It wasn’t the chicken coop inside city limits that set me off. It wasn’t that they’d dump all their shit on our lawn instead of their own for pick up on big trash day. And it wasn’t that they’d let their dogs out loose on the front lawn every morning, which always led to the same frantic antics and shouting, all because they didn’t want to bother with a leash.
I can still see that oversized pug waddling outside, gasping and snorting, blindly wandering into the street as my neighbor screeched and cackled in her high-pitched, grating voice (think Granny on Beverly Hillbillies):
“Chadwick, come back here! You’re going to get run over by a car!” followed by more shrieks and drama.
And if it wasn’t Chaddy, it was Clyde, their Boston terrier.
“Clyde, come here now! Clyde! Clyddeee!”
Every. Damn. Morning.
It wasn’t even the infernal 4 a.m. rooster cock-a-doodle-dooing that did me in. It was my kid who finally tripped the trigger.
Yes, my own kid.
I could stomach most of the nonsense because I’d convinced myself they were nice next-door neighbors. Thing is, over the years, I’ve learned that if “nice” leaves my lips, it almost certainly means the opposite. If I can’t find a better description, something is lacking. Instead of calling it what it is, I insert “nice.” And it’s the nice people who are never really all that nice.
It was my kid’s wails from the backyard that finally unlocked something buried inside me. How I’d ignored it so long, I’m not quite sure.
By all rights, I should have become unhinged a few years earlier when my nice, next-door neighbors let their 180-pound Rottweiler loose when my 5-year-old child was playing in the front yard with her little cousin. Not by accident, mind you, but on purpose and just for the grins. My neighbor, whom I’ll call “Jethro,” thought it was hysterical when his menacing dog scared the bejesus out of the girls as they ran, screaming and crying.
Or I should have gone mad when my neighbors fired up their chiminea during a summer drought with a month-long burn ban in effect while 35-mile per hour winds were whipping between our snug old houses.
But I didn’t. Whatever idiotic thing they did, I channeled nice Nancy and asked them if they wouldn’t “mind” snuffing out the fire or keeping their Rottweiler fenced.
What finally did me in seems small now. Their horde of chickens were like crazed invaders, always scratching and pecking under the chain-link fence between our backyards. But one day, as the holes got bigger, it was the squeals of my daughter, worried our two little hound dogs would get out, dart into the street and be run over, that awakened me.
It was the moment the planets aligned. The pin was pulled from the grenade. It was the split second I stopped stuffing everything inside.
I left my mind and my body and what showed up on my neighbor’s doorstep was not nice neighbor Nancy but Baba Yaga, emerging from her house made of bones and children’s teeth, with a burning skull torch in hand. Baba Yaga, also known as wild woman, is described by folklorist Clarissa Pinkola Estes as female liberation in the flesh.
And liberate myself I did. I didn’t knock, I banged, hard. And before they could even open their screen door, Baba Yaga unloaded a full cannon shot of f-bombs and creative combinations of words that nice Nancy had never uttered before, chaining one vitriolic epithet to the next. Four, five and six letter words, gerunds and names of body parts were volleyed like cluster bombs. Years of pent-up anger and frustration were unleashed in a tirade that was likely nonsensical to anyone but me.
Just like that it was over. And it didn’t really matter if I made sense. They got the message. They stood there stunned, speechless, eyes as wide as their chicken’s eggs. Nice neighbor Nancy was no more. Nasty neighbor Nancy had finally arrived, fully formed.
Did I look like a crazy woman that night? Absolutely. Did it feel good to unleash all that fury? Yup. Terrifyingly good to lose the nice neighbor routine, find my voice and speak my truth. Did it forever change my relationship with my neighbors? Undoubtedly.
We never spoke again except to discuss the details of constructing a privacy “wall” between us – a barrier the likes of which even Donald Trump would have envied.