When we were on the hunt for a house in our new city, one of the items high up on my wish list was a front porch. I’ve never lived in a house with a “real” front porch, and the notion was deeply appealing. The idea of relaxing outside with my husband on a warm summer evening, chatting and sipping iced tea as quiet participants in the life and sounds of a neighbourhood – birds chirping, children playing, soft laughter in the distance – felt so homey and comfortable and, somehow, right.
Our budget and preferences guided our search for a new home toward century-old, character-filled houses in long-established neighourhoods, and we soon discovered that front porches seemed to be the architectural norm rather than the exception. The house we ended up purchasing ticked almost every box on our wish list, including, happily, the all-important front porch.
Another childhood dream come true.
We moved in at the end of October, so the porch was largely neglected for the winter months, but as the weather began to warm it beckoned, reminding us of our wishes. We purchased a small patio set – two chairs and a table – and ventured outside for the first time to take our place as part of our new community, our small slice of the city.
The first few evening visits were truly delightful. The air was warm and the breeze was soft; fellow relaxers on their own front porches greeted us with smiles and pleasantries; birds chirped and children played and soft laughter was heard in the distance. It felt as though another of my wishes had been granted, that I had once again been blessed with a gift that brought unspeakable joy and contentment to my life.
Then the illusion was shattered with an unforeseen, distinctly unpleasant feature that had most definitely not been found anywhere on the wish list for our house of dreams.
We’d had an inkling right from the start that all wasn’t well in the world of the neighbours living immediately next to ours, in a house close enough to touch. I remember sitting on our front porch back in November, working through the moving company’s checklist as the movers hauled our possessions into our new home, all the while trying not to listen to the woman of the house next door yelling at one of her family members. It took a bit of the shine off the excitement of our new life, but I quickly dismissed it, reminding myself that we all have bad days and this was probably just one of hers.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t see any of our neighbours all that often as we settled into our new home throughout the winter months, but as warmer weather arrived they began to emerge from their homes to work on their yards, to enjoy the sunshine, to fire up their barbecues. Much to our dismay, the increased time outdoors gave us further insights into the misery of our next-door neighbours.
Likely motivated by an early, unseasonable warm spell in March, they set up a trampoline for their two boys in their backyard – arguing and swearing at each other throughout the entire process, their voices carrying throughout the neighbourhood. Their gorgeous lilac bush responded to the early springlike weather and burst into bloom; she went outside to pluck a few of the fragrant blossoms, all the while screaming at her kids inside the house. He grilled food on their deck, the tantalizing aroma overshadowed by their bickering back and forth through the open sliding glass doors.
Any time our neighbours are outside they are yelling at each other, which usually escalates into swearing, putdowns, and insults. In fact, they’re doing it as I write this, shattering the peace of a holiday Monday. The kids yell and swear at each other, at their parents, at the dogs; the parents yell and swear at each other, at their kids, at the dogs. Even the two dogs, no doubt motivated by an atmosphere of anger and hatred, spend most of their time howling and baying mournfully in the backyard (though why they’d want to get back into that house is beyond me).
There’s not, to the best of our knowledge, any physical violence taking place (and I suspect we’d know all too soon if there was – there’s not a lot of privacy in these narrow city lots with houses so close together). It just seems as though they are a very unhappy, discontented family for whom communicating in anger has become standard, and they’re not remotely concerned as to the effect their behaviour might have on those in the houses around them.
I know that it’s none of my business – that what people do and how they behave in the privacy of their own homes is up to them and not my concern. But you can’t build soundproof walls between backyards, and you can’t stop yelling from slamming through open windows and reaching your ears, no matter how hard you try.
And last night was the worst.
My husband and I were sitting outside in the warm twilight, he sipping his coffee and me musing about the things I want to add to our front porch – planters for herbs and flowers, some windchimes, maybe a bubbling water fountain. Our neighbours’ front windows were open, no doubt in the hopes of ushering a cool breeze into their non-air-conditioned home, which meant that we could hear every single word of their ongoing exchange which included the usual fighting, swearing, insults, and yelling.
And it was ugly. Really, really ugly.
We stayed outside as long as we could. I vainly continued my upbeat chatter, trying to drown the sounds and calm our rising tension, but it was just too much. After several minutes of our neighbours’ non-stop misery invading our space and lives, my husband finally muttered, “That’s it – I’m done,” pushed back his chair, and went into the house. I followed sadly, my front porch dreams shattered by something completely and utterly beyond my control.
I am trying to understand, trying to have compassion for a house full of people who are obviously very, very unhappy with their lives. I am trying to temper the gratitude I have for the blessings in my own life with the realization that not everyone feels so fortunate. I am trying to remind myself that life isn’t perfect, that I have so much and that it really doesn’t matter if the front porch dream is proving to be a nightmare.
I am trying to figure out what I can learn from this.
But at the same time I am frustrated, and angry, and deeply disappointed. And I am truly at a loss as to what to do. Talking to our neighbours about this is out of the question, so short of relaxing on our porch in the middle of the night, or hoping they leave for an extended summer vacation, I just don’t see how we will be able to take back our dream and reclaim that sweet enjoyment we experienced those first few spring evenings.