This post has nothing to do with writing. I would have used The Deadly Nightshade, but I already posted there today, so here I am.
My eldest daughter, Danielle (Dee), has repeated a saying she has about me a number of times, “My mom doesn’t just burn bridges, she lays down napalm and then salts the earth.”
And this was never more true than yesterday.
The morning started off like a typical Saturday around here. A laundry list of “to do’s” to be done. On the top of the list? Cleaning up any stuff we hadn’t gotten around to taking to the dump before the roofers put on the new roof at The Cottage, our current renovation project.
What is it about renovation projects, anyway? My pocketbook is screaming bloody murder every time I go near it!
In any case, I was working in the back yard of The Cottage, picking up pieces of lumber, building materials, and no small amount of roofing materials as well, when I looked over and saw the neighbor, Dale, tossing stuff into our yard.
And here is where the napalm and salting the earth started. I demanded to know “what in the hell” he thought he was doing.
He snarled back that he was getting “the shit your roofers left in my yard” out.
Now, here is the moment when I had a choice. And I chose badly. I will freely admit that. I could have defused the situation. I could have said, “I’m sorry, it looks like they left a mess over here too. Here, let me get something for you to throw that in, or would you prefer I come over there and clean it up myself?”
They say hindsight is 20/20. I just think it is a bite-you-on-the-butt kind of bitch.
Yes, he was being a classless jerk by throwing crap over the fence into my yard. And yes, he had also been throwing his beer cans over into my yard prior to this.
That’s pretty much what went through my head and that is exactly how I reacted. Pretty soon we were trading “fuck you” and “alcoholic freak” on my end and “goddammed cunt” and other aspersions as to my reproductive habits (or lack thereof) on his end. And more. It culminated in him inviting me over to his side of the fence to “settle this” and me suggesting I would bring the 2×4 in hand and knock him “up side his head.”
Although I was 20 feet away, he ran like hell for his house. I do tend to get the crazy eyes, so I can’t blame him. I would have backed away too. He yelled something about assault and disappeared inside.
By now, if the entire neighborhood hadn’t heard us, I cannot imagine how they had missed it.
My husband asked if he should call the police. “Are you kidding me?” I said, “I’m sure he’s already called them.”
It was time to drop my youngest off at music class, so I left with her, my heart still racing and my adrenaline pumping. By the time I returned, there were two police officers on the scene.
My husband had spoken to them, and explained the issue, offering to come clean up the yard. Dale was busy trying to get me arrested for assault, and I walked into The Cottage to try and figure out what would happen next. I knew I hadn’t assaulted him, and he had begun the confrontation, so I figured we would both be told “Cut that shit out,” by the police. They weren’t interested in taking sides.
Inside was Jay, my contractor, who is a friend of a friend, and pretty much an awesome human being in a lot of different ways. Jay shoots straight, something I appreciate deeply. In the few short weeks we have worked together, I have come to consider her a friend. Each day we sit down and eat lunch together and share stories. I hope we will continue to be friends long after The Cottage/Money Pit is done and behind us. Jay and her wife, from the moment I met them, struck a common chord with me. I talk sometimes about how Dave and I collect folks – cool, smart, funny, awesome people – and Jay and Michelle definitely qualify in all of those categories.
And so I listened when she turned to me and said without any mincing of words, “You need to go and tell him you are sorry and you need to do it right now. That roofing material was in his yard. You handled it wrong and you know it. If you want to have a business here, then you need to start acting like you are in business and apologize to him right now. This is not going to get better until you change how you react to him.”
And damn but that was a VERY hard thing to hear. And at that moment it also felt like such an impossible thing. Apologize? To that shitty old man? After he had thrown stuff in my yard?
But she was right. And I knew it. Whether it had been the roofers or not, stuff with nails had gotten into his yard. Did he handle it right? No. But that didn’t give me license to be an asshole back.
I walked back out of The Cottage. By now, the cops, my husband and Dale were all standing in the back yard. The cops were noticing Dale’s beer cans on both sides of the fence. I did the best I could to apologize. And honestly? I’m pretty sure I did a rather crappy job at it.
But her words wouldn’t leave my head. They still haven’t over 24 hours later. “You need to change how you react to him.”
We talked about it at lunch that day, long after the cops had left. “You need to say ‘Hi Dale’ and ‘Good morning, Dale’ to him. He’s scared, he’s lonely, and he’s medicating his problems with alcohol. You need to learn to not say exactly what is on your mind. You are in business, you need to lie a little to keep the peace.”
Those weren’t her exact words. But they are close.
Her words, especially about him being lonely and scared, those hit me the hardest. I had to leave the room for a moment, because I remember being that – lonely and scared – for a lot of years of my life. People don’t see that when they look at me now. They see smiles, grins, scrappiness, friendliness (hopefully), and a genuine willingness to be a friend. That’s who I am now. But I wasn’t always that way. And hearing that someone else was stuck there in that lonely and scared cycle, it hurt, and I realized that I had to change. Jay reminded me that his aggressive behavior, his acting out, these are all symptoms of something else. Anger is a secondary emotion to fear and hurt.
And I have thought and thought and thought about her words and about how he must feel.
As I moved bricks and pulled weeds today, I thought about what she said. I sat there in the front yard of The Cottage and dreaded him coming out. Because I knew that when he did, I would have to turn to him and say, “Hi Dale.”
And I know what his response will be for now, and probably the next dozen encounters. “Fuck you, bitch.”
He didn’t come out. Which made it harder still. Because I’ve run through the scenarios – I could explain the situation to him, that I want to start a business, that I want him to just leave us alone, or that he needs to come to terms with the new reality of people right next to him.
But Jay’s words keep flitting through my head. And I know that I need to a) keep it simple, b) say little or less than I normally do, and c) be civil no matter his behavior.
And ‘c’ is really difficult, a bitter pill I’m staring at and trying to figure out how to swallow.
I am not sure how I’m going to do it. I’ve survived for 46 years using the napalm and salt method. I won’t say that it has worked particularly well for me, but it is what I know. It is the thing I jump to, the flaming sword I attack my attackers with. It isn’t easy to walk away from something like that.
Dale Ott and I will never be BFFs. But I hope that we can at least, at some time in the future, at least hope for more cordial relations. As The Cottage blossoms under our renovations, and the yard is cleared, I hope that I will be able to say “Hi Dale” and not worry about him trying to sabotage our B&B venture. And if I can manage to do that, then I think I can finally turn away from the napalm and the salt.
Life would sure be more peaceful that way.