She didn’t see me through the wooded median between our two front yards.  I had stepped outside to enjoy the Indian summer breeze of that November night.  She was unaware that I was standing a few feet away as she tossed a pot of dried mums and two concaved, decaying pumpkins on our wooded front yard, leaves rustling as her autumn decorations hit a corner of our .59 acres.  She didn’t see my mouth drop, hanging ajar while she hustled into her brick house.

“John,” in one leap I was back inside, calling for my husband to share our neighbor’s assault on our property that we had owned for five months.  “You won’t believe what I saw.”

I threatened to collect her debris and return it to her front stoop so she could experience déjà vu the next morning and try again to find her enormous compost pile her husband cultivated for 23 years.

“Maybe she doesn’t realize it’s on our property.  Maybe the previous owners gave her permission to do that.  Let’s just pick it up and throw it on her compost pile,” my sensible husband recommended.

One year later, I happened to look out the window and there she was again, tossing her mums and pumpkins, withered and weary from two months of daily frost, onto our front yard.

The real estate ad for our house listed the location as an executive neighborhood so we thought the residents beside us would be like executives: civilized, sophisticated, and cordial. But perhaps this street had a few Enron and AIG has-beens hiding out.

We did meet up with some nice folks.  The kind that greeted us with a handshake, invited us to watch their personal fireworks, delivered gifts to our newborn son, and waved as we drove by.  But this second annual dumping on our yard was an enormous sucker punch to our blissful suburban lifestyle.  What made it sting was the months of purging what remained of 1979 out of our thirty year-old house and replacing it with Millennial upgrades like hardwood floors, a 12 foot front door, a remodeled kitchen and master bath and every room repainted.  Each enhancement personally completed with love, sweat and skill by my husband and me.  We were tired, trying to maintain careers, start a family and create a home.  Her tossed rot left a stench that was an invisible fence around the perimeter of our yard.

This time John was mad.  We paced the house cursing, “Oh no she didn’t.”  We searched the yard to find the property marker to confirm that her garbage was technically on our land.  And, we discovered that her gigantic compost pile was partially on our property.

So we wrote her a nice note asking her to refrain from disposing her garden remains on our side yard.  We said please and thank you, wished her season’s greetings and said we looked forward to seeing her in the spring.

Two months later we received her response.  A letter accompanied by a clipping from the Sunday paper that spotlighted dilapidated homes in a neighboring city.  Her letter pointed out how bad it could really be and how she and her family prided themselves on being two decade veterans of neighborly etiquette, that our note was holiday fodder for her friends and that our Christmas light display was “interesting.”

“Oh no she didn’t,” my husband and I said to each other in unison.

“Maybe we should have waited to talk to her in person about this.” I wondered.  John disagreed, “I doubt she would have been warm to that either.”

That spring, as I pushed my eight month old in a carriage around the block she was heading toward me with her short legged mutt.  I smiled as she came closer and said, “Hello, how are you doing?”

I thought I saw her twitch.  She shifted to steer away from me.  Her eyes darted side to side to focus on something other than me: leaf, blade of grass, mailbox; rock.  She even mumbled like a confused vagrant as she passed me.

“I would have had more respect for her if she had confronted me about the letter.  But she just ignored me,” I recapped to my husband.

Two more years have passed and the pumpkins and mums have ceased.  Even the compost pile has been removed.  Our house is completely refinished.

“I think I am finally okay about this,” John said to me not so long ago, “It took me a long time, but she doesn’t bother me anymore.”

But the thought of her still made me bristle. Her pumpkin and mum stench fence was like phantom pain from a severed limb.  You knew it wasn’t there anymore…but it still hurt.

This piece was written in 2009.  Since then we have moved to a house with no neighbors and no fences.

3 thoughts on “Fences

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