Your home is your sanctuary, the place where you can truly be yourself, let your hair down, forget all your troubles. What if this safe space is compromised? What if every movement makes you evaluate the repercussions, study the sonar levels of each footstep, think twice about raising the volume of your music? When you live in a city, the fact is you're in everyone's face and personal space is by default negated due to the close proximity of, well, everyone around you. I lived in a variety of places, all with varying degrees of noise, most of it unpleasant, some of it conducted by me. I am complicit and took full responsibility where appropriate.
There was that time when the police were involved. I lived on the first floor of a house, the couple above were opposed to any sense of fun. I believe they were in their 20s, but acted like they were in their 80s. Perhaps we could have been more sensitive, but we were (mostly) loud only on the weekends, which is a small rationalization, but it's all I had at the time. Besides, this particular couple would probably be happier out in the suburbs, the city was definitely not for them.
At this point in my life, I enjoy silence and solitude, my party days over, the need to push my own loud desires into other people's lives behind me. My philosophy when it comes to noise in the city revolves around a give and take. I accept sometimes other people will be noisy when I want silence and sometimes I will be loud when others want quiet. We all just need to work together. Unfortunately, not everyone looks at things in this way.
As you can imagine, my surprise and shock when I found a letter in my mailbox, very typed and very formal, that said:
Dear neighbor: We live in the apartment below yours at unit 2--. We are writing to you in regards to the noise (footsteps and moving furniture) we have been experiencing for over six months. We realized that you may not be aware of this issue and would like to take this opportunity to inform you of our concern. We hope this will remedy the situation we have been living in for a while. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact us. We thank you in advance for your consideration.
First of all, I had no idea. I live in a townhouse-like condo, the middle unit, so there are people living above and below. The yappy dog above me is going at all hours, but my philosophy kept me from saying anything. Plus, the only contact I had with the yappy dog was outside when it came running at me. "She only wants you to pet her," the owner said. Once inside my place, I realized the yappy dog had peed on my leg. To me, this represents not only what the dog thinks of me, but also the owner. I do my best to ignore them. Not very neighbourly, but we all have our own methods of getting through the day. As for the below neighbours, the ones that sent me the letter, I have never seen them. If they were in a police lineup, I would have to guess. I thought the unit was vacant.
This particular condo development has lots of dogs and lots of babies. Which means lots of barking and lots of crying. I had neither a dog nor a baby. In my opinion, comparatively speaking, my life was pretty much a silent movie. Now with every footstep, I imagined my neighbors to the south stewing, sitting beside each other on a couch, shaking their fists to the ceiling. I tiptoed around, felt uncomfortable in my home, at times didn't want to be there anymore.
I needed to start living again, but the complaint restricted me, reasoning that although this was an unfortunate situation, I should adjust my movements in accordance with their wishes. This was the crux of the problem, my weird and unrealistic desire to please complete strangers. I really care what people think of me. To a fault. The fact is, no one really cares what another does, what you wear, what you think, what you do. It doesn't matter, what matters is what I think, what I believe, and have this inform my behaviour. Easier said than done.
I went through all the stages, wanted to run downstairs, waving the letter in my hand and say, "Are YOU kidding?" I wanted to explain that noise in a city is something you just have to deal with, accept and get over. I wanted to pound around my place wearing a pair of wooden clogs or high heels, play loud music at random times in the early morning, hold steaming pots up to the fire alarm to purposely get it ringing.
Of course, I did none of these things, just wrote, re-wrote and revised my response:
Please accept my apologies for any distress you have been experiencing for the past six months and thank you for drawing attention to this issue. I will do my best to remedy the situation quickly. I was not aware and quite surprised of the issue of footsteps as I live alone, have no pets and am out working six days a week for most of the day and evening. I have placed rugs throughout my unit to combat footstep noise and will attempt to restrict my movements. In regards to the moving of furniture, the only time things get moved around occurs when I am cleaning. Beyond that, after much thought, the only other piece of furniture would be my desk chair in my office. I will place a rug underneath it to limit any noise. Again, I am sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you both.
Perhaps I was giving in too easily, too quickly, and without a fight. But I have no more fight left. I wonder sometimes if I look like the type of person that can be pushed around, perhaps because I've let others do it to me. But I see this in other people, I see that there are those that feel like they can manipulate and bully others into doing what they want. To control them. And people let these bullies do this to them with little recourse.
After a few days, I received a response, I was ready for the fight to continue and for this to be dragged on. Inside the envelope this time was a Christmas card with a note:
We thank you for your quick response and for having taken action to address our concern. We truly appreciate your prompt attention, however we do not want you to restrict your movements at home. It would not be fair. Our only worries are between 8:00pm and 8:00am. We actually feel the difference from the time we received your letter.
The Christmas card was signed with this message:
Wishing you the season's best! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of good health, prosperity and most of all a year full of success!
And then I wondered, and after I finished wondering, I realized I was wrong. Sometimes people just need to tell you what they think and to feel like someone listened. This marks an important distinction between those that want control over others and those that just want to be heard. Maybe there is a lesson in here and maybe they were just trying to communicate their frustrations. There is a comfort in being honest with someone else, to get something out, to speak your mind. Perhaps I should do this more often.