It was windy today.
I leave the front door ajar for Butters so that she can exit and enter when she needs to. It opened and closed with each gust and outdoor furniture slapped and thudded against the porch.
Butters is not brave, but what she lacks in courage she makes up for with volume. Startled barks peppered the morning and when startled turned to alarmed, I would go to the door and check that it was in fact just the wind.
I don’t always assume she’s barking at nothing – and try not to get frustrated at the nine out of ten times that she is.
After all, she’s guarding her territory. And, in turn, us.
No one needs to know she’s all bark and no bite. It’s comforting that she is on duty, albeit, over zealously most of the time.
One such zealous bark had me looking out the front door and that’s when I noticed the man in the road.
He sat past the nearest cross street – his legs out in front of him, in the dirt.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first glance. A jogger resting? No.
He looked like he was injured – perhaps wincing. His hand on one leg, his head moving back and forth.
Then I noticed a pattern to his movements and the repetitive motions made it clear he was having some sort of a seizure.
I called out to Nic – to come with me to see what was the matter. Then decided the man needed help quickly – threw my flip-flops on and headed out the door.
I went through my gate, shut it and started toward the man.
As I passed by my neighbor’s house, I noticed that two men were outside working on their cars.
How are they not seeing this?
I continued past them and called out “Are you okay?”
As I got closer – a voice from behind me “Be careful.”
I turned to see one of the men looking toward me.
“He needs help …” I kept moving forward.
“That’s his brother.” The speaker thumbed in the direction of the other man.
Why are they not helping him??
I came closer to the man in the road. Noticed the spittle and drool on his chin, his denim shorts caked in dust, a sheen of sweat on his contorted face.
“Are you alright?”
I saw his eyes – wild and unfocused.
“He’s got mental issues.” A different voice.
“Well, he seems to be having medical ones right now – is he having a seizure? What can I do??”
The first speaker suggested ice water, and both men now had phones in their hands.
I assumed one of the men was my neighbor, but didn’t know which. I really only hear him, when he’s yelling at the children.
I don’t see much of the people living next to me.
Regardless of who was who, it appeared they were calling for help, so I turned to head back to my house for ice water.
I found a cup I didn’t mind not getting back, filled Nic in on what was happening and headed back out the door.
I saw now that the man was no longer in the road and felt a little better.
Until I reached my neighbor’s house and saw what must have been the brother (my neighbor – the puzzle pieces were fitting now) yelling at him.
The man who was no longer in the road, still looked awful. Shaky on his feet and eyes still wild.
I didn’t understand why this was a good time to yell at him.
I held out the water and it was taken. I can’t recall who reached for it, but it ended up in the right hands.
“He needs help, not reprimanding!”
“He has mental problems.”
Again with this!
“Regardless of any mental problems, he clearly needs help!”
“Go back inside your house lady.”
It wasn’t said with any room for debate. My racing heart and hot body suddenly felt chilled. I had been dismissed and I was not to continue questioning or inserting my opinion.
Having had a past with these particular neighbors, and knowing what they’re capable of, I once more headed back to my house.
As I walked away, the man who was in the road said to me “I’m sorry … I’m sorry.”
The walk back was uncomfortable, surreal and daunting.
I felt like a child who had awoken to fighting in the house – seen someone they cared for being hurt, only to be commanded back to bed by the aggressor.
Some time later, Butters started barking again. This time at my back door.
I peered out to see only a hand and the cup I had taken over earlier.
I told Nic to hold Butters and slipped outside.
It was the woman who lives in the house.
The one who yells at her children almost every night:
“GO TO FUCKING SLEEP!!”
The lullaby of dysfunction.
The one who told her children that daddy was trying to kill mommy – and then brought them back in the house.
The one who said she was leaving when she could, and never did.
As time has passed, I notice that she is an instigator in the chaos.
I am not saying she’s ‘asking’ for any of it – I just notice (from my couch, yes, she’s that loud) that she does the majority of the screaming and yelling.
So she’s standing on my back porch with the cup and for some insane reason, explains to me what had happened.
The man in the road had been staying with them for four months while he sobered up.
She explained with feigned ignorance of the topic “He does those rocks, you know, the ones you crush and smoke?”
Just say CRACK woman! I see your teeth, I know you know what it is!
He relapsed apparently and what I thought was a seizure was – but of a drug induced kind.
“We were trying to get him sober.”
“You know you can’t get someone sober? He’s going to have to want that for himself.”
I suggested a local mental health location in our town as a possible resource for her.
The whole time I stood there – holding my cup that now had crack saliva on it – and hating her. Hating her for having that man in an already horrible environment around her children.
“You should be careful – having him around your children.”
Oh God. I said that out loud.
She nodded at me – much like she did when I offered my home as refuge in the past. But I knew she wasn’t really listening to me.
I said I hoped things would be okay – and I meant it. She went down the steps and disappeared.
I tell you this knowing my house is made of glass. I share my anger because I can, I have already been in their shoes.
My past is not perfect.
The difference is, I made a choice to change.
Even after I learned that the man in the road was there due to drugs, I hoped he would find help.
Even after I hear the woman screaming at her children, I tell myself “She’s lashing out at them because she is unhappy and feels powerless.”
Even when I hear her partner being violent in the house, I think “What horror must he have come from to end up so angry?”
Nic and I had to leave the house to visit my parents shortly after the woman left.
I was uncomfortable leaving as there were repercussions the last time I spoke to her.
I decided they wouldn’t try anything in daylight and Butters could be trusted to deter anyone from entering the yard.
(I’ll admit, I fear for her too though. Who knows what they are capable of.)
In the car, we spoke of what happened.
“People like that should be wiped off the planet.”
“Nic, people can change … there’s a reason for their behavior. They were once children perhaps in that same environment. Besides, I’ve done drugs. I drank. And I changed. I chose good. “
I love that he knows this. I love that we can talk about anything. No skeletons in our closets.
“But you always had that in you.”
“Are you saying you think they’re inherently bad? Do you believe there are some people just born evil?”
I hope not.
But I just don’t know.
My favorite quote by W.H. Auden comes to mind once again: