When N.I.M.B.Y gets nasty

The local city daily carried a story this week that one of the region’s oldest shelters for women fleeing abusive relationships had moved to new digs. While the addresses of these places are carefully guarded—for good reason—the story noted that the shelter’s cramped quarters in a semi-industrial sector had been traded for a large home in a residential area. Mixed in with a photo of the bright and clean children’s playroom—was an ugly quote from what has to be one of the nastiest neighbors on record.

Calling the shelter her “enemy,” she seemed less concerned with the fact that enraged boyfriends or husbands could be lurking nearby to cause trouble—with her main concern being that if her 20-something autistic son went outside with a knife, the police might pick him up.

You think?

I’d like to know what kind of person thinks it’s OK for anyone’s 20-something year-old son—autistic or otherwise—to prowl the neighborhood with a knife. Whether there’s a shelter nearby or not. Obvious her problem lay with the fact that the police would be keeper a much closer eye on the street. Which isn’t a bad idea, considering…

This isn’t a do-gooder attempt to defend or champion the shelter. To be totally honest, I was in a physically abusive relationship nearly 30 years ago. And I contacted one of these shelters to get help. I’m not sure I wanted asylum there—it was more a case of needing advice. But because my abuser was a woman—and at the time, domestic abuse among lesbians wasn’t something anyone talked about—they couldn’t help me. It wasn’t homophobia that stopped them—at least not the obvious kind. It was the fact that they had to keep up the façade to their clients that men were abusers and women were safe. All women. If I showed up and dispelled that myth, the whole granola feminist foundation of the women’s shelter model, circa 1985, would have crumbled. And they couldn’t take that risk.

I managed to get myself out of that situation. The second time I woke up unconscious and bleeding on my living room floor, I packed and left. I should have left the first time, but it was being in shock over the situation that kept me there for a second round. I got away, I got my life on track and I got over it. Without help from a shelter or anyone else, aside from a few good friends—and a horrible rebound relationship that made me open my eyes and get tougher, stronger and able to grow into the person who could finally recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy pairings.

But I do believe these shelters serve a desperate need and should be able to operate in any neighborhood they wish. And if it means Mrs. Nasty’s son has to curb his knife-carrying hobby, so be it.

I just don’t understand where she would get the notion that her son’s right to play with knives somehow supersedes the rights of these women to spend a few nights knowing they’re not going to be battered—and that maybe there’s a safer, happier life out there beyond their current situation. What kind of screwy perspective does that require?

There’s the saying you can pick your friends—but you can’t pick your relatives. Same goes for neighbors. They are an accident of geography.  For sixteen years, I lived in a townhouse crawling with some of the noisiest kids—and adults—that ever drew breath. For a good chunk of those years, I worked at home and in the summer, either sweltered in the heat or froze in the air conditioning, unable to open a window because the screams and bouncing balls and skateboard wheels made it impossible to hear a client if they called. The last straw was when my new neighbors installed industrial sewing machines, opened a sweatshop and vibrated the prints off my walls at odd hours.

For the past five years, I’ve been pretty lucky in the neighbor department. I own a home roughly ten minutes from the city in an adult-only exurban development. There’s a loophole in the laws in my province that if you own your home, but lease your land, there can be restrictions placed on who can buy within the development. As such, you must be at least 18 years of age to live where I do. Skateboard-free living is worth the premium paid for the unusual ownership situation.

After all those noisy years, it’s quite wonderful. My love and are one among the youngest people in the community. Many of the people who live here are retired and beyond the fact that some mornings, their unhurried dog walks and impromptu front step coffee get-togethers make me jealous while I’m rushing to work, they take care of their yards, and they’re quiet and friendly. We got tons of help while my love was in the hospital, we keep an eye on each other’s homes when someone is away and we had one heck of a community yard sale last summer. It’s got a nice small town feel, but with city conveniences close by.

But I have had bad neighbors. There was the one who used to get drunk and stand outside our front door yelling that we were “@&*%ing dykes” at the top of her lungs. I don’t know why she persisted in informing us of our gayness, it was a fact of which we were already quite aware. There were the people who owed every collection agency in town and shared my love’s last name. We got calls. Lots of calls.  There was the guy who went through our trash before we even got back in the house after setting it by the curb. And finally, the sweatshop. I know how difficult it can be to live with the people you don’t want in your world. But unfortunately, there’s little that can be done.

The “Not In My Back Yard” (or N.I.M.B.Y.) syndrome is epidemic in my town. Development of an amazing piece of very expensive downtown real estate—that would bring jobs, tourism and consumer money to a government town on the verge of huge job losses due to federal downsizing—is being held up in court. Another residential development has been on hold for years due to a combination of Native Land claims that showed up out of nowhere and stubborn neighbors who want to hold the status quo. Both cases of people who think they have the right to decide the fate of others. Many others. And last month, there was a story in the paper about a couple who wants to sue someone—anyone—because the new house next to them has a second floor balcony that might peer into a portion of their windows.

For God’s sakes people, buy some curtains and get over yourselves.

So what’s the point of all this. You can control what happens between your four walls. And with the aid of fences and hedges, most of what goes on in your yard. The rest is left to fate. If you think you’re so special or important or entitled that you get to decide what goes on beyond your property line, think again. Here’s something to remember before you throw your hands up in the air, declare, “There goes the neighborhood,” and start campaigning to keep the supposed invaders out.  Yes, you may have to learn to live with those you consider undesirables. But it could be worst.

Consider their situation. They have to live with you.


One Comment on “When N.I.M.B.Y gets nasty”

  1. carlarenee45 says:

    I can’t get over the woman who was complaining that her son can’t go roaming around with knives! If I was rich. I wouldn’t have any neighbors for miles. I’ve had some “doozies” for neighbors in my many moves through the years too. Thanks for sharing

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