“Be willing to be supported.”
The affirmation is sitting right there on my bathroom mirror. Staring at me.
I can feel its beady little eyes boring not just into my mind, but into my soul.
Because support, to me at least, has always been a terribly tenuous thing.
I will give you an example.
I have moved five times over the past 10 years. For reasons I am only just now starting to understand, each of these rental properties came to me bearing its own special noise challenge.
The first backed right up to a vacuum car wash. I didn’t know it, however, until my tree-hating landlord chopped down the mini-forest around my casa that was blocking all that sound. From then on, I was bombarded with the endless whine of vacuums starting early in the morning, punctuated with disco music and, on slow days, soccer balls rebounding off the walls of my house.
In the second, I had a next door neighbor who threw raucous pool parties that started in the early am and lasted late into the night….and not just on weekends. He also offered his back yard to dog-owning friends as a temporary daytime dog park – can I just tell you how effective a large, deep swimming pool is at amplifying dog barks?
Being a serial renter, I had no idea that the third was located in one of the most up-and-coming desirable areas of town for new construction. During the three years of my tenancy, several historic houses were demolished all in a row starting right next door to me. Following that, 11 new three-story homes went up on my street.
The fourth was – well, nearly indescribable, really. I didn’t find out until a few weeks after move-in that the neighborhood had let its housing association lapse. And for good reason, as it turned out – the neighbors were wild at heart and clearly deaf in hearing from all the gunshots, fireworks, DJ’d lawn parties and (I kid you not) a private fenced-in night club thinly disguised as a “car storage lot.”
The fifth casa initially presented as a long-overdue welcome respite from the first through fourth. I moved in the summer when temperatures routinely reach three-digits and humidity is easily 100 percent before noon (point being, everyone is sealed inside their homes, a/c blasting). So it took me until the fall, when doors and windows opened again for the cooler breezes, to notice the ever-increasing volume of tunes and television programs emanating from the house sitting right in front of mine – my elderly landlord’s home.
Last week, after more than a year of gentle, polite, in-person requests for a temporary daytime reduction in volume for “just a couple of hours so I can sit on my porch and work,” one day it just got to be too much.
So I did what has always landed me in such hot water in the past – I walked over and explained that one of us had to go – it was his noise or me. I asked quite nicely but with emphasis and more than one reference to rising blood pressure and the need for quiet to work so I could earn rent money to pay him.
After a bit of back and forth, he said to me, “I’m sorry” and closed his door. It has mostly stayed closed ever since. Sometimes when I walk close to the house (which is located right at the bottom of my stairs) I can hear the television or the music blasting. But it is inside with him. And outside with me, my turtles and my porch, all is quiet once more.
This is important because every single time I have requested any kind of reduction in volume in the past, whether from loud music at a construction site during work hours or a cessation in festivities that were still shaking my windows well after midnight, I have been met with open hostility.
From notes left on my car windshield to slashed tires, predatory phone threats to neighborhood gossip (one former downstairs neighbor told the whole neighborhood I was a prostitute after I asked her politely to lower the volume on her television!), it has always required either an act of courage or outright stupidity to inquire if a noise-loving neighbor might consider altering their regular volume levels just a tiny little bit for the sake of a quiet-loving stranger.
I share this extremely long and likely not that riveting story for two reasons. Both have to do with becoming willing to be supported.
You see, before I approached my current landlord this last time, I had already tried every argument I could think of to talk myself out of what I was about to do.
For example, I told myself I was selfish, small-minded, too picky, intolerant….any awful thing I could think of to say to myself, I said it.
Since many of these same things had already been said to me by past family, partners, landlords, neighbors and even friends, I had no shortage of ready insults to hurl at myself. Why couldn’t I just learn to love noise – or at least live peaceably alongside it? Why couldn’t I be more like clearly every other person in the world? Why did I insist on living in a big city and expect there would be any way to find peace and quiet?
But the insults didn’t work. I couldn’t talk myself out of it. I wanted what I wanted. I wanted to work from home as a writer AND have peace and quiet while I did it.
And so I gathered up all my remaining shreds of courage or stupidity, told the teary terrified bits of myself to hold it for five more minutes, clomped down my stairs and explained as sanely as I could to my hard-of-hearing landlord one last time that I just. needed. quiet.
Then I braced myself for impact. For fallout. For the vengeful hate mail in my mailbox, the eviction notice on my door, the refusal to fix the next thing that breaks in my equally elderly apartment, the complaints about any tiny sound that emitted from my general direction (or any not-so-tiny sound that emitted from my parrot, Pearl’s, general direction).
But it didn’t come. It has yet to come. It may still come.
I will be honest – I am still braced. Even as I sit right now, outside on my quiet porch, typing this post to you, I am still waiting. I am still half-expecting (more than half if I’m being honest) him to come stomping outside, yelling and scaring me to death, his blaring television punctuating every threat for extra emphasis.
Truly, nothing in any of my previous programming can find a reference to past requests that didn’t end with me in tatters, and so we continue to wait, battening down the emotional hatches, girding the mental loins, rehearsing how to pack up all my possessions in record time in order to jump ship before it sinks completely below the icy turbulent waves.
But in the meantime, each morning I wake up and there it is again, on my bathroom mirror, regarding me with wisdom I have yet to cultivate within myself.
“Be willing to be supported.”
Because I really am trying.
For the first time ever, I realized it is okay to have preferences, wants, needs of my own. For the first time in five casas and perhaps in my own nearly five decades of life to date, when I went to talk with my landlord last week about yet another noise issue, I had my own back. I supported myself to ask for what I needed to live semi-sanely in an insane world. I put myself on the line for me. I became willing to be supported – from within first, and then, perhaps, from without as well.
And this time, so far at least, so good.
“Be willing to be supported.”
With great love and respect,