Got word of the verdict on a sweltering summer day. Midway through The Neighbor, sitting outside in a lawn chair, yelling about naked Europeans. “Their beaches! Naked! Everyone, naked! You can see ev-er-y-thing in Europe!” She laughed heartily. "The Lawn Chairs Convene," by jspad, on www.flickr.com.
Insightful as it was, she wasn’t just sharing a travelogue with hapless pedestrians. She was extending a roundabout invitation to me. Not the European adventure part. The getting naked part. Hoping I’d take the bait. However, since she faced the street, not actually talking to me, I couldn’t report it as an unwanted sexual advance. That is, if I had the power to report it. I was still having a hard time convincing people that I needed help.
I puzzled over what magic The Neighbor’s other two victims
—both women—worked to get their stalking orders. Whatever they did, they did it better than my fumbling attempts. Yet, those victims hadn’t completely succeeded: I wondered why The Neighbor successfully violated those stalking orders multiple times before it went to a criminal trial. That information had been posted on the Web, which for two long months, I obsessively checked for updates. Refreshing it multiple times per visit, in case an update snuck in. Anticipating that after The Neighbor’s conviction, she would be locked up. Giving me peace, forever.
Oddly, she wasn’t acting like someone being prosecuted. If The Neighbor had moment of remorse, yelling naked! naked! nudie Europe! naked!
like a carnival barker wasn’t the evidence. At that, why was she still roaming free?
How long did trials take, anyway?
I toyed with volunteering as an anti-character witness, to speed the process.
Meanwhile, since her lawn chair was in the middle of our shared walkway, I was trapped again. She would just intercept me if I tried leaving. It was also too hot to close my windows. I sighed. Turned on the TV to bury the noise. Great Performances
was on. Can’t say I’m an opera fan, but it was better than infomercials.
Then turned to my laptop. Clicked the bookmark for the trial Web site, and saw … yes! An update! The Neighbor’s court proceedings were … over. Ended two months ago. Right about the same time I found the records.
What? Wait. Wait. Wait. No. It couldn’t be.
I clicked through a list of confusing legal lingo. Checked definitions. Making sure I understood. The trial never happened. The same off-kilter actions that alarmed me had also alerted the judge. Something was wrong with The Neighbor. He ordered a psychiatric evaluation. The result? She was mentally incompetent to stand trial. So the judge dismissed the case. Ordered The Neighbor to get mental treatment. Without enforcing the ruling. He released The Neighbor and allowed her to return home. Right back to the other side of our duplex wall. Right back to terrorizing me.
I stared, unblinking, at the laptop screen. Too stunned to panic. Too numb to cry or to ask, “Now what?”
It had become awfully quiet outside. The Neighbor was listening. I didn’t think Great Performances
was on that loud. How could she possibly have heard … oh, never mind. It was beyond the rational stage. She heard everything about me. Knew all about me. Which she demonstrated by “singing” that
song from Carmen
Instead of lyrics, she bellowed each syllable with the word, “la.” Uttering a shapeless dissonance, holding the rhythm of the original song, but none of its music. Like a young child desperate to imitate but lacking ability. Using sharp braying staccatos. A newfound way to harass me. Both that day, and in the years to come.
I fumbled for my phone to call my friend Pat and vent my despair. All of it. From dismissed trial to soul-bursting “opera.” Before I dialed, searched for the exact title of that
song. For the sake of sounding slightly more intelligent as I ranted. Pat knows her music, and knows it well. Found it. "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle.” Started shaking when I read the translation: “Love is a Rebellious Bird.” Felt The Neighbor’s smug chastisement curl into my ears. “I defeated the judicial system. I will defeat you and will have you. Can’t you see how I feel? Quit running, my stubborn one.”
During one of our later court appearances, I cited The Neighbor’s faux opera as one of many harassment examples. Felt like I was grasping at vapors. That the judge would call me hysterical. Then The Neighbor—wearing a bright orange inmate jumpsuit and handcuffs she demanded, unsuccessfully, be removed—interrupted. Indignant. Sputtering as she got the words out. She thought I would enjoy the singing. (Hadn’t she overheard my TV selection?) "After all," she paused, turning modest eyes downward, “I do have an excellent voice.” She had just proved my point.
Four years later, I still can’t hear even snippets of that song without becoming sick to my stomach. And begin shaking.
The erratic part of me wanted to hiss “I-told-you-so!” with high-and-mighty superiority. To pretty much anyone who would listen.
The rational part of me came charging in behind the pompousness. Arms flailing. Smacking me upside the head. Screaming warnings. Broadcasting the dirt I’d uncovered? That The Neighbor--who I told you was dangerous
—had not only been served a stalking order
, but had also violated it? Probably would reflect badly on me. “You have too much time on your hands,” or “Why are you meddling in her past?” or “Couldn’t you just overlook everything?”
Those nagging doubts were the first steps to uncovering a core tenant of human nature. People don’t like being confronted with evil. Prefer to ignore a call to action. Treat the call as an inconvenience. Even when presented with cold hard facts. Return to a comfortable life.
Is a known history of stalking enough to protect future victims?
But still, as I drilled into The Neighbor’s dirt, I believed I had hope. I read online records for her court case. Prosecuted for violating a stalking order. It was the hard evidence I needed. Those creepy interactions, now becoming daily attacks against me, were real. Not stories I’d fabricated. I printed every page. Quickly. Before the evidence vanished into mist. Hard copies. Hard proof. Now people would listen to me. Would help me. I’d just need to disclose everything with a bit of stoic humility. After all, it worked all the time on TV.
