This beautiful painting hangs over my kitchen sink. The painter was a death row inmate who turned his life around through yoga and meditation (although this didn’t prevent his sentence from being carried out). His beautiful portrait of love and hope has been a great comfort to me over the years, and never more than now.

A few nights ago, my next door neighbor called me a “prude.”

While I was pretty sure this wasn’t the word he was really looking for, it still stung.

When he called me this, I was the only female standing in the midst of a group of angry men of multiple ages and nationalities. They were defending what they saw as their right to turn their party soundtrack up to Defcon 10 for as many hours as it pleased them to do so.

I was defending my right to save my eardrums and get some sleep.

Given the relative size of each camp (loud music = entire nearby neighborhood; peace and quiet = me), the BOOM BOOM BOOM went on all night as usual.

Meanwhile, back inside my tiny casa, in addition to the ongoing nerve-wracking external thumping, I was combatting the internal BOOM of a cracked ego and shattered sense of personal safety.

As I mentioned in my previous post, anytime you are confronted with someone or something larger and stronger than you are that is intent on getting its way, it can tend to produce these kinds of side effects.

But even worse, as a result of this and similar other recent experiences, I am now realizing that the childhood bullying and name calling we read so much about in the news today doesn’t stop when we get older. Instead, it just gets scarier. And much louder.

I will never forget watching my younger brother get into it with some other boys on our elementary school playground. They were making fun of him because he had one leg that was shorter than the other (from birth – later corrected surgically) and he walked with a bit of a limp.

They called him a name. He swung at them. [You show ’em, little bro.]

This is mostly how we respond when we are little. Hit now, ask for forgiveness later (and usually only under extreme duress from parents or principals or both).

When we are older, simple fists get replaced with restraining orders, small claims court lawsuits and – at least if my current neighborhood and our local news is any indication – slashed tires and firearms.

And sometimes, you ask a neighbor as politely as you know how to turn their music down and you find yourself being publicly branded the local Debbie Downer.

The morning after, I might as well have been wearing a scarlet P – the neighborhood prude. The memory of waking up that next morning and walking out to get in my car, surrounded as I did so by several pairs of still-accusatory neighboring eyes, will not fade quickly. 

This is the irony in our culture, even here in the states, where freedom of speech is still a cherished personal right.

Often, the wronged party is also the punished party. A little kid who hits, curses, spits or finds another creative little kid way to spontaneously push back at a bully may get “corner time,” sent to the principle’s office, written up, suspended or expelled.

In defense of my friends who are teachers and kids who bully at school because they are being bullied at home or elsewhere, the system is slowly shifting to find better ways to sleuth out the real truth about kid-to-kid disputes, and sometimes this actually results in individual bullies or bullying groups getting outed and corrected.

For adults who are being bullied, there is always the recourse of a restraining order, small claims court or reaching out to the media if the bully is an abusive business.

Giant stereo speakers can also work well here.

But what really gets me is this: somehow, even though all I was asking my neighbor to do was lower the volume a bit – a compromise, if you will – what I got instead was a lengthy lecture, delivered in broken English, about how it was “his turn” and he was going to “take his little bit” and how anyone else’s discomfort with his spontaneous all-night outdoor DJ-fest was “not his problem.”

When I pointed out that, between him taking his little bit and my next door neighbor taking his little bit and their next door neighbor taking their little bit, I had been listening to BOOM BOOM BOOM for three straight days now, he again shrugged and said, “Not my problem.”

When I sought out near neighbors for some backup – they were easy to find, since they were already gathered around watching us – they all sided with the amateur DJ.

My next door neighbor then announced that I didn’t want any of them to have “any fun” and that he by God wasn’t going to turn down his music for me (previously we had worked out an arrangement where he at least didn’t blare it all day while I was trying to work).

So yet again, the bullies got their way and I got….pilloried.

It goes without saying that I am currently eagerly searching for a new casa for myself and my flock.

But in the meantime, I have had to wage an additional battle within myself to reclaim my internal sense of basic self worth and personal rights.

Are they right? Am I just a selfish person who just doesn’t want anyone to have any fun? 

Why do I always find myself in these situations again and again? What am I not learning that means I have to go through this over and over?

