It shouldn’t bother me that much. I told myself that for fifteen years. I should just let it go. I’ve tried to talk to her, she’s blown me off every time, how much does it really matter, I should just let it go. Let it go.
I was almost good at that, too. For a long time. If only the problem weren’t quite so big and bright in my face every single day.
I tried to think through how it would feel if I got what I wanted–would it have been worth it? The answer was a clear, if I do it in any degree of anger whatsoever on my part or, and this is the hard part, theirs, the answer was definitely no, and so I stalemated myself.
We have an annual block party every Labor Day and it’s a wonderful tradition where everybody gets to know each other. When there was a city issue needing discussion, we widened it to several blocks and found the more really was the merrier.
At last year’s, though, when I tried again, wanting to discuss at least a possible change of placement with M, she cut me off with, “I don’t want to be a bad neighbor” and walked briskly away as if that fixed that.
I recently tried running tape–shipping tape so it would hold–from my side of the fence to the belly of her tall Snoopy perched on the fence shading my peach so the tree could get a little more sunlight. The thing had long since ceased being a fixed object; here, point this way.
Someone yanked my tape off my side of the fence and set it back the way they wanted. Full shade.
After all the… But I knew they didn’t know just where my fruit trees were. Still, I was afraid the whole thing would at long last trip me up on Monday. I needed to finally deal with this, and better I do in time for both sides to think and come to an agreement before we see each other.
Another neighbor had their email. Score. If you loved the Anne of Green Gables books as a kid like I did, one of Anne’s lines stuck with me for life: “Paper is patient.” You can take the time to say what you want to say the way you want to say it without having emotional triggers trip you up. You can more easily be kind even when you’re bugged when nobody’s interrupting and it’s just you writing away.
You can delete, too.
And so I spent several days composing a letter to the Ms. I had to notify them anyway that they had several things sprouting up behind their hedge right against the fence where I could see them and they couldn’t and that they needed to do something about quickly before there was damage.
There was the fig tree on my side a few years earlier that, no matter how much I’d wanted one, I took it out as soon as she requested it; it was only right. It was their fence too. I had a new one now planted in a pot where it couldn’t intrude on anyone, and I thanked her for her common sense and said she had been right.
I rehearsed the story of the Snoopy and Woodstock figurines: how they’d suddenly appeared on top of the then-new fence right outside my living room windows and that for all the years since I had had an ongoing visual reminder that had made me sad for her that she’d felt more afraid of being told no than of the appearance of being rude: she’d asked no permission and allowed no input, even when I’d wanted to ask her to just move them down the fence a bit so as to be out of my direct sight.
One arm of the Snoopy snapped jaggedly years ago, ending its weathervane function.
And then someone on their side lifted it out, turned the broken side to face my windows and not theirs, and shortly after added the bright yellow Woodstock.
We were not strangers; I had been in their home back when we’d discussed the best way to replace our mutual fence and I’d invited them to mine, I knew she knew how to reach me. It was the ongoing struggle not to feel insulted that was the hardest. (I didn’t mention that.)
Over fifteen years those wooden figures continued to disintegrate.
That peach shading went on for as much as an hour and a half in the early afternoon in June–there has been no flowering under that direct shade line. I told them I certainly have no say regarding their trees in their yard and wouldn’t expect to, but on items on a fence that I own too? That, I do. I commit my water towards future fruit and I had a problem.
Now, while I was struggling to figure out how to say any of this in a way that might be kind and that might be heard, in a way that I hoped both they and I could be comfortable with after the fact, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, bless her, wrote a blog post that totally saved me: she wrote about how when she and Joe are upset with each other they work on being extra kind to each other to help work themselves through that, fake it till you make it when you have to, she said.
Sheer genius. And boy had I needed that right then, thank you, Stephanie, and Joe, too. What I had been needing to do, both for the Ms and for me, was something nice, something positive, anything. (Well, duh! Sometimes I can be SO slow.)
The squirrels would have stolen any tomato before I’d even closed the door going back in–and so it was one of my cupcake zucchinis that got plunked up between Snoopy and his sidekick before I ever sent off a word. From my garden; have some!
Then, and only then, did I feel ready to start writing; I had the right attitude I’d been searching for and it was a relief.
I found myself checking again and again in happy anticipation: had they taken it yet? No? Now? After several days, at last they did. Bon appetit!
I wanted them to enjoy their figurines, I said, and I imagine there must be some happy story, some strong connection that’s kept them there all this time and that if I only knew what it was it would have been easier to deal with them; I’d like them to enjoy them on their side now.
Add no no no okay you got that out of your system but that’s way too self-righteous delete that try again okay getting better.
Paper is patient.
Finally tonight I had the right mixture of this is why this has bothered me. This is why it’s more of an issue now. You are someone I can count on to do the right thing, I am glad you’re my neighbors, and if you liked the zucchini please let me know because there are a ton more where that came from and I’d love the help using it up. Etc.
I prayed long and hard before sending it off–and felt no, not quite. I studied it, caught a phrase that wasn’t quite…, prayed again. Very close. What more could I…? Oh, I see it plain as day there, okay, thank you.
After repeating that process several times it finally felt right, really right, and taking a deep breath, hoping hard for the best neighborliness forever, I hit–there’s no going back, ready? You sure? Yes. Send.
I opened the sliding doors and walked outside after dinner to see if my baby fig in its pot needed any water and in the time it took me to check out the growth on the warned-about saplings at the far end of the yard and then over to the fig and back across towards the door, Snoopy and Woodstock vanished.
Only the long metal nails remained.
Y E S !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And I came back in and wrote them a very grateful, Thank you, that was VERY kind of you!
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