When I awoke this morning, I immediately started to think about one of my neighbors. Instead of how I wanted to spend my day or what to cook for breakfast or if I needed to run to the store for last minute Christmas shopping, my thoughts immediately honed in on the crusty guy who lives on the adjoining property. Think that’s a bit strange? I do, too. Why would I think about that guy? He’s really the last person on earth that I’d like to spend any time thinking about. Who is he, anyway? He’s a guy that shares a fence with us. What’s his name? No idea. Why am I wasting precious brain cells thinking about him first thing in the morning? He doesn’t like me. How do I know this? Every single time I walk my dog past his home and he’s standing outside, he stares at me and scowls. That’s his response if I walk by and wave or walk by and say ‘hello’ or walk by and smile. He looks at me with utter disgust. I just don’t understand it. What did I do? I must have done something to elicit that kind of response. People you don’t even know cannot simply dislike you for no reason whatsoever, can they?
I must have done something wrong. But I’ve been thinking about it for days and I cannot figure out what I did. And then I remembered that he’s not the only neighbor that reacts that way when I walk by, two other men that live within a half block of my house also look at me like I have 3 heads. What is that all about? I try to be a good neighbor. I try to be kind and greet people and wave and/or smile so they feel welcome in the neighborhood. I sometimes give my neighbors jam or fresh fruit or vegetables just because it’s the ‘neighborly’ thing to do. I return their packages to them if the mail carrier delivers them to me my mistake. I don’t blast my radio or beat my dog or do anything to draw their ire. I don’t drive by their house and then hit the brakes and do donuts on the asphalt or in the snow. I don’t turn them in when their dog stands by the fence all day and continuously barks. But maybe they’re upset that I didn’t show up at their doorstep with a welcome basket or an apple pie when they first moved in? Or maybe they’re ticked off because I never invited them over for supper? Or maybe they don’t like the leggings I wear with unusual patterns?
I have no idea! And it’s driving me bonkers! I cannot stand it when people don’t like me! Why, why?! I try so hard to be a good person. I try to make people smile when they’re down. I try to be polite and agreeable. Well, let me tell you. I think I’ve figured it out. I have really had to go ‘deep’ to get any clarity on this subject matter today. I think it all boils down to rejection. That’s a word that none of us really like. Rejection hurts like Hell. It makes us question our worth and our abilities and even our own existence sometimes. And when I think about when I was a kid and the relationships I had or didn’t have with people, it sort of makes sense that it still is a significant burr in my craw. When I was a kid, aside from the 3 years when my alcoholic, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, kleptomaniac grandma came to live with us (under duress) and shared a room with me, I have spent no other holidays with any of my grandparents. Even the ones that lived in the same state never invited us over or came to our home over the holidays, let alone for birthdays or any other noteworthy days. There weren’t even phone calls or cards. It’s as if we didn’t exist.
Once I grew up and got married, the same ‘theme’ continued. My in-laws rejected me, too. I wish I could say I dreamed it up, but you know when someone doesn’t like you. You know. When my husband’s father and stepmother didn’t come to our wedding, that was a pretty clear sign. And things never really improved from there. And even though his mother came to our wedding, it was beyond apparent from that day forward that we were never going to be ‘friends’. One of the major reasons we ended up moving to a new state 6 years ago was because I couldn’t stand living with the rejection from my husband’s parents any longer. We lived in the same city as them for 20 years. And during the last 13 years we lived there, we were within a block of each other. I could literally walk out our front door and be at their house in under 4 minutes. But after a point, you can only take so much, especially when it feels like it’s getting crammed down your throat. My husband’s stepmother made no effort to hide her dislike for me, she was so icy that whenever she was in a room, it felt like the temperature dropped 10 degrees.
And as I mentioned earlier, apparently some of the neighbors feel the same way. What is it that I am or am not doing? Do I have three heads? I just looked in the mirror and I only detected one. Am I annoying? Do I smell? Do I try too hard? Do I come off as pretentious? Do I talk too loud? Am I a bad person? Do they know me better than I know myself? Is it my demeanor? Can they see the ‘darkness’ that hides within me? Or maybe it’s something else altogether? I am at a loss. But when I think about it, if I’m being honest, I don’t like everyone single person in this world. In fact, there are plenty of people I don’t like. And there’s a couple that comes to mind that has always rubbed me wrong. They appear kind and caring and never say anything to indicate otherwise. But after one interaction, I immediately disliked them. What did they do that was so terrible? They’re moochers. Nearly every day that I worked at my last job, they would show up just after noon when the seniors were eating lunch and help themselves to all of the ‘free’ stuff.