The court record didn’t detail how The Neighbor violated the stalking order. But the associated police reports did. Now, for the sake of the story, I’ll clue you in on something. I’m condensing a few years of tracking down police reports. Writers do this, sometimes. Skipping the one- or two-month agonizing wait between my requests left on police voicemail and finally getting the reports in the mail. Now that I’ve made you my accomplice, you and I will agree to pretend everything was online. Easily accessible.
So, the court record cross-referenced a police report. I clicked the link. *Wink.* Which cross-referenced another police report. The Neighbor stalked not one but two additional victims. Both women. Who both obtained stalking orders. Their names redacted from the police reports, to protect their identities.
The Neighbor started cyberstalking First Victim and Second Victim on Facebook. Then shifted to live stalking. At home. Work. Recreational activities. The first police report read: The Neighbor arrived at the First Victim’s softball game. Insisted on talking to the victim. Ran when a police car arrived. Violating a stalking order. First Victim stated she was afraid for her life.
That report cross-referenced another police report. Second Victim played a voice mail to the police. It contained death threats from The Neighbor. Violating a stalking order. Second Victim was afraid for her life.
"Take My Hand," by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino, on www.flickr.com.
That report cross-referenced two more police reports, with earlier violations. The First and Second Victim’s Facebook contacts received messages from The Neighbor. Requesting that they forward messages on to the Victims. Containing more death threats. Violating the stalking orders.
And that report cross-referenced still more police reports. My thoughts spiraled. Horrified and overwhelmed with the evil I uncovered. Attempting to find meaning in the facts. Why was The Neighbor allowed to violate stalking orders so extensively? Weren’t the police supposed to arrest her immediately? If a court order couldn’t keep The Neighbor from stalking not one but two victims, what power did I have? People barely believed me, as it was.
I clicked back to the court record for her trial. Read a bit more … then was smacked with pure joy! How had I missed the obvious? The trial for violating two stalking was in progress! My life had just gotten so much easier! I had shining hope! God almighty himself intervening through the Internet. Showing me that Victims One and Two had totally taken care of it. All I had to do was hang in there, until it was over. Dodge her for like, what, a few more weeks? Of course she would be convicted. There were too many witnesses. Too much evidence. Praise God! I am free!
But a lingering doubt whispered. She had been arrested a few months prior … why was she still next door? Weren’t the prosecuted held in a jail cell until … oh, whatever. Don’t over-think it. Just focus on facts. I could hang on. Totally. It would be over soon.
Seemed a bit silly to keep printing the trial details, but I finished it up. Kept the hard copies. If anything, as a symbol of hope. Who really wants to waste a sheet of paper these days?
I obsessively checked the site for trial updates. Two months after the initial disclosure, I read the verdict.
And came unglued.
Successfully drowning my self-righteous “I-told-you-so.”
My dad was the first person to give me concrete tools for fighting my stalker neighbor. The day he challenged me to start researching her legal activities was a game changer.
When Pop challenged me to research
The Neighbor’s claim that she was in a court battle with Facebook, I balked. “Pop, I can’t do that.”
“It’s weird. Snooping in another person’s life. She’s already so fixated on me. I don’t want to reciprocate.”
Pop leveled me with The Look. You know the one. The one parents master to jab at their child’s incompetence and move their offspring to action. “Do you want to know or don’t you?” he asked.
It was stupid to backtrack immediately after saying that if I had the case details, I’d know why she was harassing me. Also affirm a gut suspicion: that The Neighbor was lying about taking Facebook to court. But I still protested. “I guess I do. Just don’t know if I can.”
Then Pop went for the throat. He threw my profession into the mix. You see, I’m a liberal arts sell-out. Exchanged wide-eyed dreams of creative writing for pulling a steady paycheck. Became a technical writer—the person who writes instructions you never read.
Selling out does have merits, though. Added layers of technology-speak and Internet savvy to a dormant catalog of writing styles. I’m a detailed by nature. I built upon it in my role. How to ask difficult questions. How to track down and fill in gaps within materials I reference for my work. In fact, roughly seventy percent of being a tech writer is not writing. It’s schmoozing for information.
Pop knew what I could do. Confronted me with it, as he smugly pointed to my laptop. Saying, “Physician, heal thyself.”
Within a millisecond, The Neighbor screeched. Loudly raced around her side of our duplex. Vibrating footfalls shaking lampshades in my home. I decided to listen to my old man. “OK, Pop, but let’s move away from the window.” I shut it quietly, so she wouldn’t have the satisfaction of my acknowledgement.
Pop and I moved to my desk. As my laptop booted, irrational worry set in. The Neighbor was only a few feet away. What if she hacked my Wi-Fi and peered into my search history? Stop it.
"Day 243 - Who's There?" by ktpupp, on www.flickr.com.
“I don’t know her name but … waidaminute. I do.” Opened a desk drawer. Pulled out a gorgeous card she left on my door
a year earlier. Another attention-getting attempt. Wanted to burn that card but a gut feeling told me to keep it. Glad I listened. On the envelope, The Neighbor attached an address label. Giving her full name. Enough to activate a privacy-invading Internet search.
