As a collective society, we are so stressed out
My partner texted me last night from his office.
“I’m running late,” he said. “I’m not going to get home as early as I had hoped. Can you run over to my place and take Lex [his dog] out for a walk?”
He lives in a condo complex not far from me. The complex houses a courtyard in the front, and small park in the back. I grabbed his keys and my headphones, and then headed over to his house.
I was listening to a podcast in the courtyard, waiting for his dog to do her business, when one of his neighbors approached me. I knew this woman — she was notorious in the condo complex for walking her cat around the park on a leash.
But, I had never conversed with her — so even as she approached me, it didn’t occur to me that she would be coming over to speak to me — until she ducked her face in front of mine and snapped her fingers.
I pulled my headphones off and looked at her.
Hi, I said to her.
This is private property, she said to me. There are signs everywhere.
Oh, I know, I said to her. But my boyfriend lives here. He asked me to take his dog out.
You don’t live here, she said. You’re trespassing.
I stared at her.
I’m not trespassing, I told her. I’m an invited guest. This is my boyfriend’s dog, and he lives here.
Where? she said gesturing wildly. Where does your boyfriend live? I never see you with him. I see you all the time but never with him. You don’t live here.
Wary now, and not wanting to tell this woman the building my boyfriend lives in, I waved vaguely around.
He lives in this complex, and we work opposite schedules, I told her, and started to walk away.
I want to talk to him, she said. You’re trespassing.
I’m not trespassing! I exclaimed again, getting frustrated now. I’m a guest. He’s allowed to have guests!
You don’t belong here! she screeched at me.
Am I hurting you?! I asked, genuinely confused, but also getting angry.
You don’t live here! You’re trespassing! she said for the umpteenth time.
Am. I. Hurting. You? I asked again.
You’re hurting my property, she said.
Oh, I said. Well I don’t want to do that. Can you explain how I’m hurting it?
Your dog is hurting it, she said, gesturing at my boyfriend’s dog. Only the dogs that live in this complex can be here.
THIS DOG LIVES IN THIS COMPLEX! I said, wondering why I was even bothering to argue with this woman I had now determined was a lunatic.
Get off of my property! she yelled.
This is not your property! I yelled back. You share it, with the others who live in this complex — one of whom is my boyfriend — and all of whom are allowed to have guests!
Next time I see you here, I’m calling the police, she said.
I burst out laughing.
Call them! I antagonized her. Call them right now!
Now? she said, hesitating.
Yes, now, I said. I’ll wait. You can explain to them why you’re harassing your neighbor’s guests, and maybe then I’ll understand it as well.
I’ll really call them! she said.
You should, I retorted. You really should. In fact, I dare you.
She whipped out her phone and stared at it. Then she looked back at me.
I don’t have time for this, she snapped, starting to walk away.
No, you just have time to harass random people, I yelled after her. You don’t have time to explain why you’re in the wrong to the cops you called for no legitimate reason.
Next time I will call them! she yelled over her shoulder as she walked off.
I stood there, stunned, unsure of what had just happened. I’d seen this woman walking her cat on multiple occasions. I’d said “hi” to her before. I’d never found her to be friendly, but I’d never found her to be the type of person to accost a stranger either.
My partner’s dog stood there, unfazed by all the commotion. I looked down and saw that she had finished going to the bathroom during the fight. I picked up her poop and brought her inside.
What a f*cking nut! my other neighbor said when I called her from the safety of my home. She had no business talking to you like that!
Was I trespassing though? I asked her. I’m not proud of how I responded either. Maybe she was right.
You weren’t trespassing, she responded. You were pet-sitting for someone who lives in that building. You know, I’ve seen that woman and she really is a nut. Who walks their cat?
Sometimes people walk their cats, I said, thinking of my cousin who sometimes walks her cat. I’m just more concerned that she’s going to hunt me down somehow. She was really mad.
She had to have been having a bad day, my neighbor said. There really is no reason for this argument to ever have happened.
There was no reason for me to respond like I did either, I said. I antagonized her.
Whatever, said my neighbor. You can respond differently if you see her again, but you didn’t start this fight. People need to calm down.
People need to calm down. This is a thought that I rolled over a few times in my head. People need to calm down. Myself included.
I still don’t think that I was in the wrong in this situation, but there was a time when I would have reacted differently. Even just a couple of years ago, I would have tried to reason with this woman rather than rising to her level. And just a couple of years ago, she paid no attention to me when she saw me.
This pandemic has shaken something loose in all of us, my boss said the other day when we were talking about our clients. No one is doing well right now.
I feel that this is true. We’ve forgotten how to interact in social situations; we’ve forgotten what it’s like to share space with others. We’ve been in our bubbles for so long, we’ve forgotten that the world is not only ours.
In the past month alone, I’ve seen evidence of this in a multitude of settings:
- I watched someone scream at someone else in the grocery store, calling them a “selfish piece of s*it” for bringing 13 items into the “12 items or less line.”
- I saw someone literally throw someone else out of a subway car at a train stop because they didn’t feel there was enough room. (The train was stopped at the time).
- I sat with a client as she told me she can no longer leave her house because the thought of interacting with others at this point in time heightens her anxiety to an insufferable level.
There are others, but I don’t want to spend all day listing them.
I live in an overcrowded city and people are stressed out anyway. On a good day, people are grumbly and frustrated. But, they’re grumbling under their breath — not throwing other people off of a train.
Then, there is all that is going on around us, and the overwhelming sense of impending doom that many of us are feeling underneath all that goes on in our own lives.
Have a great day at work! While the planet slowly burns around us.
Try not to miss the train! And hope that you don’t get shot while you’re riding it.
Don’t forget you have a doctor’s appointment! Make sure you ask your doctor to help you stock up on contraceptives before the right to have them is taken away.
Pick up the kids at 3! Pray that they’re still alive when I pull up.
Even for people without anxiety, it’s a really stressful time to navigate all that is going on around us.
When I look at the incident with my partner’s neighbor through this lens, I’m able to garner a bit more compassion — for both her and myself. I don’t know what set her off.
Maybe she hates dogs. Maybe she really hates when all of her neighbors have guests over. Maybe she had a really bad day.
Maybe she’s filled with anxiety and dread that she doesn’t quite have a firm grasp on.
Maybe she really just hates me personally. It’s possible — though I’m not sure why that would be.
And for me — I didn’t like the way she snapped her fingers in my face. I didn’t like the way she accused me of doing something wrong. I didn’t like the way she ignored everything I was saying. When I take all of these factors and couple them with my own constant anxiety and sense of foreboding, it’s a noxious combination.
The only thing I can control is my reaction to the situation at hand — and I can do better with that than I did this time around. Knowing this will help me to be cognizant next time an uncomfortable situation arises — and knowing that others are likely dealing with similar stressors helps me to be less frustrated with them.
And, my boyfriend will need to walk his own dog for the time being.