Two feet beyond my backyard fence, a solitary man lives in an old trailer. On Friday morning, he shouted obscenities at the top of his lungs (which, I assure you, are large) at the car he was working on, a person passing on the street, and finally, at the Great Danes across the street from the front of my house who began to bark at the racket he was making. When this man heard the dogs barking, he directed his four letter words toward them. The owner of these dogs, already anxious about quieting them at 8:00 a.m., became distraught and directed her threats towards her dogs. Interspersed, I heard her ask her partner, “Who is that? Who is that yelling?”
The woman across the street escalated with her barking dogs and the shouting continued from behind me. Now, the woman and her partner also argued about the dogs, their own relationship, and the whereabouts and why of the voice accusing them. I quietly lay down my pruning shears in the sanctuary garden where I had been cutting overgrowth and slipped through the gate to my front yard.
I tried to catch my woman neighbor’s eye, but now the conflict had bubbled over to the single father neighbor beside her who brought to the conflict another unrelated topic: why did mothers think they were incapable of causing harm to children just because they bore them? More four letter words flying. The neighbor behind my yard sped off in his car with engine roaring.
Another neighbor emerged from her house. “I’m pretending I want to talk to you about gardening, but I really want to tell you that I just called the police about that man behind you. He has a real anger problem… often.”
“Yes,” I told her. And again, I tried to interrupt the conversation across the street to tell the woman about the source of the yelling. Still I could not catch her eye.
“You talk to her?” my neighbor asked.
“Yes,” I said. “She has a soft side, too.”
“I feel sad for those dogs,” my neighbor said, frowning. Then she turned to me. “You’re a good neighbor,” she said. “You have brought people into our neighborhood dynamic that never entered it before you opened your doors and your garden to them. I appreciate that.”
She looked sad, too. I imagine she was longing to feel more connected to the inner workings of our ‘hood. It’s hard to know the full spectrum each person offers unless you live here full time instead of working full time away from home. I imagine she valued that connection as it related to her safety and peace on a Friday morning. I, too, have called the police once when I thought I heard gunshots nearby. I did not like sharing power with the police to protect my safety by force.
I finally caught my neighbor across the street’s attention. “The man who yelled at your dogs yells a lot. He directs his anger toward anything that triggers him remotely and this morning, your dogs caught it. If it hadn’t been your dogs, it would have been something else.”
The woman deflated, visibly. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much for telling me,” she said. “I had no idea. I just got so upset. I didn’t know what to do. Thank you.” All of the neighbors went inside.
On Sunday, when my trailer neighbor went off again, I wasn’t feeling angry or afraid so I brought him some cherries. He doesn’t like cherries, he told me, and after telling me to, “Get the f– out,” and meeting only the care in my eyes, I thought I saw him soften, too. The police cost him, he told me. It hurt.
Even the dark side has its heart.