There was a sink hole in the side yard.
We didn’t know about this until an old crack in the basement wall erupted mud, and we called the landlord. The handyman he sent over examined the mud and the hole, and he examined the side of our house. He found the round pit equal in size to the pile of mud in the basement, and he looked up and saw the leak in the gutter which had caused the sink hole. He showed this to Michael, who came in and asked me if I’d like to see it.
“In the side yard?” I gasped.
That side of the house is the neighbor’s side. She has harassed and assaulted anyone who came near it for eight years. The fact that we haven’t heard a sound from her since about November still didn’t have my guard down.
“If she was going to do anything, she would have done it by now,” said Michael.
I went around to the side yard.
I walked along “our” side of the boundary line she dug. When the inch-deep trench appeared beside her house, we knew it wasn’t the real legal boundary line because it curved to go around the bushes. But still, I stayed on my side as if the line were laced with land mines.
I wasn’t supposed to be there. I hadn’t been on that side of my own house in seven years. When we first moved in, three-year-old Adrienne would run around the outside of the house, shrieking and playing with the neighborhood boys. I would run up and down the side of the house following her. Then one day, there was a German shepherd chained in the side yard, and we found out that somebody had bought the house. Later we met the new owner, who did not look happy to see us. “I thought I was getting all of THIS!” she said, waving at our yard. Apparently, when she’d bought one of Steubenville’s infamous fifteen-thousand-dollar derelicts, she’d thought that meant she was getting both parcels. At first she coldly tolerated us and harassed little Ezra’s family. Then she made nice to us and harassed the family on the other side of her house. Then, somehow or other, we earned her ire. Every month when her mania was at its apex, she would attack, and no one would help us.
The sleep deprivation. The vandalism of our garden and our car. The police who did nothing. The manic ranting day and night. The escalation. The perjury. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t go outside. I had to hide my car on a different block. At one point I had to spend the weekend in a hotel.
Now my daughter is eleven years old, and I was standing on the western side of my own house for the first time since she was in preschool, staring at an oddly round hole in the ground.
I looked over at the neighbor’s house five feet away, but there wasn’t a sound.
I looked up at her window. She used to have signs with obscenities written on them across from my bedroom to frighten me, but after the police ordered her to take them down, she switched to several paper signs that only said “PSALM 91 AMEN!” Psalm 91 was her favorite psalm, apparently. There was always a locked wifi network named PSALM 91 with as many bars as the one in my house in the networks at the bottom of my laptop screen; when I saw the signs, I realized it was hers.
There were dust bunnies clinging to the PSALM 91 signs.
I walked around the forbidden side of the house to my own yard, feeling so awkward and strange. There was a nasty ball of feathers near the boundary line– the red-shouldered hawk had dispatched another pigeon. Feathers were blowing onto “her” side of the line, a mess. She always retaliated with violence or vandalism when something of ours went too close to her lawn.
That evening, I saw the hawk itself. He was standing in the alley on top of another dead pigeon, clawing and tearing with staccato stabs from his sharp beak. I went out to take a picture with my phone. I chatted with two other neighbors across the alley about how interesting it was to see such a large bird in LaBelle. And the neighbor did not come out.
Tuesday night, I went for my walk around two blocks and back through the alley as I often do. On the way down the block, I noticed her living room light was still on– the same light, every night for awhile now. In the alley, I noticed her garbage can. It had been put on the curb when her adult children visited briefly and brought in the messy pile of neglected mail more than ten days ago. I noticed because she always made such a horrible fuss about our garbage can. We leave it on the curb by the alley and bring bags of garbage to it. She always dragged her cans up to her house after the garbage truck came by, and only brought them down again very early Wednesday morning. She liked to call us trash for having our can in a different spot than hers. But in January, the can had not gone out once. The snow hadn’t even been knocked off the top. Her son dragged it to the curb early this month, and left it right in front of the garage door. It had been out there ever since.
It was ajar when I walked by, and there was nothing in it. It hadn’t been touched since garbage day.
The next morning the workman came to patch the wall; he carried bucket after bucket of clay from our basement up into the sink hole to refill it.
I went out to look at the hole again– full of clods of red-brown earth now. The wall will hold for at least a year or two before it needs to be rebuilt. He’ll fix the bent gutter as soon as it’s not too windy out. We are safe.
The hawk was nowhere to be seen.
I went inside to get on the computer.
“PSALM 91” was not in the list of networks anymore.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart…. Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
She tortured us for seven years with no deliverance at all.
My daughter isn’t a three-year-old anymore. She’s eleven, and doesn’t want to play in the yard.
Someone tell me why I can’t stop crying.
Tell me why I’ve been crying all day long.
Tell me why I feel like I’ll never stop crying again.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.