Last night, I did something I’ve never done before in my life: I called the cops on my neighbors. A domestic incident was taking place next door and I suspected it might have descended into violence. I wasn’t 100% sure, but I figured calling was better than seeing someone end up in a pine box.
I live in a townhouse in an end unit. On one side, I share a wall with the neighbors and those walls are not exactly soundproof. I can hear them tromping up and down the stairs, I can hear their TV when it’s played too loud, and I can certainly hear them when they’re yelling. And lately there’s been a lot of yelling.
It’s not a married couple living next door to me. Rather it’s an older woman with her mildly disabled nephew. Neither one of them is a ray of sunshine. She is surly, perhaps not as surly as her husky voice makes her sound, and she seems perpetually ill-humored. He is perpetually sullen, though my opinion may be affected by his gait, where his disability makes him walk in a shuffling manner that reminds me of a prisoner on a chain gang. (That may be why our private nickname for him was “Ted” as in Ted Bundy, the serial killer.) She at least says hello. He was caught stealing coupon flyers from our Sunday papers. However, he also does not let his disability prevent him from being one of the first to shovel the sidewalk after a snowstorm.
For most of their time as our neighbors, they were invisible, which is how I like it. I don’t like to pry into my neighbors’ affairs and I don’t want them prying into mine. They may have been an odd couple, but they didn’t bother me. Live and let live.
A few weeks ago, the yelling from over there became more frequent. Or should I say, the berating. Her bellowing voice rattled the walls with her complaints about him. I don’t know what he replied because his voice is meeker. It escalated alarmingly, however, to the point that I joked morbidly about which one of them would be leaving there in a pine box.
A week ago, when I wasn’t home, there was an incident that drew a police car and an ambulance. I don’t know what happened except that he went to the hospital, and any injury could have been accidental.
Last night, the yelling went on and on during the dinner hour. I made my usual joke about one of them leaving in a pine box. Right on cue, a pounding noise began next door and I commented, “See, the coffin’s being nailed shut!”
The laughter died quickly, however, as the yelling and the banging continued. I’m not nosy by nature, but some things cannot be avoided. We stopped what we were doing to listen. After we heard him crying and repeating, “Please stop, you’re hurting me,” my daughter urged me to call 911. After some hesitation, I did.
The arrival of the police did not calm things down at first. We could hear her screaming at the cop, “Get out of my house! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” We heard her bellowing, “I hate you. I've always hated you!” (*) We heard the officer offer to call him an ambulance, which I believe he declined. I don’t know how it was resolved, but things quieted down and are blessedly silent this morning.
Even if the incident next door was milder than I assumed, I am glad I called the police. I’m not so dense as to think nothing tragic could happen in my neighborhood; my brother once lived next door to a woman who was killed in a domestic incident. I am also determined not to intervene in any other way; on the front page of my paper today is the story of a New York City cop, a local resident, who died after being shoved over a railing while trying to arrest a man in a domestic violence incident. The professionals have enough trouble resolving these issues and an amateur has no place in it.
Since the neighbor has undoubtedly figured out that we were the ones that called the police, I suspect I may become an object of her ire. I can live with that. It’s better than having someone end up in a pine box.
(*) This quote has been corrected from the original post, per my daughter.