Not long ago, I made reference to an incident from my past which I rather sarcastically called my ‘little bedtime story’ and which some of you expressed an interest in reading. I promised to write about it in a post but when it came down to it, I struggled.
Not with the writing of it but with the sharing of it.
Then I realised that actually this story needs to be told in its entirety and would be far too long for a blog post. So what to do?
In the end I decided to go ahead with it. This post is long, and I apologise for this as I know how much blog-reading there is to be done out there but while there is so much more to this story than I’m able to tell here, this post is as concise as I can make it.
Should you decide to read it, I thank you in advance because I know that time is precious!
I’ll love and leave you with this as I’m going to be spending time with my boys this weekend so I will visit you all in a few days but meanwhile, I wish you all a great weekend.
So pull up a chair and a cup of something; tea, coffee or maybe in this case, brace yourself with a stiff G&T.
Then I shall tell you a story…
A few years after moving to California in 1986, my now ex-husband (EH) gained a promotion within the Department of Corrections and we purchased our first home in a small, rural town, population 500.
The sort of place where kingsnakes and tarantulas cross the road and tumble weeds dance across your driveway.
We moved on a scorching August day, the air so thick with heat that it grabbed me by the throat as soon as I stepped out of the rental van.
That’s when I first saw him, our new neighbour, crouching down on the roof of his house which neighbored ours, dressed in what looked like all-black SWAT team gear, watching us from huge binoculars.
That was our first clue that we had made a big mistake in moving there. The second clue smacked us in the face a few days later when we were rudely awoken in the small hours by the cracking of gunfire from the front of our house.
EH took a careful look outside only to be greeted by the sight of our neighbour, again on his roof, shooting a high-powered rifle into the community park across the road from where we lived.
We later found out that he told the police he was shooting at wild pigs.
If I had been worried before, now I was scared. We hadn’t wanted to cause any trouble having only just moved in, strangers to this community, but something was very wrong.
We started asking around the neighbourhood about him and soon found out that this had been going on for a long time but nobody wanted to confront him about it. People were scared of him and it was down to us to call the police, which we did.
They talked to him and for a short time the gunfire stopped.
Then the loud music started, late into the night, waking up my boys. To this day the sound of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple makes me feel sick for all the wrong reasons.
One night, having had enough, EH went over to the neighbour’s house and calmly asked him to turn the music down, since it was close to midnight and explaining that our eldest son had school the next day and couldn’t sleep.
His response? To stand there staring at EH, eyes glazed, and say nothing. EH told me he looked like he was out of his mind on drugs.
Then he turned the music even louder. We brought the boys in to sleep with us at the front of the house. I tried to be brave for them, soothing them back to sleep while EH slept in the living room.
By that time I was pregnant with my daughter and as I lay there in the dark, listening to the steady breathing of my boys, I cupped my hands over my unborn child as I cried myself to sleep, praying that we wouldn’t hear gunfire again.
After that, things got even worse.
In addition to the shooting and the loud music, letters arrived in the mail about funeral plans we had apparently inquired about (we hadn’t and we found out that he had gone through our trash to get information about us) and disturbing phone calls filled with nothing but peculiar, growling sounds.
Strange, because we weren’t listed in the phone book.
Yet, despite this man’s systematic campaign of abuse against us, we refused to let him destroy us.
In the cool of the evening, I took the children out into the garden to run and play and explore.
The property had been empty for over a year and needed a lot of work; there was an old shed full of junk which we set about clearing out, we brought day-old chicks and raised them in the once abandoned chicken run. We got ducks too.
I set about turning the back yard into a garden and planted my roses, of course, and we put trellis up for more privacy. We decorated the entire inside.
It was our first family house and I wanted it to be a safe, happy and secure home.
I prayed that we would be kept safe from the madman next door and then a miracle happened, or so I thought. The neighbour disappeared.
What we thought was good news, however, soon turned into bad. He had been arrested for a previous crime but he was back soon enough and that’s when things really sparked off.
He started to follow our eldest son to school as he walked with his friends (school was only a five-minute walk away) by driving very slowly in his car, a few paces just behind him.
