Eight sweet weeks ago, the neighbours left town and, I assume, took refuge at their cottage. I do not know for sure though because, despite being neighbours for 18 years, they never tell me of their comings and goings, or who will staying in their home, and how to reach them in an emergency. Consequently, because they took refuge at their cottage (I think) we have been in a peaceful period of quiet and calm–the particular quiet and calm of not being bothered and knowing that you are not bothering anyone. Added to this very close quiet and calm, we have also been in the centre of the normally bustling Plateau Mont-Royal, which has been quiet and calm and mostly closed during these first months of the pandemic. It has been so historically quiet and calm around here that I have felt like I have been at the cottage. Lately, I have been referring to our newfound full-time home on the ground floor as our urban cottage. And I meant it. So many birds, so little traffic, so few people out on the sidewalks and no big deliveries to the restaurants and cafés. The dog has been off leash a lot more than usual. We have developed a deepened intimacy with the alleyways and with this very slowly developing springtime–thanks to a shot of warmth for a week and then a return to near freezing temperatures to slow down the flowering. There are birds in the hood that have not been here in recent years. Birds that remind me of the cottage.
And now, the neighbours are back. I woke to their particular brand of conversation on the other side of the bedroom wall. That brand that is sharp and rapid and which sounds more like an argument or debate or fight for that matter. I realize that mostly of the time, it is not an argument or a fight–simply the particular kind of animation that exists in a intellectual French family that is trying to get their teenage kids to behave in certain ways different from their current preferences. OK, there is a lot of yelling. I am not fond of it. It reminds my of my childhood home, a bit, and reminds me of my own behaviour when my own kids were school age, a bit. And none of those are good memories.
The neighbours are back. I feel them through the walls even when they are not arguing. I hear their home phone ring, their vacuum and especially their their TV. I recently paid $1000 to have a wall sound-proofed against their TV which is wall-mounted and shoots its full volume right through to us. I even bought them a sound bar to mitigate this disaster a bit–as, even with the soundproofed wall, we could still hear it unacceptably well. Now, it is manageable. But nothing like when they were gone.
When they were gone, I felt free. Free to play violin, free to have loud sex and kitchen dance parties. Free to be myself fully in my home. It did not require any particular energetic muscle on my part to assert my right to live my life fully and freely.
These neighbours have made me consider moving out of the city.
I am sure that these neighbours have many gripes against me from over the years: the time that Ben was playing super loud guitar at 10 at night and their little boys could not sleep, the time that my boyfriend climbed up on their pole and the end of the yard to re-hook my laundry line and scared the crap out of the mother–who screamed her head off. The time that my back door to the yard was left unlocked (by mistake and neglect on my part) and their bike was stolen–because at that time, we did not have a fence separating our two yards. This event led to the dad building a fence. I gave him $200 towards the materials. It should have been more, for the bike too, but I suspect that they got insurance to replace the bike. There was also the time when they asked if I would re-do my bricks at the same time as them so we could each get a better price and I said no, because I absolutely could not handle any more debt. They were disappointed nonetheless.
The neighbours are back. We have actually collaborated on several things which were foisted on us because out houses are basically one house–there is no firewall between the houses (hence the noise problem), and we share a drain pipe (only accessible through my crawlspace) and we share a roof. We have redone the drainpipe together, and the roof as well. No choice about those. It went alright. We were as mature as possible to try and get along. But there was the time they tried to scare me into going in on their renovations with them–because of the lack of firewall. They explained to me that it would be a “vice cachée” should I ever try to sell the house. I told them that I would tell any potential new buyer about the lack of firewall. They did a bunch of work on their side to have it be soundproof. it did not work very well at all.
We have so relished these two months of quiet and calm.
