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Dreams and disappointment

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.

Miserable neighbours.

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.

It’s depressing.

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.

Your thoughts?

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • sandra tyler May 21, 2012

    Geez. that doesn’t make the front porch experience sound too peaceful! I’ve been obsessed with our front porch as well; we just had old thick bushes ripped out and new landscaping put in so it’s light and airy — and I just bought two rockers from Target which I have yet to put together! (bought two from Home Depot and they were so crappy I returned them so wish me better luck with these two!:)
    sandra tyler recently posted… The Writer’s Post Blog Hop: The Last StrawMy Profile

  • Elaine May 21, 2012

    I don’t really have a suggestion other than to pray for your neighbors, but I can certainly relate to your sadness and disappointment. I feel sad for you and for your neighbors after reading your post (which speaks volumes about your skill as a writer), but yet, a fix for the situation is just not available. What a miserable way for your neighbors to exist, and it’s terribly sad that their misery spills out of their home and yard into the neighborhood. 🙁
    Elaine recently posted… Dusting Products ReviewedMy Profile

  • Lisa May 21, 2012

    Why is talking to the neighbor out of the question…I’d be inclined to clear the air.

  • Jenn May 22, 2012

    Well– I’m afraid if you do speak to your neighbors–they would be inclined to direct their hostilities toward you…I doubt they would change their habits. Perhaps if you recorded their craziness–and then spoke to them? But again–they won’t change much unless they want the change.

    Oh what a way to shatter the front porch dream!! Is there anyway at all to put up enough of a barrier on that end of the porch to drown out some of the noise?? Can you play some music softly or something…anything just to NOT hear them. Sure it might be harder to hear the birds–but I’m guessing I’d rather hear some music than those nasty neighbors.

    Just some thoughts!! Cheers, Jenn
    Jenn recently posted… “Hoping” to “Stir the Pot”…Just a little 🙂My Profile

  • Kathy May 22, 2012

    That is too bad and a little sad. So sorry your front porch dreams are shattered.

    Kathy recently posted… Enzyte: A Happier, Healthier LifestyleMy Profile

  • The Shiny Butter Blog May 22, 2012

    We once had some wacky, to say the least, next-door neighbors- they’d call the police to settle their very vocal disputes- which as at least once a week, they’d leave trash in the yard (including a road-kill deer carcass they once dragged home and left out in the yard right between our houses for the scroungy dogs to eat), and they played very loud music in their cars when driving up to the house in their very loud cars- things like this.

    But in spite of their blatant infringement on our standards of what makes a good neighbor and a nice environment, we grew to like them. Much to our surprise! We are no longer neighbors, but to this day, 15 years later, we still stop and linger and speak warmly about life, the kids, the grandkids, and the times in general when we run into each other in town.

    If I may, I suggest that you visit the neighbors. Take them some banana bread or some token of neighborliness. Offer to “be there” should they ever need something. Make an effort to befriend them, even though they may not “deserve” it. Kindness is always a good first course of action in a situation like this.

    Obviously, they are so stressed for whatever reason (money, jobs, kids, loss of their once romantic fire, middle-aged disappointments, …) that they either haven’t even noticed you next door yet or they have noticed you and they resent your peaceful, stress-free (it appears to them), and maybe kid-free life. (Kids can add an unanticipated level of stress to a couple’s life, no matter how dearly you love them.)

    This family could literally be on the brink of coming apart with each passing day or even moment. Maybe you could step to the other side of their very human, very flawed wall of hurt, disappointment, and anger and make an effort at friendship. It couldn’t hurt and it may help- there may be some happiness in there somewhere. At any rate, it’s better than you seething.

    It may or may not work, but it’s what I’d try first.

    I can truly understand your disappointment because goodness knows, we here in the South love our porches, but yes, sometimes the neighbors do behave less than ideally. I just hope yours melt a little in their intensity.

    Wishing you the best here- I’ll be thinking about you on this.
    The Shiny Butter Blog recently posted… 21 Little-Known Secrets That Only I Will Tell You About Taking Your First CruiseMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      May 24, 2012

      Wise words indeed – thank you so much for sharing your story and advice. I will try to look at it more from their perspective.

      Interestingly enough, just yesterday my husband started chatting with the husband next door – he was outside at the barbecue, and they had quite a good discussion! Small steps.

      Thanks again. Your kindness and insight is very much appreciated.
      Laurel Regan recently posted… iPad Blogging Experimentation – BlogsyMy Profile

    • Antof9 May 29, 2012

      I’m a fan of what Shiny Butter said, too. I’m so sorry that they’ve destroyed the tranquility of your otherwise lovely new home, but I have to think that some kindness directed their way would be new and welcome. A diversion, if nothing else. Good luck, in whatever you end up doing. And yay for BBQ conversations!
      Antof9 recently posted… Everything’s more fun if it involves new shoesMy Profile

  • Elaine May 22, 2012

    I love the advice you have been given by The Shiny Butter Blog. I hope that you can work up the courage to try to extend the hand of friendship to this family. Your story moved me so that I prayed for you and for this hurting, miserable family of neighbors.
    Elaine recently posted… When Mother’s Day Wasn’t HappyMy Profile

  • Classic NYer May 22, 2012

    What you can learn is to be thankful that your life and relationships don’t suck as much as your neighbors’ do.
    Classic NYer recently posted… On the AIDS walk — pt 2My Profile


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