The core of online information is this: it doesn’t just magically post. Someone has to tell a search engine—like Google or Bing—that a Web site exists. Then, electronic spiders locate and add site information to that search engine. If you enter the right search criteria, you find the information. That’s why my search on The Neighbor’s name turned up empty. No one had pushed her stalking history to the Web.
So I dug a little deeper. Although I knew her Facebook court case was out of town, wanted to first check closer to home. Pulled up my city’s online crime sites. They gave me bupkis. I could see who had been recently arrested but that was about it. Best I could tell: she had neither committed a crime in our city nor at our address. Or at least, hadn’t done it within the past few months.
I called city records. Didn’t have enough information for a records request. The clerk got agitated when I pressed. Shut me down with tersely polite reprimands. It was such a small thing but it was another door slam. Which happened every time I asked for help. I couldn’t bear it. Another round of shame with legal officials. Thanked her for her time and hung up. Made tired eye contact with Pop. “The Neighbor told me location of her Facebook lawsuit. I guess that’s next.” I was silently asking him permission to continue.
Pop gave a sincere head nod. Jabbed index finger at laptop. “Keep going. Keep going.”
The city facilitating her Facebook lawsuit had a strong online presence. Within a couple of clicks, landed on its court records page, with a searchable database. Database information doesn’t always appear in search engine results. You need to run a search within a Web page containing the information to pull it up.
There was one. last. barrier. The database had five search fields. Two were required: the defendant’s first and last names. The Neighbor wasn’t the defendant. She was the prosecution. I didn’t have the name of the Facebook rep taking the rap. I felt tired again. So close. So very close. But still, I could just enter The Neighbor’s name. Might as well. Typed. Wondered about Plan B. Clicked Search. Waited for a “Sorry, no records matched your search” message when--
I got a hit. Read it. Pushed self to a standing position, away from desk. Chair fell to floor. I YELPED
I found The Neighbor. She was a defendant. Despite the fact that Pop could read the screen, I bellowed some more, “She violated a stalking order!” Meaning she had firstly tormented someone enough to merit the order. Secondly, she had tenaciously continued slapping the victim around after
the order was secured.
I was so fucked.
Enter the freak out dance. Feet stomping. Hair pulling. Jabbing index finger for emphasis. “I knew it! I knew it! I knew
she wasn’t just screaming empty death threats. I knew
someone was in trouble.”
Pop’s smugness returned. “Told you that you could find it. Aren’t you glad you know?”
Funny how proving a point was both affirming and a bit of a bitch. I paused. “A stalking order should have been enough to tell her to quit, but she didn’t
! She doesn’t quit! She won’t
quit. Now she’s coming after me!”
My cries whirled with The Neighbor’s screams, which punched through our shared wall.
I called my dad after catching The Neighbor peering through my window. Not the police. Why? She did it covertly. Not exactly playing Peeping Tom. Sure, she was outside my living room window. But was looking upwards, at the roof. Occasionally, her eyes dropping to window-level. Looking for me. Then, quickly lifting eyes back up to roof. Casting doubt over what I witnessed. Not enough evidence to phone the cops. Especially since it happened outside the duplex we shared. I imagined the police reaction, “Let the woman go outside her own home, already.” Another black mark against my credibility.
Later, during one of many court hearings, I presented her peering as stalking evidence. Her defense? Of course she was absolutely was not spying on me. She thought she heard my cat yowling. From the roof. Maybe he was in trouble. Because (wig-wagging a shame finger at me) I didn’t care for him properly. She knew it. Besides, maybe the cat was yowling because I had died. She needed to check. Us single girls needed to look out for each other. Frankly, if I hadn’t been so rude, refusing to talk to her, she wouldn’t have to resort to such measures. But no, oh no, no, no, no, she never watched me.
Wedding Photographer = Peeping Tom, by mollybennett, on www.flickr.com
I crawled along my living room floor. Under the window. Reached a hand up to the end table where I’d chucked my cell. Dialed Pop from the floor. Begged him stay with me. To put up a counter-attack. Someone was with me. Watching you, neighbor. I’d hoped Pop would be a quick fix. A one-time back-off-lady that would scare her into submission.
A little about my dad: he’s a bit of a reformed punk. But just a bit. Most of the details I got by way of his little brother, my uncle, who cheerfully ratted Pop out after I passed an impressionable age. I can’t repeat his stories here, but I’ll tell you this much: they’re gooood. Anyway. Pop’s past contributed to my childhood lessons about bucking societal standards. And how to fight. Pop picked those lessons back up when he arrived at my duplex. Giving tools for fighting my stalker neighbor. I just wasn’t ready to take them.
Pop parked his car across the street. Leaned against it. Arms folded. Facing The Neighbor’s side of our duplex. My mental movie camera, again using the common wall to divide the screen between The Neighbor and me. Both staring through our mirroring street windows. Me: watching Pop, biting my index finger. The Neighbor: angrily assessing the stranger. Pop: taking his sweet time crossing the street. Then cheerfully and loudly greeting me at the door before entering. I hissed at him to get inside before The Neighbor jumped him. I knew he could hold his own, but it was too much anxiety for me.
Pop thought I was ridiculous. Ignored my hissing. Ordered me to open a window adjacent to the common wall. He sat on the sill. Talked loudly. So The Neighbor could hear a man’s voice. She heard and met the challenge head on. Started yelling. Not directly at us, but making her point. I tried to interrupt, “Pop. POP! She hears you.”
