . . . .
Big Kenny was a big asshole, but he was also a drug dealer who managed my building and I was alone in my apartment a lot. I didn’t know what else to do.
One night it got really bad. There was yelling, screaming, crying, crashing and then — it sounded as if Kenny threw his wife down the stairs.
“I’m calling the police,” I said. And I did, while making a whole lot of noise. Things got quiet, suddenly, as was usually the case when we became the noisy neighbors. Whatever was happening up there had stopped, again. I just hoped Laura wasn’t badly injured.
The police came. Kenny and Laura refused to even answer the door. Laura came to the window and told the police she was fine. The police said there was nothing they could do if the woman doesn’t complain since they didn’t witness the abuse. So all we had accomplished was stopping the fight that night — and I guess we created a record. Small victory. Now I was afraid of what big Kenny would do to her when I wasn’t around.
Big Kenny needed to have his butt kicked, big time. His very presence was pissing me off, and he had this adorable son who he didn’t deserve, and a wife who did not deserve to be treated like that.
My purposeful noise making increased, not just during the fights — but when Kenny had his visitors, whenever Kenny went in or out of the house, whenever I was home. I would go outside for no reason to let him know when I was there. I just wanted him to know I was watching him. Jerk.
Then one day, Laura was gone.
Little Kenny was gone, too. At first, I thought they were just gone for a day, a weekend, but then big Kenny seemed to be on his own. I’m suspicious by nature, I’ve been known to often suspect foul-play, it’s just where my mind usually goes, see “What Happened In My House?” but not this time, somehow I felt that Laura finally just left. At least that’s what I hoped.
Fast forward over a year later. My husband and I had since bought a house and moved out of that apartment complex. I was downtown, making my way to the train out to the suburbs. As I was walking some woman stepped right up to me and said,
“Hi, Roxanne!” She was all smiles and seemed to know me.
I had no idea who she was. I put my mind through some mental gymnastics trying to figure out how I knew this woman, since she clearly knew me — Was it law school? Had I worked with her? Was she some sort of family friend I can’t place?
I guess I hadn’t hid my confusion very well because she finally said,
“Roxanne, it’s Laura. You know, with little Kenny.”
My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t hide it. Because this woman looked gooooood. I mean, her skin was healthy, her make-up was flawless, her cheeks were plump, her hair was out and styled, she sported a cute outfit. This woman had it together. She was unrecognizable — in a good way. I never would have known it was her if she hadn’t stopped me. Never in a million years.
I had to say, “Oh my God, you look so good!”
She knew exactly what I meant and simply said,
“Thanks. I got away. “
“How’s little Kenny?”
“He’s great. We’re both great. I’m done with him [Big Kenny].” I knew exactly what she meant. “I got out.”
She told me she’d moved out of the city and was doing just fine. It showed.
I had to hug her, and I’m not a hugger by nature. I told her I’d often wondered how she was and added, “It was so good to see you.” It was heartfelt.
I had never before been so happy to run into somebody I didn’t recognize.
I think I smiled for the rest of that day, and I’m smiling as I write this.
I never saw her again. But I never worried about her again, either.
I tip my hat to Laura, “You go girl. Here’s to one that got away.”
Just Me With . . . a happy ending.
P.S. I wish I had done more to help her. Now, looking back, my mind fills with the “I should have done this, I could have done that . . . ” and Big Kenny should have done time — for something, anything. But I am just glad Laura got away. I don’t need to be the hero. Laura did it. She got away.
I don’t always blog about things in order. And many things I don’t blog about at all. Right now I’m dropping right into mid break-up time, it’s kind of like clicking channels and landing on a Lifetime Movie which is halfway over — and watching it anyway.
It was the dead of Winter. My then husband of many years had moved out just days prior. He took only one suitcase, although he had secured an apartment, a fact I discovered later. There is a very long a painful story here that is beyond the scope of this post (I say that often, I know). Anyway, I guess his plan was to come and go at his leisure to get the rest of his belongings. I realized that I couldn’t take that; having him leave the first time had been horrific, I couldn’t handle a repeat. Consequently, I told him I would get his things together so that he could pick them up in one trip. I packed and consolidated his stuff (again, the packing may be a subject of another post, it involved two of my bridesmaids, wine and Fatal Attraction). See My Cheating Husband Was Packing Viagra. Next, I planned to put his belongings outside on the porch for him to retrieve without me or the kids being involved at all.
I lived in a great neighborhood, people were always willing to help each other out. We (when the Ex and I were still a “we”) had made friends with another couple our age. We didn’t do the dinner party thing much (they were child-free, we were not, and my husband wasn’t really the socializing type — then) but we talked periodically and the neighbor husband was always helpful when we needed a another man to help move furniture or something. He was our Go-To Guy. So when everything was packed (behind closed doors so the kids wouldn’t have to see) and when the stuff was ready to be relocated to the porch, I called the Go-To Guy to help. His wife answered. When I asked if her husband was around to help me move something she told me he was out of town on business. But, she added, “If it’s not too heavy, I can help you. ”
“Uh, okay, thanks.” I replied, but didn’t tell her what I was moving. I hadn’t figured out how to tell that part yet. This was all so new, a fresh, deep, bleeding wound.
A few minutes later, she arrived, ready to help me.
“Okay, so what are we moving?” she asked, cheerfully. She is a very positive person.
“[Ex] has moved out we’re moving his stuff to the porch.”
This much must be understood. Neither this woman nor her husband had any idea there was trouble in paradise; I had been married for a long time and had “multiple” kids. See Fertile Myrtle. They had known us both for years. This was HUGE news. Huge.
But it’s her response to my major announcement that still makes me smile to this day, and it’s what I will always remember and love her for. She said, in a matter-of-fact, almost casual, way:
“Okay, maybe one day when you feel like it, you can tell me what happened.”
That’s it. That’s all she said. Then together we proceeded to move all of his packed belongings to the large covered porch. We didn’t discuss it at all. When we were done, she went home. As scheduled, my husband picked up his things early the next day while the kids and I slept.
Not that night, not the next day, but a little while later, I told her the whole story. But the fact that she did not ask or need to know or even need to ask that night shows what a good friend and person she was, and is.
People often wonder what to say in response to an announcement of a break-up or divorce.
Sometimes the response is, simply, “So where are the boxes?”
Just Me With . . . yet another good friend.