Put in My Place
This past Tuesday I woke up to International Women’s Day feeling excited. I practiced mindfulness as I went throughout my morning routine, which was especially busy that day. I ran to various stores, banks, and dropoffs. I wanted to get done with my work and then go for a short run, listening to all my favorite female artists on my playlist in honor of the day.
As I got home from picking up my son from school, running milk and water into the house and grabbing bikes to take to the shop while my boys waited in their carseats, I noticed that Tim was at my next door neighbor’s house. Tim is a neighbor from one street over, characterized by his intensity. He once found my lost keys and walked around the entire neighborhood for an hour until he found me and returned them to me. He also takes it upon himself to inform all the residents in our area of their alleged infractions of HOA rules.
In fact, just a few days before he had yelled over his fence that we weren’t allowed to play in the parking lot while my son learned to ride his bike. My husband and I argued with him for a few minutes, tried to leave several times, and resolved to ignore him from then on at all costs. This was mostly because he asked for our address in a menacing way, prompting me to immediately sit up and take notice of the implicit threat in his voice. I told my husband that I did not feel safe around him after seeing him come after us so aggressively.
Growing up in abuse has made it so I can see abuse coming from a mile away. I usually go with my gut when I choose not to trust someone. I take careful inventory of if I feel threatened, belittled, or treated as “lesser-than”. I joke sometimes that I grew up with master manipulators, and I am unimpressed with the efforts of some people that I meet by comparison. My neighbor Tim set off this alarm in me that day.
So here I am, a few days later, trying my best to avoid him, and finding him almost on my doorstep, literally. I was standing in my driveway, loading bikes onto the rack, trying to avoid talking to him. However, Tim saw me and immediately came up and started yelling. Now that he knew where I lived, he remembered the time he had brought me my keys.
He verbally attacked me for arguing with him, for not being nicer to him because of the keys incident, called me confrontational, said he was glad he knew where I lived now. Because he’s the kind of person who talks over people and doesn’t listen, I already knew I didn’t stand a chance trying to reason with him again, or trying to engage him at all. He was right about everything, and he knew it. From the moment he stepped onto my driveway and into my personal space, my alarm went off full throttle. I started shaking, but kept my head and repeated these words to him, forcefully, over and over: “I don’t want to talk to you”, “Get off my property”, “Stop talking to me”, and “Leave me alone”.
He spent ten minutes ignoring my request for bodily safety. He felt entitled to threaten me with his words and his proximity. He told me what to do, and how, and without a trace of irony told me how confrontational I am. He finally stepped away from me as I didn’t back down. I kept shaking and got into my car as he bemoaned to my next door neighbor how awful I was. I dropped off my bikes at the shop, called the HOA to lodge a complaint, and then called my husband.
As the shock wore off, I realized that I had been harmed in a way that warranted police intervention.* I deserve to live in my house without fear of verbal attacks, or eventual physical assault (which I’m sure could happen if I talk to this man again). In fact, I owe that to my sex to stand up for myself. So I did. I have healed enough in my life to know what I deserve, and to take it.
On International Women’s Day, I honored myself as a person deserving respect. I took action when I was put in my place by Tim, declaring to humanity everywhere: “No, I will not cower to this controlling man. I will defend myself and not apologize for it. I know what is right, and I will boldly stand up for myself.”
I am a woman who has worked too long and hard to cower to old, sexist, aggressive neighbors. But I am a big enough person to see him for the way he is, and let it be. The greatest experience I could have had for IWD was the reminder of how some people see me. I feel closer to women all over the world because if it. And I feel stronger in my sense of self.
*I did call the police, and he was served with a trespass warning. I haven’t seen him since.