“That’s. The. Point.” He continued, “OK. Laugh.”
“But, she’ll hear me.”
Pop gave The Look. You know the one. The one that simultaneously conveys his failure as a father. Jabs at my defiant incompetence. Silently asks why I requested help if I wasn’t willing to listen. Concludes with a heavy sigh. He said, “You need to send her a message. You are unafraid. Having a good time. You think she’s ridiculous. Laugh already.”
Hate it when he’s patronizing. Glared. Belted out a sarcastic, “Bwahahahahaha!” Which detonated The Neighbor. Her house become a racetrack, as she hurtled herself up one side and down the other. Her thudding footfalls punching holes in my gut, as fear set in again. More marrow-piercing screams.
After that day, entertaining people tapered off. Couldn’t bear more volatile situations. My friend Pat was one of the few I allowed over. She knew to enter and exit quietly. Two years later, in 2011, a series of friends reprimanded me about allowing The Neighbor imprison me in my own home. Again stating: I needed to stand up to her. And they’d stand with me. Knowing that the stands would result with backlashes. Like what Pop and I experienced in 2009, when I was too afraid to make that stand. I argued with him. “Pop,” I said weakly. “Please, we have to stop.”
“You have a right to live in your home. And to laugh.”
“I do but we’re setting her off. I don’t want to be accused of goading—”
On the sidewalk, just behind Pop. The Neighbor was outside. Looking over his right shoulder. At me. Pop saw me stiffen. “She’s right behind you, Pop.” Tried to keep my voice level. He turned to give her a hairy eyeball. She dashed back into her side of the duplex. Slammed door …
“That’s what you need to do,” Pop said. Shrugging. “Keep standing up to her.”
… and immediately retaliated. Screamed outside her window. Next to the window Pop sat in. Over and over and over about Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. So that, if accused, she could say that she wasn’t yelling at me, but at something else.
“See Pop?” I said, and launched into a stream of consciousness protest. “She doesn’t quit. I don’t get it. I don’t get why she’s so angry. OK, so I filed a complaint about her noise. And can you blame me? OK, maybe her court case against Facebook is upsetting her. But this is what I also I don’t get: We’re nowhere near corporate headquarters. But she says she’s taking them to court.”
Pop interrupted. “So look up the court case.” Shrugged. See? Easy.
His suggestion was a game-changer.
To be continued.
It was 2009. Two weeks after The Neighbor released her rage
. Two nights of banging on and yelling at my front door. Demanding audience with me. Now.
Although her terrorizing ended with my police call, it didn’t bring resolution. Past interactions verified she was incapable of a behavioral change. Meaning her now-dangerous fixation wasn’t going to end anytime soon. I was solidly frightened of greater violence. Especially since we lived so close to each other. Shared a common wall. Our front doors, five feet apart. How could I ever relax and ignore her again?
As I braced myself for another explosion, The Neighbor’s stalking became covert. Making it harder to identify that she was still stalking me. Making it easier to second-guess and berate my newfound hyperawareness of every minute sound. In a perverse way, it would have been so much easier if she continued screaming outside my front door.
For example. My early morning routine. Starting with my toilet flush.
That’s right. My toilet flush.
Immediately after that first morning flush, I’d hear The Neighbor’s crashing! banging! footfalls, as she sprinted to her bathroom, which mirrored mine. Then. Her toilet flushed.
I jumped. Was that on purpose? Getting my attention? Did she wake early so that— I smacked my face a few times. Was I seriously
freaking out over a toilet? What was wrong with me? Coerced myself into a psychological pep-talk:
- Step One, Confront the Misperceptions: Calm the hell down. It was just a flush.
- Step Two, Identify Reality: It was perfectly reasonable for The Neighbor to flush her toilet. What a strange coincidence that her potty breaks matched mine.
"Opposite Seats," by R Sio, on www.flickr.com.
I stationed a mental movie camera outside our duplex. Giving me an audience’s perspective. Attempting to identify what she was really doing. Our dividing wall split the screen in two. On one side of the frame, The Neighbor, hand on the toilet handle. Staring at me. She couldn’t see me. How could she possibly see me? But I felt her eyes try to bore through. I hurried to button my pants on the opposite side of the frame. So much for objectivity.
Then, running my hair dryer. Making sense of my bedhead. Stop. Did The Neighbor just scream? Trying to be heard over the noise? Turned off dryer. Silence. Turn it back on. Another scream? Stop. Turn it off. Nothing. Back to self-talk:
- Step One: You know she screams.
- Step Two: You don’t know if it’s meant for you and—
She screamed again. I jumped. Hard. Obliterating self-talk accomplishments. Did she wait for me to turn off the dryer to— Once again, my mental movie camera, panning to her side of the duplex. Was she losing control? Staring through the wall, demanding I go over and— Stop it. I turned the dryer back on. Masking more bellowing.
Onward to kitchen, for breakfast. Banged a few cabinet doors as I grabbed bowl and spoon.
- Step One: Getting lost as I froze. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Her cabinets. Now banging. Loudly. Over and over and over. Was it a message? Was she— OK, on to …
- Step Two: OK just uhm, you know— When did she start eating breakfast with me? Should I close my cabinets more carefully? Mentally traveling to her side of the wall. What was she really doing?
