The other week I backed over Terry, my next door neighbour. I am certainly not the best driver in the world, failing sometimes, as Young Drivers taught me, to ‘cover my horn’ and pull into intersections with a ‘flat S.’ But I always-ALWAYS-check my rearview mirror for my next door neighbour. I checked this time too, except he was below it, crouched down, cleaning something in the street. I did hear him yell, though, as he stumbled backwards. His wife came running and she yelled at me too.
We have always had a good relationship with our next door neighbours, but I had never run one of them over before. An older couple without children, they seemed charmed with my husband Stephen and I when we first moved in. They were eager to teach us how to use gardening shears and a lawnmower, excited when we got our dog, who they always stop to pet with a smile. They have given us a Christmas card every year, signed from them and their cat, Sophie. I don’t think we’ll be getting a Christmas card this year.
Once assured he wasn’t hurt, I parked the car and ran back inside the house.
“We have to move,” I said to Stephen.
“Because I ran over Terry.”
“Why did you run over Terry!?”
“I was mad at him. Why do you think I ran over Terry!? It was an accident.”
Stephen tried to calm me down as I loaded mls on my computer.
“Look at it this way,” he said, ”We’ve lived here for, what? Five years now? And you’ve only run over our neighbour once!”
“Is that realy the best you can do?” I asked him, still shaken.
“Well, you ran over Terry!”
I was sick about the incident all day. I replayed the horrible scene over and over again in my mind. The bump, the scream, his falling backwards. I never wanted to drive again. It was time to start using my bike, where it was more likely that I alone would be injured. I berated myself for my actions, telling myself I was the worst driver. From there, it was easy to make the leap to the worst neighbour and then the worst person. “You’re terrible,” I said to myself, ”Really something awful.”
I was terrified to see my neighbours again but knocked on their door that evening to make sure Terry was okay. I was relieved when no one answered. From then on, I began looking outside before leaving my house, ensuring my neighbours weren’t in the vicinity. When coming home I would put on my sunglasses, keep my head down and make a mad dash for the door.
“The market isn’t great,” Stephen said, “You’re going to have to see them eventually.”
I disagreed. I would become a recluse. I would stay forever within the four walls of our home, have my groceries delivered, order clothing from modcloth. I would communicate with the outside world via email alone. When our neighbours finally moved, I would at long last emerge, looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I would run into people whom I hadn’t seen in years, absorb their shocked expressions as they looked upon my grissly appearance. “What happened to you?” they will ask, wondering what harrowing experience could have made me grow out my hair. I will swallow hard, it being difficult to talk about, and then bravely tell them what had come to pass: “I was hiding from my neighbours.”
“Yeah, I think you should probably just talk to them,” Stephen said.
My avoidance scheme worked, though, for quite some time. By observing my neighbours’ patterns of movement, then carefully timing my comings and goings and minimizing my time outside, I never had to see them at all. Until, one day, while out walking the dog, I came face to face with Terry’s wife who was coming home from the convenient store earlier than expected. We exchanged pleasantries.
“How are you?” she said. Since you ran over my husband.
“Fine thanks, how are you?” I totally ran over your husband!
“You know,” she said, “Terry feels so awful about what happened, being down behind your car and all. He’s been wanting to bring you flowers to apologize.”
He wants to bring me flowers to apologize!?
Her words stunned me. Here I was, ready to spend my entire life indoors, scared and ashamed, and really he felt bad for having been crouched behind my car, out of view. I had given up liesurely summer strolls, let weeds overtake my garden all because I was afraid to see a man who felt bad about what he did to me.
I began to wonder how many times in my life I had wrongly assumed people’s thoughts and positions. How often had I divined other people’s opinions of me, so much so that it affected my opinion of myself? Why do I think I know people? I have no emotional x-ray or superhuman powers of perception that allow me to see into a person’s core. I don’t know what anyone is thinking, it’s only my own thoughts that I can control.
I sometimes get angry with Stephen, feeling as though he doesn’t take my side. “You need to be on my team,” I tell him, “All the time.” But why would he? I never am. I am completely disloyal to myself, always ready to assume the very worst about my character, my nature, my actions. I would barely even consider myself a frenemy. If I wanted to recruit people to my team, I needed to make it a stronger one.
I didn’t need to love my neighbour as I love myself; I needed to love myself as I love my neighbour.
Walking home, I stopped at the little flower shop up the street. I felt awful about the way I treated myself. I bought myself a big bouquet of daisies to apologize.