Why am I like this – so noise-sensitive in such an increasingly noisy world? Why can’t I ever fit in? Why can’t I just “deal with it” like so many people have suggested?

Am I a bad person? An unlikable person? A mean person? A horrible person?

A female neighbor who lives catty-corner to me later confided that they will never turn down their music – it will go on all night. Of course by that point I already knew this, but since she said it kindly and quietly away from the angry herd of males, I was happy to have what felt like a semi-sane conversation.

She then told me to watch out for my next door neighbor on the other side. Apparently one day recently his girlfriend backed out of their driveway, broadsided her truck and then driving off without getting out, apologizing or offering to pay for the damage.

Sadly, I wasn’t surprised to hear this, since the exact same thing had just happened to my boyfriend’s car in a different neighborhood – right in front of both of us (luckily, that damage was minimal, so he didn’t pursue).

But what she shared next DID surprise me. She told me she had had to pay for the $2,000 worth of damage herself.

I remember thinking to myself, “No you didn’t!” She has so many options for proving who caused the damage and taking them to task for making repairs. There are photos, paint samples from both cars, eye witnesses, small claims court.

There is even mediation to reach a compromise on the actual costs to repair the damage.

But this seemingly sweet neighbor didn’t do any of this.  She just paid for it herself. WOW.

Then I asked her, “doesn’t the constant deafening music happening up and down our street ever bother you?”

Her reply, “I guess I’ve lived here so long I have just gotten used to it. Mainly we just try to keep to ourselves and not cause any trouble.”

All of a sudden, a clear mental picture sprang to view inside my mind. I saw an adult sandbox. All of my close neighbors were gathered around it, hoping for a turn to play.

The biggest, loudest ones with the largest families or community networks got the lion’s share of time.

Anyone who protested was called names, bullied or ousted from the sandbox altogether.

When this occurred, even the other neighbors who had been bullied in the past sided with the bullies for their own self-protection and a continued chance to take a turn at play.

Privately, however, everyone – both bullies and bullied – had a sad story of never getting enough. So when their chance came to be the bully and take over the sandbox for their own personal use, they TOOK it. They took it with force without ever once questioning themselves on their motives or methods.

They enjoyed turning up the volume, turning up the heat, calling the names, being the ringleader for once, feeling the raw power of displaying their small human meanness poorly disguised as personal choice.

Since that night, my heart has been hurting nonstop. I have felt confused, betrayed, lost, abandoned, scared, bullied (of course) and at odds with myself as well as my current community.

It doesn’t really help to know that if I was still a truly wild animal, instead of the thinly domesticated animal I keep trying to be, what happened to me the other night would probably have been fatal.

A pack animal that is bullied and fails to fall in line will be bullied further or ousted from the group. Without protection from the pack, that animal’s options narrow considerably – become someone else’s lunch or die of starvation.

Either way, it’s not pretty.

Not surprisingly, my ancient survival instinct is pretty revved up about this. “Get back in – make nice – don’t make waves – lay low – survive.” These are the messages it has been issuing on a fairly continuous basis since that evening.

Ironically, this makes it feel like I’m being now bullied from within. Yet I refuse. I won’t make nice with the bullies. I also won’t join them in disrupting the community further by taking my “little bit” if and when that chance ever comes.

So, for now, I accept my loner status (and I hope nothing too hungry encounters me while I’m out and about).

Meanwhile, I am still searching for “my people” – a tribe of my own species where I can live and breathe and simply be, free from packs, cliques, bullies or bullying.

Wish me luck.

Today’s Takeaway: The topic of bullying is such an intense topic. It is very emotional and often highly charged. While much of the literature I’ve read seems to suggests that targets of bullies tend to be those who stick out or are “different” in some way, I have to say I’m not sure I agree. Reason being – I have yet to meet any person who doesn’t seem to have an intimate personal experience with the word “bully.” If the intention is to find difference, to find a reason to bully, to find a target for the bullying, it would seem that that is an easy goal to accomplish. For this reason, I think we have all been bullied and that (at least in my own case) we also know the personal pain of choosing to become a bully even when we have other available options. The ripple effect is the hardest part, and I think that is what I experienced the other night in my neighborhood. How do you cope with your own experiences of having been bullied? What has helped you quickly remember who you are and what you are all about and stay true to your own innate self worth?