A few years ago, I updated my Facebook relationship status from “single” to “in a relationship.” Instantly, the ads on the side of my news feed stopped trying to sell me cat-themed clothing and started showing me engagement rings and meth PSAs.
“Whoa, whoa, Facebook. Slow down,” I said. “I don’t think I’m old enough to even think about trying meth.”
I was getting engagement ring ads because I am a female in my 20s who was in a relationship and that’s what other females in their 20s in relationships are doing. It’s true — I know a lot of people who are getting engaged. I don’t know any people who are doing meth.
There have been people living in a camper in the yard next door the entire time I’ve lived in my house. It’s illegal here to live in an RV for more than two weeks unless it’s in a trailer park, but I didn’t care what happened on the other side of my fence. At the time, I had a pink kitchen and lace curtains. Far be it from me to judge other people’s homes.
But then the residents of the camper started on some home improvement, adding boards and barriers that make their camper less visible from the alley. And here my troubles began.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (But, Like, Over There. Not Near Me.)
Incident #1: My neighbors hung a tarp from the camper door to my fence. I’m trying to improve my own home and an old tarp dangling over the fence was not exactly my idea of curb appeal, but I’m conflict-averse. I thought, I’m not using that part of the fence, and didn’t say anything.
Incident #2: They began hanging other stuff over the fence. Dirty carpet samples! Area rugs! A tricycle! All these things found a precarious home up there before falling into my yard. That was annoying — I’m picky about rugs and tricycles and these were not to my taste. But I don’t like to fuss, so I threw each back to their side and didn’t say anything.
Incident #3: One day I noticed that the tarp was not dangling anymore. It had been stapled to my side of the fence. I don’t love it when people staple things to my property, and I kind of missed the carpet/tricycle days, but I felt bad for them. They live in a camper in someone else’s yard. If they’d asked first, I probably would have let them staple the tarp down. So I didn’t say anything.
Incident #4: The next night I saw a man enter my yard, adjust the tarp, and re-staple it to my fence. I couldn’t believe what was happening and I froze up. He saw me watching; finished stapling; said, “Sorry, lady;” and left. I was about to call the cops about the littering/trespassing/vandalizing, but my friend Bill suggested I talk to them like a grownup first. But I was afraid to fight a man with a staple gun, so (say it with me) I didn’t say anything.
Incident #5: Bill offered to talk to the homeowner with me. “We’ll say we’re a nice young couple with a two-year-old and we’d appreciate it if their tenants stopped stapling things to the fence,” he said.
We walked around to the street to find the house’s front door. Only there was no front door. There was only an empty lot and a gate-less fence completely surrounding the house, which had plastic sheets instead of window panes and curtains made from bedsheets. It was getting dark and Bill and I seem like the kind of people who might be murdered. I was pretty sure we were going to die, so I called it a night and we didn’t say anything.
Incident #6: Someone came into my yard in the night and screwed a board into the fence to hold the tarp in place. You know. The yard of the house where I live alone with a two-year-old [cat]. And even though I hate conflict, and even though I felt unsafe confronting my neighbors and was scared of retaliation in the form of cat kidnapping and/or torture, I had to say something. But not to them. I emailed city code enforcement instead.
They never showed up.
One day the board on the fence disappeared and we returned to the old carpet-and-tarp-on-the-fence routine. I found other things on which to fixate and moved on.
But on Sunday a different neighbor approached me in my driveway. This would have scared me, because everything scares me, except that she was tiny and very pregnant.
“Hi,” she said. “I need to talk to you.” She pointed at the tarp over my fence and said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed these guys.”
“Oh,” I said, like I hadn’t spent weeks obsessing over them. “Yeah.”
“They’re in your yard all the time when you’re not home,” she said. “I know you live alone, so I thought you should know. They’re my father-in-law’s family but we don’t really talk to them because they do meth and they’re not good people.” And then she walked away.
I spent most of the afternoon freaking out about how all my neighbors know I live alone. What had given me away? The loud curses as I tried to install blinds on my own? The ratio of cat food to human food in my grocery bags? The way I am obviously the only person coming and going from this house? I considered installing several mannequins near windows and moving them periodically.
I was also worried about the meth allegations, but there was clearly some family drama, so I didn’t know what to believe.
Until 11 o’clock that night, when the camper’s residents began to frantically build a fence.
I’m pretty sure those guys are on meth.