Thursday, November 12, 2015

"You need to stop this"


I once lived in an apartment house where the resident manager, turns out, was beating his wife. All of the tenants gradually figured out what was happening by sharing information about our encounters with them.

He was doing it so quietly; we would never have known otherwise.

Here, this year in New Orleans, we are living in a rental house with a studio apartment sharing the same wall. Our neighbors are a young couple. Their apartment is too small for two people, and she is pregnant. He is recently unemployed. We sympathize with them, and have been as supportive as we can be.


But with all the stress and claustrophobia of their situation, it is understandable that there are tensions.  For the last several weeks, we've been hearing a soundtrack of two people screaming at each other on the other side of the wall.

The first bad time, I went to their door and knocked. There was a sudden silence. "You have to stop this." I said. They stopped.

Then it happened again. You might assume that the guy was the aggressor. In this case, it seems not to be the case. He is a tormented young man, clearly the more sensitive one. It sounds to me like she is provoking him, and goading him to anger. But it's not fair for me to judge, because I can't really hear their words, all I hear is the contour of their voices.

There does not appear to be any physical violence going on. But the sounds that come through our wall raise the hackles on the back of my neck.

Yesterday, we sat almost cowering in our living room while they screamed at one another, for over two hours. We cannot work. They are frightening our dog.

I want to tell them that they have to stop, not only for our sake, not only for the sake of the ten-year old boy who lives next door, not only for our dog's sake, not even for their own sake, but for the sake of their unborn baby.

I want to tell them how the anger and vitriol and stress they are putting themselves through is bathing their developing baby in a toxic stew of stress hormones. Babies who have been subjected to this kind of pre-natal stress are subject to low birth weight, to problems with maternal attachment, to attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities.

At 10:45 tonight we went and knocked on their door again. They opened it. "You need to stop," I said. He reacted with a kind of histrionic despair, saying "See?" to her, as though it were her fault, and then turned away, weeping.

Then she closed the door in my face.

"If you don't stop, I will call the police," I said, blurting it out to the blank glass pane. That was probably not a wise thing to say. It was probably not helpful.

Some 15 minutes later, he knocked on our door and returned to us something we'd given him. "Look, it's not about that," I said. But it was kind of like giving back the letterman's jacket or the class ring after the break-up.

When your choice is to intervene, or not to intervene, you want to do the right thing. But it's a little discouraging when you find out that intervening may not help.

I feel like we have lost them.

I don't know what to do.

5 comments:

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

This is heartbreaking, Aunt Snow. You've done what you felt was right, and I hope I would have done the same. I lived with that sort of yelling in my childhood home (like your situation, it was my mom who was the loud one, my dad who was quieter) and it made me cringe inside and outside, even though I was not the usual target. And you are right, it was unhealthy for everyone.
Who knows if counseling would help, or a larger space, or if the relationship simply won't work out... but it's not fair to the neighbors (you, your husband, your dog, the other people such as the 10yo boy) or to themselves to leave it all in status quo.
Sending you a hug over the internet tonight.

David Duff said...

Move back to California!

Aunt Snow said...

David, there is domestic violence in every community. Take a look at your own first before talking to me about mine.

David Duff said...

Domestic violence?! Here in Church Place, in the calm tranquility of deepest 'Zummerzet'? Well, yes, alright, sometimes the 'Memsahib' is a bit fierce when I put my boots up on the sofa!

But it wasn't actually me talking to you about your domestic violence, it was you talking to me about it! All I did was offer a solution. Honestly, there's no gratitude in this world . . .

Aunt Snow said...

Your solution seems to be to go somewhere else to avoid domestic violence. There's no such place.