Kept making my oatmeal. Turned on my tap. Then. Her tap. Also running. Shut off my tap. Then her tap shut off.
Was very, very, very aware of our dividing wall. How thick was it? Could she punch through? Was I paranoid? How much could she hear? Was she attacking me, again? Was I hypersensitive? A headache came on, as I tried to pinpoint reality. Negating phantasms, now lurking in every corner of what was once my dream home.
Off to work. Alert. Exiting my home, instant vulnerability. Tried to leave quietly. So quietly. Opened door a crack.
The Neighbor, then racing to her door. Her doorknob jangling loudly, as she frantically grasped it.
Shut my door. Fast. Locked quickly. As The Neighbor’s door opened with a bang. She lumbered outside. Then, heavy stomping. Heavy. Heavy. Stomping. On our landing. Announcing herself. Just in case I’d missed her other attempts at my attention for the past hour. Aware that my front door was only 1.75 inches worth of a barrier between us.
- Step One: I’m not going outside.
- Step Two: Would I make it to work on time? Did I have meetings that morning? Could I even make it to work?
The Neighbor went back inside. All quiet. I worried. Would she rush me again, as I left? I had an idea. Quietly sprinted back to my bathroom. Flushed my toilet. When she lunged to her bathroom to flush— I dashed to my front door. Quietly opening. Shutting. Locking. Sprinting to car. Listening for The Neighbor. Finding car key by touch. Driving off to safety.
Repeating everything when I returned home that evening.
The nightmares returned at 12:49 this morning. How long has it been since the last one? A year? Year and a half? Regardless. If one returned, more will follow.
This time, I was in a great house. Going from room to room. Throwing down red herrings. Things that only made sense in dreams. Indicating I was here or maybe there, but not in the room I’d chosen to sleep.
Nightmare Head, by Smabs Sputzer, on www.flickr.com.
I crawled into bed. Satisfied. Nodded off. Then felt someone pressing in to me. Close. The Neighbor. She found me. Crawled into bed with me. My dream state of jumping panic, shoving her away--
—threw me back to wakefulness. Muscles tense. Combat ready. Transitioning. Knowing she wasn’t in my bed. Having to convince myself all the same. Finding a concrete point: my cat, asleep at my feet. He murmured. Dreaming about cat things. Like sleeping. Much more successfully than me. I told myself he must have jostled me. Not her. It couldn’t have been her.
An hour later, sleep still elusive. Called the night a wash. Brewed some tea. Turned on the small desk lamp. Booted the laptop. Frowned into it. Wrote another installation about stalking
which, admittedly, finding words to describe 2009, three months into The Neighbor’s fixation exploding into war … learning to stay one step ahead of her … to survive … to hold onto my life … to fight back … a fodder for recurring nightmares … was a terrible sleep aid …
until the Sandman found me.
As I typed, I convinced myself that The Neighbor wasn’t standing behind me, in the early-morning darkness.
The cat slept in peace.
I’m breaking my narrative about my experience being stalked by my next-door neighbor to somewhat talk about the present, as I reflect on the past.
Good Friday is now my time to pause and reflect. Deeply.
Didn’t always feel this way. Previously, was more inclined to sigh, roll eyes, and grunt about the uselessness of the Easter weekend. After a lifetime of church, that talk of hope and resurrection and reconciliation long faded into meaningless cliché. So, friend Pat and I historically celebrate the day with A Very Star Wars Easter. I skip church. She scoots over to my place. We queue up the VCR—the only way to watch the unbastardized originals—and watch one episode. All is right in the universe.
Except for Good Friday 2011. I was having a cell phone conversation in an empty work conference room. Overcome with the final round of bad news. I leaned against the wall for support. Felt legs slowly giving way. Sliding down wall, to floor, as HOA Manager Alice explained. The Board of Directors, despite their assurances, decided to not evict The Neighbor. She might sue, after all. And the HOA financial reserves were for neighborhood upkeep. Not lawyers.
"Despair as a Sculpture," by mciarleg on www.flickr.com.
Manager Alice was as angry as I was in slow sinking despair. It was ridiculous. At the point, the neighborhood knew The Neighbor was more than just my problem. It was everyone’s problem. A big one at that.
She regularly ran out into the street, sometimes early in the morning, other times late at night, bellowing Unabomber-like ultimatums about the Facebook conspiracy against her. The Neighbor then chased pedestrians. Tried jumping several of us as we tried leaving for work. Stood outside Manager Alice’s office, threatening her. Shaking fists at her. She drove erratically. Several had to swerve and jump out of her way. Later reported that The Neighbor laughed at them.
She had multiple police visits per week. She taunted them. Knew she hadn’t committed a crime and they couldn’t arrest her. I heard it all, clearly through my side of the duplex, as the police made another house call. Afterwards, she banged on neighborhood doors, demanding confessions: were they the ones calling the police?
Her open display of mental instability also wasn’t enough for State mental health officials to force care. Nobody had proof that she was a physical threat to herself or others. And now, despite the common knowledge, it wasn’t enough for the HOA Board of Directors to evict her.
Her eviction was my last hope. Now it was gone. After four years of creating plans to thwart The Neighbor, my brain clicked off. Too numb to panic. Instead, accepted I was solidly, irrevocably, screwed. I sat in silence. Knew I had to get back to work. Then realized my brain was refusing to give commands to my legs. Knew I had to move before someone entered the conference room, saw me, and created work drama. But I couldn’t get up. Didn’t know how to get up. That’s when I started to panic.