Then, one evening as I sat on the sofa in our living room reading to my little boy, we heard the sickening thud of something smashing into the window.
EH, who was in agony at this time from a ruptured, herniated disc in his lower back and awaiting surgery, managed to hobble over to the front door and open it.
There, in the dark, was the neighbour lurking on our front lawn glaring menacingly at EH, who thought he saw the glint of a gun in his hand before he skulked off.
We found the brick that he had thrown at our window which, by some miracle, hadn’t broken it. If it had gone through it would have struck my three-year old son on the head.
The thought of this today, even now, makes me weep.
This time the police took us very seriously but there was still nothing they could do other than to tell us that from now on, everything little thing he did, we were to call them so that we could build up a log of events.
We also found out that he was obsessed with all law enforcement – detested them in other words – and that he had become convinced that we had ‘shopped’ him when he had recently been arrested, which of course we hadn’t. The man was paranoid. And no wonder.
The police also told us that he was, in no particular order, a gun-runner, a drug addict/dealer and a paranoid schizophrenic with a long list of convictions.
Just your average friendly neighborhood guy then.
Quite why he was allowed to have guns I’ll never know.
No wonder he hadn’t greeted us on moving day with a cheery ‘welcome to the neighbourhood’, an apple pie and an invitation to tea. Desperate Housewives? I was desperate alright, to move out.
We had put our house back on the market within months of moving in so that we could get the hell out of dodge but wouldn’t you know it, the market had crashed at the same time (early 1990’s) and it was now worth half what we paid for it.
Who would want to buy it anyway, with the neighbour from hell living next door?
Needless to say, we couldn’t sell it, the bank wasn’t interested in a short sale, or ‘civil matters’ and we were trapped.
I tried to be brave but my lowest moment hadn’t yet arrived.
It came soon enough courtesy of a woman turning up at our front door three days after I returned home from the hospital having joyfully delivered my baby girl. Our family was complete, a darling daughter, a sister for my two gorgeous little boys. What more could we ask for?
My joy and dreams of a normal, safe family life were destroyed in that single moment when the woman handed me a restraining order instructing us to stop ‘harassing’ our neighbour.
Everything he accused us of was exactly what he had done to us. He twisted everything and his lawyer had believed him.
All the fear and despair that I had tried to control for the sake of my children so that they wouldn’t see Mummy cowering and frightened and crying, exploded into such intense rage at the pure injustice of this man’s lies. I wanted to go over and confront him but of course I didn’t.
In the end, we found a lawyer who reversed the restraining order against us since it was groundless and advised us to walk away from our house. We had no choice and we could no longer live there.
We lost everything but money and a house meant nothing compared to the safety and security of our children and family life, even if it meant it would be a long time before we could buy again. Our credit was destroyed.
Weeks later, and desperate to find a house to rent, I remember standing outside what seemed to us to be the perfect home, talking to the landlady. She had never met us but in the end she chose us over the long list of applicants for the simple reason that she ‘felt she could trust us’.
In the five years that we lived there, she never raised the rent, we were allowed to have our cats and dogs and the children were happy in their new schools. It was our happiest time as a family and we loved living there.
It took me a full year before I stopped jumping at every little sound I thought I heard outside and as time went by I started to feel safe, once more, in my own home.
Even now, when I tell this story, I feel the pain of those two years when we were subjected to one man’s onslaught of harassment against us. At a time when I should have delighted in the birth of my daughter, I lived in fear of what this man might have done to us. I had never prayed so hard in all my life for the safety of my family.
Many years later, I heard from an old friend that the people who eventually moved into our house after the bank sold it on also suffered a nasty experience. It even made the local papers.
One night a bullet fired straight through their bedroom wall, just above their heads where they were sleeping. The police were called. The neighbour’s excuse? He was in his garage cleaning his gun and it ‘accidentally’ went off.
A few years after that I heard some more news via EH during one of his calls to the kids; The neighbour’s wife had come home from work one day only to find him lying on the living room floor, dead.
I’m a forgiving person and not one for revenge but when I heard that news I couldn’t help but think that God does indeed move in mysterious ways.