I’d like your advice on this, because I’m not sure if I’ve done the right thing. I’ve been moving back and forth in my head, feeling in one moment justified and sure of my actions, and in the next feeling—well—unsure.
It started a few days before Christmas. I was asleep, and I opened my eyes to see a stranger standing in our bedroom.
Nathan saw him first, and he was already up and screaming. We could smell the beer that the stranger had been drinking, more we could see it in his movement, hear it in his slurred speech. He stumbled, steadied himself against our bookcase, and shouted at us to calm down.
What does it mean to say “that was the scariest moment of my life”? We say it so casually, and usually with a laugh—after riding a roller coaster, or jumping at a surprise in a movie. Well, there was nothing casual or light-hearted in this.
“I’m your neighbor” he said, and I recognized him then. We had never really seen him much, passed by him a few times when we were moving in. I talked with him briefly on the porch about politics once. He wasn’t particularly memorable. It took me a moment to even remember his name. Nathan stepped forward, but he moved into our bathroom and closed the door. A moment later we heard him pissing in our toilet.
Later, we would think this was funny. We live in a safe enough neighborhood, certainly safer than where we had lived before. We would laugh about how on this, the on the one night we forgot to lock our front door, our neighbor had gotten drunk and wandered into our apartment. “Of course, that would happen” we laughed. But even as our neighbor closed the bathroom door, the absurdity of the situation struck me. Like the way small things can seem so funny at funerals. I found myself wondering if he was going to wash his hands, or read the art book I keep on the basin.
In the end, our neighbor stumbled out of our bathroom and we led him to the door. In the hallway we heard him falling down and getting up again.
So what do you do in this situation? You lock the doors right? You call the landlord, you call the police. You move to a different apartment. Those discussions came later, but in the hour after he left, we just sat there in our bed staring at the door. And then laughing.
Our landlord took it all very seriously, but we asked them not to evict. Maybe because it was Christmas time, and we didn’t feel angry, not yet. More just…shaken. He came over the next day and apologized, his voice shaking. We told him it was okay. We told him not to scare us again.
So the story became, as I knew it would, something to laugh about at parties. A story no one could top. We distilled all of it into an extended joke, and it felt neat and packaged that way.
But he still came home drunk at night. And we could always hear him, bumping up the stairs, against our locked doorway. He got angrier too, we would hear him swearing at nothing at night, loudly knocking into furniture. The joke died. It’s hard to see the humor, awake and listening to a neighbor shouting in the dark.
I thought a lot about what it means to be a good neighbor in those nights. Not in an accusatory way against him, but in how I should react. I wondered what someone braver, someone more Christ-like would do. Does that seem cliched? Maybe it is. Maybe the thought was naive. But I wanted to show forgiveness, and I wanted to show love. There were nights I imagined myself getting up in the morning and knocking on his door, asking if he was all right.
That all changed a few weeks ago.
It was night again, and cold. I could hear him stumbling again, hear him talking—I’m not sure to whom—through the walls. I moved into the bathroom, and ran the faucet. Then I heard his voice, loud and close through the shared wall. He was shouting, I realized, at me.
“Nate? Or Meg? Fuck you.”
That sick feeling again.
That fear of being targeted, that something awful has happened and it really is happening to you.
I’ve been sick on that feeling ever since. Sick as I imagine what he must think of me, sick as I think about how fragile our old apartment door really is. Sick as I think of him drunk and unpredictable and so very close.
Should I have been braver? Should I have been more forgiving? Should I have said something? I didn’t. I turned the faucet off and went back to bed, feeling nauseated and for the first time, angry.
Our neighbor is now evicted.
Still, I’m trying to find a way to package this, to turn it into a five minute story like I did before. But I don’t know what that story really is. Is it scary? Is it funny? Is it a story of me being strong and doing the right thing? Or a story of me being lesser than I should have been? It’s easy to say “love your neighbor.”
All I know is that right now, I feel sick.