My brain clicked on long enough for a solution: I could call my dad. Ask him to tell me to move. Now, Pop gripes that I never listen to him. Don’t believe him. I just choose what I care to apply. Or not. But I always move when he tells me to move. If Pop told me to get up, I’d do it.
I was long past the age of the “oh-daddy-help” call, yet, I’d been doing it constantly during those years. So I called him, again. Explained everything in a dull flat voice. Pop immediately panicked. Bawled, “GET UP!”
I hated doing that to him. But it worked. Felt my legs straighten. Pressed my back against the wall. Slid myself upwards. Tried telling Pop that I was OK now, but he was still panicking. Doing everything, everything, everything to make sure his daughter was moving again. In his verbal spew, he talked about Good Friday—and that it was Good Friday now—and the despair at Christ’s death and darkness and hopelessness and then, three days later everything was good, in fact better because now we have hope, and that I would have hope too because Easter was coming now … and he paused … then bellowed again, “ARE YOU UP?”
Enter my selective listening. His Easter babble was white noise. Hope? Please. Hope was a myth spun by storytellers, long after facts fade from memory. There was no hope. Only reality. Didn’t dare argue that point with Pop. He had just gotten me up off the floor. Owed my frantic dad a measure of respect.
Hope didn’t greet me when I returned to work. One of the office sociopaths had been beating on me, getting worse as the day continued. Hope didn’t greet me when I dragged myself home. The Neighbor had gotten her car to jump the sidewalk. Parked it on our mutual walkway, right outside of duplex. She sat in the car. Waiting to intercept. Spoiling for a fight. She blared mariachi music. Brash, awful, cheerful staccato of trumpets in unison. There are better soundtracks to hear when you’re on the verge of getting your ass kicked.
I looked at her car and saw my future build onto my past. The Neighbor, getting cockier as each day passed without accountability. Adding to my fears that, at best, she would murder me. At worse—after I told one of my lesbian friends about an attempted seduction, the open masturbating, the yelling about sex … then cautiously asking my friend if rape happened within her tribe—a sexual assault before the murder. It was really just a matter of time.
Decided to not go home. Again. Drove straight to a Good Friday service. Nowhere else to go. Sat in the candlelit blackness. Wondered, when the Christ who experienced our pain and sorrow and suffering descended into Hell, if he too was greeted with mariachi music. The service provided no relief, save for the darkness hiding my miserable face from others.
"Good Friday," by mtsofan, on www.flickr.com.
Two years later, I open my log. In it, a detailed record of The Neighbor stalking me. I count the days after that awful Good Friday. Resurrection didn’t happen after three days, but rather, sixteen. After another despair-filled conversation with a police officer. That time, he asked a question: had I considered getting a stalking order? If I had evidence, he could help fill out the paperwork. I did. The Neighbor was arrested. Then, ensuring The Neighbor wouldn’t return, Alice the HOA manager rebelled against the Board and evicted The Neighbor.
I pause. Reflect. Before Pat comes over for our eighth year of A Very Star Wars Easter. I am grateful. Bow head. Close eyes. Hand cups mouth. Profoundly grateful for that hope.
And for Pop, who has expressed zero interest whatsoever in reading this blog (avoiding re-living the “oh-daddy-help” moments): thanks for delivering the hope. I listened. Eventually. You were right: it was quite soundly just around the corner.
I cowered. Clamped cell to ear. Tried to not cry. But voice still quavered. Hushed description. Asking my friend, Pat, for help. The Neighbor was just outside my front door. Hurling a battering ram at it. There was no way The Neighbor could have heard me over her own clamor, but I whispered all the same.
I’d expected The Neighbor to get angry when I finally got the HOA manager to issue her a noise violation. Just not that angry.
The first day, she just knocked. A few times. I laid low. Thought it was over. The next day, it started again. Right after I returned home from work. Despite trying to quietly enter my side of our duplex. When I refused to answer, her knocking became louder. Faster. Escalating. After a few hours, the knocking became a battering ram. Then, laying on my doorbell.
When that didn’t work, she ranted at me. Long and loud Unabomber-like manifestos through my front door, against “… the United States of America and its belief in a more pure and just conglomeration of automaton drones wrapped up in their Facebook networking conspiracies and their homophobic plots seeping into the constant updating updating updating and speaking of homophobes,” and she bellowed my name, along with horrible denouncements of atrocities against gay people that no straight person wants to be accused of. I hadn’t done any of them. She demanded that I talk to her. Now. When I still refused, she returned to her side of the duplex. Slammed her door with a bang.
Oh yeah. It was personal. Despite two years of acknowledging that I didn’t want to hear her screaming. Did I really need go and explain it to her? Again? Especially since she was more volatile than ever? No I didn’t. In her warped logic, she had a right to continue her bad behavior, which resulted with gaining access to me when I asked her to stop and …
Wait. I’m falling into an old trap: believing I’d find logic in her actions. If I could tap that magic bullet, I could resolve the awfulness and … Stop. I’m doing it again. If there were logic, we would have reached a mutual understanding. Immediately. There would have been no reason for her arrest or my nailing a stalking order against her. My life would have been more peaceful, and instead of writing this blog, I’d be consumed with freakishly more light-hearted geek-outs anticipating Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in Star Trek: Into Darkness … Stop. I’m doing it again. So much for alternate realities.
