nasty note

May 2014.

For the second year in a row, I got an unsigned letter in the mail from a neighbor.

Apparently, we don’t cut our lawn often enough for Neighbor.

The truth of the situation — is my lawn unsightly? Is it anybody else’s business? SHOULD I cut the grass? — is obscured for me to the form the messenger uses to communicate.

I’d love to shoot the messenger.

But what about the message?

When I saw the envelope yesterday, I knew what it was. I gave it to Steve, who opened it, read it, and tossed it.

“What’s it say?” I asked, eager, for some reason, to see what Neighbor had to say this time.

“About what you’d expect,” he said.

“If you want me to mow the lawn, I can take care of it tomorrow,” my son offered.

Is that what I want? I feel like that would mean Neighbor is winning, and that wouldn’t be good.

On the other hand, there is that 12-foot-square patch of dry, seedy grass, vines and pink clover that has arisen to fill the space vacated by an out-of-control flowering cherry tree.

I actually cultivate the clover, since bees like it and it reminds me of childhood, pulling the petals and tasting the tiny bit of nectar. Sometimes when I walk by, I pull a weed out of the way of the clover. When there was white clover in the backyard, I’d pull the weeds and grass away from it.

What do I really want? I want the anonymous Neighbor to have the guts and courtesy to speak to my face. I want to be appreciated for the 13 years no unsigned notes arrived in our mailbox because the lawn got mowed. I want Neighbor to know that last year, my focus was on Ramses, my temporary dog. This year my focus is on — oh, who the hell cares? It’s not on lawn beautification, that’s all.

And yet, I pick out the McDonald’s garbage and the cigarette butts from our weed patch. I trim the vine maple that decided its spot wasn’t big enough for the beautiful pink-flowering bush I can’t name. I complain to the management company of the rental next door, and eventually, the holly is removed, the cherry is hacked to bits, and that other tall thing keeps growing into the wires.

Mine is not a beautiful house or a beautiful neighborhood. I love where I live because it is mine, and I mostly tolerate its flaws. Any disapproval I save for the drivers who toss hamburger waste and cigarettes out their windows, since my neighbors all have their own lives.

Okay, I confess: I disapprove of the guy who holds an “estate sale” every weekend, though he did tear down the ugliest house in the world and replace it with a new one that is simply incoherent and pointless. And has a much bigger concrete driveway for his furniture-selling business.

An anonymous letter sent through the U.S. mail takes much more time and planning than an online comment, signed or unsigned, by an internet troll. The feeling of being flamed, of being critiqued for living in public or facing a busy street, is one I rarely experience. Though I tell myself that my writing will be successful — that I will have arrived — when I get my first haters in the comments, I don’t look forward to that moment at all. I’m preparing myself, steeling myself, lying coiled ready to spring (at whom?) for the moment when I say something either so controversial or so, I don’t know, feminist, that the invective rains down like acid.

But I’d prefer to hear you say something nice in the comments below.

What sort of neighbor relations do you have? Share a juicy story below.