Dear Neighbor: I Know You Don’t Want Me Here

The leaves fell from the sentinel-like silver maple trees that lined our streets. What were they guarding exactly? I’m not sure. But I loved them the second I saw them. November arrived, and with it, the promise of snow. Everyone retreated inside their homes while we, the new kids on the block, looked out the window. We were full of eager anticipation for what this new season would bring. 

Buying a home in November isn’t exactly ideal, though I daydreamed anyway. But I questioned if that neighborly hope would be more of a wistful dream. What if those silver maples, so picturesque, harbored shadows and secrets, concealing something more sinister?

Dear neighbor, I was enamored with the neighborhood—would I feel the same about you?

On a Wednesday, you introduced yourself. Let’s not sugarcoat it—the interaction was awkward. Words stumbled out. You struggled with my name, mispronouncing it not once, not twice, but three times. “My name’s hard,” I replied. But really, it’s two syllables. Tchaikovsky has three. Even so, it wasn’t the first time—my own husband took a week to learn my name correctly. I figured that’s all that it was. 

But no sooner did you meet my monosyllabically-named white spouse than I began to question if our interaction was more than awkward. You poured out theories as if my husband understood a secret language I didn’t. What you said to my beloved about women and people of my color soured our meeting. Had the trees been trying to distract me from a danger down the block?

Could my own children feel free to run around without running into trouble? Would they be welcomed? Would your child introduce himself in an equally awkward manner? Or would he break the hearts of my children? 

The snow arrived just in time for this mama bear. I didn’t have to go outside to greet you.

I shook off the intrusive thought to distance myself. I knew I wasn’t a bear lurking behind statuesque trees. No—I’m a dreamer. My hand extends welcome. Why? Because I know what it feels like to be rejected. I’m armed with experiences that have destroyed my self-confidence. In third grade, someone decided my name ought to be a food name. Embarrassment hollowed out my sense of belonging. 

But what if that happened to my children? How could I let them experience harrowing ordeals in the face of danger? 

Everyone overlooks the mother bear. In the face of danger, mother bears lead their cubs under the shade of large trees. That’s the answer. Whatever happens, I know I can instill confidence at home despite the danger lurking outside. I know when to shield. I know when to protect. My kids are safe at home. No matter what—they know where home is. 

When spring burst through, signs popped up in yards. Certain neighbors littered their grasses with beliefs they held about people—ideas sharper than barbed wires to keep mother bears off of their lawns. Their words stung. I grimaced on my daily drive to pick up or drop off my children at school. 

And then I saw you again. On a spring afternoon, you watered your lawn. I noticed a new sign had appeared on your greenest of green grass. New barbed wire. Your wife gathered flowers while children clawed at her back after a day of school. You stood aloof. And I judged you. I gripped the steering wheel of my minivan. A new wave of emotion stuck in the pit of my stomach. 

“Hi!” my eager first grader waved outside his window after seeing your family. I swallowed the judgment. I grew embarrassed at who I became. I wasn’t going to use barbed wire back to create a fence because that’s not who I am. I build tables—not fences. I also didn’t want your ideas to cloud my future interactions with you. Because, again, I’m a Dreamer. Dreamers create futures in place of weathered statues of ideals. My children ought to see that side of me.

You waved. I forced a smile. I held my hand up in place of a wave as I drove past your house. Because, dear neighbor, I’m learning to be cordial and yet keep my distance. I won’t sulk away in my home because this is my neighborhood, too. And while the other men in the neighborhood may go to your yard for beers, my home will always be for those not included elsewhere. 

After all, bears protect their dens.

I pressed the garage door opener at the top of my rearview mirror. I watched my eyes crinkle up because I smiled. Home at last. I paused for a moment in my driveway. I looked at the new plants emerging from the ground. But my children squirmed in their seats—especially my first grader.

“Mom, can I get out to see my friend down the street?”

“Maybe. Do you want to grab your scooter?”

He squealed—yes to the scooter. My children burst through the door to our house no sooner than arriving home. The older kids disappeared, leaving the first-grader and me to grab a snack before heading outside.

“Can I show my scooter to my new friend?”

I walked my first grader outside while he zipped around on his scooter—he caught the shadows of the silver maples beneath his wheels. He asked your son to play. I watched them take careful turns zipping here and there. The wind made the trees whisper that I was still close. 

You see, dear neighbor, we aren’t afraid to share. And I’ll be here ready when you are. 

Posted in

Neidy (pronounced nay-dee) Hess is a Latina creative with a love of Jesus, Georgia peaches, sweet tea, and cold brew coffee. She lives in Nebraska with her three incredible niños and firefighter paramedic husband. Her family is part of a multi-ethnic church plant that has a heart for diversity. Professionally, she works as a copywriter for a variety of non-profits.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.