(Because frankly, how in the world could she seriously believe that my noise complaint was a homophobic plot? OK, she was mentally ill and she probably … Stop. I’m doing it again.)
However, at that point, now four years ago, I still believed in logic, along with believing The Neighbor was dangerous. Two opposites I believed could be reconciled. Especially by pressuring the HOA manager into issuing a noise violation. As we spoke, I emphasized that The Neighbor’s screams over the past month had escalated to near-daily explosions. That I was regularly calling the police. That the police told me to encourage the HOA to enforce its noise bylaws.
It was stupid, believing the HOA would succeed where police visits failed. I now know that the HOA’s strength is with grounds keeping, not interpersonal conflicts. My new HOA manager tells me that apartment managers get more training in that area than they do. That our neighborhood bylaws were written long before such extreme problems with mental illness began to explode. Nothing was set up to protect me or provide guidance for resolution.
Issuing the official noise complaint did the equivalent of extinguishing a blaze with gasoline. The Neighbor was enraged. Wasn’t going to stop demanding that I talk to her. Since my home only had one entrance, couldn’t quietly leave without exiting the same door that was five feet away from her front door.
Pat hissed through my cell, “You are being harassed. Call the police. Now. Get them to escort you to your car. Now. Have them talk to The Neighbor. Now. Drive over here. Now.”
When the police officer arrived, he asked for an explanation. I blurted everything in an emotional jumble. Complete with arms waiving in the air. That this whole thing started because The Neighbor wouldn’t stop yelling and then I tried to work with her and then she wouldn’t stop yelling and then I thought she was dangerous and then heard death threats and you know I think she’s mentally ill and then the pounding and then you know I’m really scared and then the noise violation and you know, I’m not homophobic …
He listened. Calmly. Patiently. Gently told me he’d talk to her. He was happy to escort me to my car. But before that—taking out a business card, writing a number on the back—after I felt better, maybe I would consider calling a mediator. You know, for help resolving things.
I felt like I’d been slapped. Realized how I’d portrayed myself. How any logical person would have interpreted it. Felt the accusations again. Two single women. And why haven’t you ever married? Living too close together. What’s the matter? Can’t get along? After I’d gotten to Pat’s, the officer called me back, saying he had spoken with The Neighbor. Relayed her side of the story. She just wanted to talk. Didn’t know if I was home or not. I was the one who was clearly hysterical, not her. He ended the call with, “Please consider calling that mediator.” Cat fight.
It was a hard lesson to learn for future dealings with the police. Be calm. Be pleasant. Relay only the facts. Keep it objective. No emotion attached. None of which I had done. I wept a long time that night.
But at that point, as the months and The Neighbor’s harassment continued, I refused to call the police. Was way too mortified. Believed I was now perceived as an irrational troublemaker. Who had solidly alienated herself from law enforcement.
My stomach still killed me two days after my food poisoning horror
. But at least I was on the mend. Settled my aching self on the couch. Wool blanket? Check. Good book? Check. Ridiculously fuzzy pink pajamas? Check. Commence with quiet restful regrouping.
Except that the miserable woman on the other side of my duplex wall started caterwauling. Again. So loud. As if she joined me in my living room. Bellowing in my ear.
It takes a lot to get me angry. To fly into a rage. And show it. But after eight solid hours of That. Woman. Screaming. At. Me. while I was puking my guts out …
… then more screaming the following day, immediately after I returned home from the doctor …
… and now another reprise …
I snapped. Instant red-hot rage. Threw book across room. Launched self off couch. (“Ouch!” said my still-aching stomach.
) Ready for blood. Pacing as I mentally screamed at her, “Just stop it already and give me peace! I know what you’re doing! I know you want me to go over. Ask how you’re doing. I don’t care! I DON’T CARE! I DON’T CARE! I’m sick! Leave me alone! Just stop it! STOP IT! STOP IT!”
Somewhere under the rage, logic whispered, “You know The Neighbor won’t stop, right? You’ve been asking her to quit for a year. You guessed she was doing it purposefully. Vying for your attention. You even tried stopping asking her to stop. But ignoring her also isn’t working. She wants you. Over there. Now. And she won’t stop until you give her what she wants. And when that’s over, she’ll do it again. And again. And again. You can’t win.”
It made me pace harder. "What should I do? Maybe I just keep on ignoring h—"
She screamed again. “That’s it! Enough! It ends (do you hear me?) it ends! IN FACT she needs to know just how much her incessant animalistic caterwauling affects ME.” A
brain flash decided there was no need to comb my bedhead. In fact, I didn’t need to change out of my PJs, either
. Those two things, putting a fine point on the fact that I am ridiculously ill. SHUT UP ALREADY.
I now wonder why I thought a passive-aggressive guilt trip was the way to go. Two years’ worth of alarming encounters with The Neighbor should have been enough to tell me that I needed to stay away from her. But rage overtook logic. I was hell-bent on ending her tomfoolery tonight.
I’m kinda stoopid sometimes.
Knocked on her door, again. Met with The Neighbor’s rumbling-clamor-throwing-door-open, again. But this time, my brain flashes said something had changed. Flash. “Wilder look in her eyes.” Flash. “Something is even more wrong.”