And now, the neighbours are back. My gripe list against them is very very long. I am not used to holding grudges. Top of the list is when I was reeling from the pain of separation, and chronic back pain, and stretched to the absolute financial limit to hold things together, they pounced on me to buy the house from me. They saw an opportunity with someone who was weak (when I am feeling more generous and fair I think they probably did not know how weak I was financially and physically at the time)–but I felt absolutely pounced on when I was already down. I think that it was fair enough for them to let me know that they would want to right of first refusal if I were to be selling the house–but the way they did it was crass. And here I am, not forgiving them. 14 years later I do not forgive them for that. At the time, I knew in my gut that I would do everything possible to keep the family home for my kids. I did not realize then how crucially important the house would become to my wellbeing and livelihood over the next decade and beyond (I am never ever selling this house). All I knew was that I wanted to keep the house for the kids to have their “home” while adjusting to their parents’ separation and going through adolescence. When I explained this fact–mother to mother—she said that she understood, and that I could be their tenant if they bought the house—for as long as I wanted to. This last fact, I tend to block out of my mind because to have it front and centre in my mind makes me loathe them too much and then I cannot behave like a nice neighbour. After all, I was here 5 years before they were! And it is my home god damn it.
The neighbours are back. Ironically, Luc was just finally getting to putting the last of the cedar boards on the fence to both fortify it, and to be sure that we have as much privacy as possible. During this pandemic time, and as we enter the warm months, we will be living in our yard a lot. Maximizing our privacy is so important. When we were first here, and we took down the 2 car garage, there was not fence between us and our neighbours (the previous very nice neighbours) and we had 2 years of sharing of space in which the kids enjoyed exploring each other’s yards and the parents were friendly with each other. The man in that family was Richard–he was a hair stylist. One time, when I failed miserably with little Ben’s homemade haircut–he fixed it. We left him a 6 pack on his stoop. Sadly those neighbours split up before we did, and they sold their home to the new neighbours. The neighbours I have now.
The neighbours are back. Things with neighbours, generally, can be so warm and friendly and sweet. After all we see each other’s kids grow up and develop into who they are. We share a neighbourhood and a patch of the earth. I am sad that things do not work with these neighbours. After all, there was the time when he came on to me. She was away, and I was single (or so he assumed). And he had perhaps been watching me do yoga in the backyard as I was doing frequently in those years. He invited me over to talk about potentially renovations–to explain things to me. He offered me a beer, and we talked on his top floor balcony. There was a bedroom right through the nearest door. The lust was oozing off of him. I felt unsafe. I felt slimed. I don’t know what he had planned to do, or try, but I felt like he was barely holding back from devouring me. It was very unpleasant. I managed him well, because he never ever tried anything again. And as I look up at my second floor balcony which cost 7 thousand dollars I feel sore. They blamed me for damage in one of their walls which was discovered to their dismay during a renovation. I know that it was not the fault of our balconies being joined. I know it. I remember the tenant who lived downstairs before they bought the house complaining about the huge wide crack in the cement wall and the fact that every time it rained, his little bathroom was full of water. The damage surely came from this, and not from the one drip at a time from my balcony. But they got me when I was already down–I was a month away from a first back surgery, I was terribly depressed, and I was struggling financially and had just found out that I could not, in any way, benefit from the disability insurance which I had been paying into because I had not been hospitalized for 30 days (who exactly is hospitalized for 30 days these days!!!?). Anyway, my insurance paid for the damage on their side, but I had to pay for the new balcony built on my side. Something I would not have chosen, and something which I did not have the mental bandwidth to think about at the time. I was barely hanging on.
The neighbours are back. Oh joy. I have tried over the years to establish collaborative neighbourly practices–like a note in their mailbox when the kids would be having a party with detailed commitments about when the loud music would stop. And emails detailing things about our long trip and who would be staying in our home, and how they could reach us in an emergency. I gave them a key to the downstairs–in case they needed to access the crawlspace which we were away. I even gave Ben’s whole construction fleet of toys to their boys when Ben was 12 and their boys were 5 and 7. These acts of collaboration have not been reciprocated. Which is why I have both enjoyed them being away but have not ever been able to completely relax as I have no idea where they went, or when they would be coming back.
Well, yesterday, they came back. The neighbours are back.