It didn’t matter whether it was cookies, coffee, candy, canned goods, fresh flowers or produce, when those two entered the building, they always made a beeline for the ‘free’ stuff (which was intended for the senior citizens). We had a box for people to place donated phones into as a fundraiser for our organization and the husband had no problem rifling through it and taking whatever he wanted. If the staff had a private party in a room, which usually included pizza or sandwiches and drinks, the husband would inevitably pop his head in the door to see if he could get his mitts on some of the refreshments. Each time they came, they would literally walk the entire building and you could watch their heads continually swivel as they searched for ‘all things free’. Why did it bother me so much? I guess part of it was because all they ever did was take, take, take. I never once saw them give anything, even though they should have at least been donating 50 cents each time they helped themselves to a cup of coffee. And they weren’t even members. They couldn’t even be bothered to pay the minimal membership fee.
Ack! Why do they make my blood boil? I have thought about this a lot! And the only thing I can ascertain that makes any sense at all is that I recognize myself in them. I recognize that little girl that didn’t mind scrounging through the dumpster at the Frito-Lay warehouse and helping myself to expired snacks. I recognize the kid that would trick-or-treat until well past midnight, walking block after block after block and watching for homes that still had their porch lights on, filling my pillowcase until the stitching nearly came undone. I am familiar with ‘the swivel’, that thing one does when looking for bargains because paying full price for anything has never really been an option. I’ve grabbed a generous handful of candy from a candy dish when someone’s said, “Help yourself.” How am I any different? Am I any different? Yes, I think I am. I carry around ‘shame’. The difference between us is that once I’ve done something, like taking a handful of candy rather than one or two pieces, especially when someone remarks about it afterward, I become ashamed and never do it again. This couple has no shame.
And it bothers me! It bothers me so much that I can hardly stand the sight of them! And why do I care? Why do I care that they have no shame? They have no relevance to my life. In the scheme of things, they don’t matter. “You don’t know their story,” my husband told me one day. I don’t know their story. And it’s one more thing I’ve got to get over. Getting upset over moochers is downright silly. They might be mooching off everyone else, but they’re not mooching off me. They tried to one time but I actually put the kibosh on it. I had harvested a huge bin of Roma tomatoes from my garden and brought them to work for the seniors to enjoy. And within seconds of setting the bin down, guess who showed up? “He’s not helping himself to my damn tomatoes!” I thought to myself as I grabbed the bin and whisked it away and out of sight. I know, I know. It seems so petty. But I did it. I admit it. But my thought is he can grow his own damn tomatoes if he wants them that bad. I brought them for the seniors that scarcely have enough to eat, not for him.
Is that why my neighbors and in-laws and plenty of other people don’t like me either? Can they see the inner ‘mooch’ that resides just below the surface? What is it exactly? I don’t know that I’ll ever have the answer. And that’s a tough pill to swallow. My husband always tells me that I cannot control how these people react to me, but I can control the way I react to them. “When the neighbor stands and scowls at you, smile real big and say ‘hello'”, he tells me. “Why on earth would I do that? I tried to do that and I get nothing in return.” “Because that’s what you do,” he’ll tell me. “Even if they choose not to engage, you just be you.” How did I marry such a ‘wise’ guy? It’s true. I cannot control how they respond to me but I shouldn’t start hanging my head and feeling bad as I approach their homes, or avoid walking past their homes altogether, because they never smile back or wave or say ‘hello’ in return. If they want to be grumpy or crusty or nasty, I say let them! If that’s how they want to live their lives, that’s their decision. But I’m going to give them a run for their money.
I sense a challenge! And I’m going to see if I can break through the crustiness and maybe improve relations in my neighborhood. If it doesn’t happen, I guess it doesn’t happen, but I’m still going to try. And while I’m at it, I’m going to work on making peace with the ‘Moochers’. Since I haven’t been able to achieve it through introspection, I suspect it’s going to take ‘digging deep’ with the help of my talented therapist. Before that can happen, I’ve got to get the insurance issues straightened out and that’s going to take a few phone calls and possibly a Christmas miracle. But it’s nearly Christmas and miracles can happen. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to get on the phone and see what I’m able to do. For the time being, I’m getting some rest. I wish you joy and peace and a neighborhood devoid of grumpy, crusty and/or nasty neighbors.