Yet, I opened my flap trap and hissed, “Is. Everything. OK?”
The Neighbor tried to deny it. Feigned surprise. Tried to think of what I could have possibly heard. I interrupted, “You have been yelling for three days straight. I’ve been home sick and have heard you screaming the entire time—” Flash. “Yup. That should do it. Do you see my uncombed hair? The PJs? That’s rage. Eh? Eh?”
Then she interrupted me. With a force. I didn’t understand her pain and suffering. I didn’t understand her trauma, and she yelled because she was dealing with mounting torment-- Flash. “Of course she’s unloading. It’s why she summoned me. How hard can I roll my eyes at her?”
—that Facebook and all its minions had collectively ganged up on her, stalking her. Huge conspiracy. That she’d been watched and traumatized and attacked and harassed and threatened and-- Flash. “Out to get her? Gang stalking? Why did I forget she was mentally ill?”
—and ranting and ranting and ranting about injustice and our corrupt legal system-- Flash. “She doesn’t see me any more. She’s lost in her rant.”
—and how she was taking Facebook to court, because she was the one traumatized and she had to be the one to demand justice and— Flash. “She doesn’t care about my ridiculously pink PJs. Not one bit.”
—told me the courthouse location. And that Facebook was watching everyone and drawing us all into their horrible data mining schemes and that she was taking Facebook to court for ruining her good name through the mud--
Flash. “She’s lying.”
—getting more and more and more animated. Lifting her shirt to display nonexistent bruises. Eyes bigger. Wilder. Describing her pain and suffering and--
Flash. This time, brain overlaying an image. Two dark clawed hands grasping her right shoulder. Hefting up an even darker beast. Growling. “This is who she is. She’s not in trouble. I am. I’m in danger. She could lunge, and snuff me. Just get out. Get out! Now!”
I interrupted. Laughed nervously, “Well, Facebook is a beast isn’t it?”
Flash. “Arragh! Why did I say that?”
I thrust my fist in the air. Faked solidarity, “Well! Go kick their asses! Gotta go.” Kept smiling as I eased my way backwards towards my door. Watching that she didn’t lunge. Nice and easy. Keeping it cool. Not showing fear. Because if did, she’d know she could hurt me. I got inside my home. Quickly locked door behind me.
Flash. “Note to self: you idiot. Never talk to her again. Do you hear me? Never.”
When all else fails, blame a food product.
Peanut butter. That’s what I blame. Peanut butter.
It’s as good of a culprit as any.
Though, between you and me, despite my finger pointing, it was inevitable that The Neighbor’s fixation on me would spike. I probably could have bought myself a few more months of relative peace, silently side-stepping her, removing reasons for her to become more engrossed with my life … if it hadn’t been for the peanut butter.
Or, rather, salmonella-infested peanut butter.
Or actually, salmonella-infested peanut butter lurking in the shadows of my kitchen cupboard, which despite repeated warnings on the news, I convinced myself wouldn’t really be a problem because I was seriously craving a peanut butter on toast.
The vomiting started at about 7:00 that night. At 7:19, diarrhea. At 7:26, both simultaneously. At 8:17, I realized it was best to just not leave the bathroom. Butt on toilet. Head over bathtub. Waiting for the next round. Crying lots.
At about 9:03—mid-vomit—I realized that The Neighbor could likely hear my ruckus through her side of the wall. The explosions. The flushing toilet. The running shower. After months of keeping a low profile, I was suddenly hard to ignore. I worried that she’d leverage it against me. At the least, I feared her saying, “See? You’re just as noisy as I am. Stop being so sensitive.” At worst, something similar to the death threats interspersed in her screams.
And when I say, “screams,” it’s not doing justice with describing how disturbing her wailing had become. In our two years as neighbors, her outbursts sounded less human and more like a howling, rabid animal. Which then turned into turbulent sobbing. Which escalated to an angry, one-sided, hysterical argument. A rage that I didn’t want turned onto me.
PS - it's impossible to puke quietly.
So I tried to puke quietly. I mean, I really, really tried.
Shortly after 10:00, just as I started panicking over being so violently ill--When would it stop? Was I dehydrated? What idiot knowingly eats high-risk peanut butter?—The Neighbor started yelling. The rage-filled hysterical sobbing flavor. Her screams punctured my worries, adding new ones.
Dear god, what is she doing over there?
After a few more hours passed, I realized her screaming coincided with my flushing toilet and running shower. It’s like she knows. No. She knows. She totally knows. She’s doing it all on purpose … only to have that thought cut short by another choking, another stomach cramp, where the cycle started again.
It wasn’t exactly start of The Neighbor actively vying for my attention. I’d already clued in that her screaming was for the express purpose of getting me to knock on her door and ask if she was OK. Craving attention, albeit negative. I’d stopped knocking on her door. Hoping the silent treatment would be enough to break her bad habit.
It wasn’t. If anything, that night was the first night of roughly two more years of The Neighbor incessantly doing everything horrible, trying to get my attention.
Shortly after 3:00 a.m., I finally crawled back into bed and fell asleep. Just as I drifted off, one last scream woke me. I was mad as hell. Doesn’t she care that I’m sick? I hissed, just before sleep took me, right as I was deciding to break my resolve to ignore her. Death threats be damned. She needed to shut up. Now.
I didn’t realize The Neighbor had already declared war on me.
And nothing that I was about to say was going to make her stop.