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July 29, 2006

Neighbors

My backyard is long but narrow and butts right up against the back neighbor's yard, who lives one street over. This entire area is called Encino Park, and it's a warren of tree-lined streets set out in a grid, each filled to capacity with post-war homes, two-bedroom, one bath stucco houses with old crank-style windows. A lot of people ask my why on earth I want to live here, all these families, and the house is so old that I had to sign some sort of legal document when I moved in assuring the landlord and anyone else that I wouldn't eat the paint, which is apparently made of pure lead, so toxic it's a wonder all babies born to returning soldiers didn't have three heads and a glow-in-the dark disposition.

But this neighborhood reminds me of a smalltown place, one I might have lived in as a child, not the newer, bigger houses built in planned communities on the edge of town with names like "Sunnyside" and "Manor Glen," but the older part of town with houses built for families who worked "down at the plant" or the dairy or tannery or whatever else passed for industry in the South during the '60s and '70s.

The houses are small and you can see into your neighbor's kitchen as you look out the window while brushing your teeth in your own bathroom each morning. But because we live in a big and crowded city, or maybe because it's just the way folks in general have adapted to living so close to each other, we all pretend we don't see or hear the things that go on in our neighbors' homes.

Someone in the house behind mine is yelling.

She yells a lot, actually, I never make out all the words, and I'm glad, just her tone makes me on edge and I know she's inside her house and maybe the doors and windows are shut tight but I can hear her anyway.

Sometimes she's yelling at a man, and that usually ends with a door slamming and a car peeling out of the driveway, often so loud it sets off someone's car alarm nearby.

Sometimes she's hollering at a kid, and sometimes the kid cries or hollers back.

I guess I'm lucky because my father was never a yeller, he is a quiet man, so I don't know where my own volume comes from but let me tell you, there was a night when me and my husband (ex-husband) were living in that big house in North Hollywood that we couldn't afford, right after the dot-bomb and I was anxious and looking for work and I had found some things a wife does not ever intend to discover about her betrothed, and I let loose in a fairly good imitation of a wild banshee.

Oh, it's in there all right. I've often said that us Southern women are just Mack trucks disguised as powderpuffs.

I don't like feeling untethered, unglued, ready to pull tight and snap like a savage. I hear this woman yelling and I know she's right there, or maybe I'm just imagining it because I'm not from a yelling family so when it comes out loud and hard you suspect there is a nervous breakdown just under the surface, and maybe the bodies will end up stored in the fridge between the cold cokes and the glazed ham for dinner.

So anyway, she yells a lot. And she's doing it right now, carrying on and pitching a hissy and I feel terrible for her children but I also wonder what on earth brings us to such a place where that's the last resort, the only way to be heard, the sheer frustration in her voice makes me remember every single time I myself have felt that way, the stress or heat or pure futility of a thing.

I read an article last week that talks about how we save our worst behavior for our spouses or loved ones, treating them with less compassion and kindness than we would our assistant, or our co-workers. I vow to never do that, think maybe that was one of the contributing factors in the downfall of my marriage, I don't know, I never will know. But if my neighbors ever overhear me making noise, I want them to be hearing my laugh or my friends cutting up or middle-of-the-night sounds, and never, ever the yelling.

After all, no one wants to be wound that tight, no one wants to wonder what's packed in foil between the cold cokes and the glazed ham.

Posted by laurie at July 29, 2006 7:19 PM