The first evening it happened I dismissed it as a one-off.
My neighbours with whom I shared an adjacent wall in our townhome complex obviously had some company over and were enjoying what sounded like a Wii-type interactive physical game that made a lot of noise.
Live and let live, I initially thought.
I knew that the owner, a woman slightly older than myself with whom I was on a first name basis and chatted with once in a while, had recently moved out and that her son and his friend were occupying the unit. They were students, only in their early twenties and destined to party now and again I reasoned. Plus, it was summer and the weekend and the time for letting off steam.
When it happened again several more times, I was irritated.
The noise level and thuds against the wall from this game or whatever it was (I never actually found out) were incredibly loud and hard. It sounded like they were playing tennis and hitting the balls as hard as Nadal or Serena except that hits came every second or so.
I still chose to not say anything, rationalizing that they were young and the son’s mother had always been nice. Also, I didn’t have any light sleepers in the house at the time. No young kids—just my elderly father who slept on the floor above, largely away from the noise.
But my main reason for remaining silent, if I’m honest, is that I normally dread confrontation and the prospect that a polite request from me “to please keep it down” might trigger a conflict. During the nights it happened, the noise would eventually stop, but only after a good long spell.
One night it started when a friend was over. I told her it had happened before and that I hadn’t done anything about it. She seemed to be in disbelief that I hadn’t said anything given the vigour of the banging/thumping/swatting effect reverberating against the wall.
I vowed then that the next time I might see the mother, I would gently mention the noise level at her son’s parties. An indirect approach, I know. Perhaps passive-aggressive, too. But that was as far as my temperament allowed me to go. But I continued to worry that I was being too much of a pushover in the situation.
Fast-forward a few months.
I was about to start to teach a class at the local university where I worked. Because of my father’s increasing frailty at the time, and the external care and day programs for him that I coordinated, I always kept my cell phone with me even when I taught, in case of an emergency call.
One came that day. It was the local wheel transit operator.
He informed me that the driver who had picked up my father from his day program had dropped him off at the front door of our townhome as usual. Only this time there was no one there to receive him. Normally, a home care attendant was there to receive my father and take him into the house and help him up to his room on the third floor.
I learned later that day that there had been a mix-up at the care agency.
After getting the call at work, I had to use breathing techniques to calm the panic I felt rising in me as I quickly cancelled my class, grabbed my things, and rushed home. I tried to block images of my frail father, by then legally blind and with hearing loss, calling out for help in his gentle voice, seated on his walker, to no avail. I saw him getting increasingly anxious wondering why nobody was there to take care of him.
Although I lived a short bus ride from campus, it was the first time in my life I felt guilty about not having a car. I desperately willed the bus to go faster. Childhood memories of watching Bewitched flooded back to me. I lamented my inability to use magical powers and instantly transport myself to my front doorstep.
I have rarely been so distraught. At least, at least, it’s not raining I thought. A small mercy.
After what seemed like the longest 12-minute bus ride of my life, I raced the 100 or so metres from the bus stop to our townhome complex, arriving breathless from the effort and now fully in the throes of anxiety, guilt, and fear.
I finally saw my father. It was a sight I will never forget!
My next door neighbor, my friend’s son, was standing next to my dad, one arm around his shoulder and the other holding his cell phone; trying I presume, to get a hold of me. I could have kissed him, I was so relieved.
He told me he had heard someone calling out and had come over to investigate. He had found my dad and stayed with him. My dad looked comforted and secure. I thanked my neighbour profusely as he took his leave. Then I attended to my father.
I complained later that day to the government office responsible for the care agency that hired the care attendant. I also felt and processed a lot of other emotions afterward, eventually feeling the stress leaving my body.
One emotion, the memory of which has stayed with me now so many years later, is my deep gratitude that my neighbour had been there for my father when he needed help.
I thought back to all those summer parties, the astounding noise levels, and the endless back and forth worry in my head about whether I should confront my neighbour. Now, I was infinitely glad I hadn’t.
Whether or not bringing up the noise issue would have created poor neighbourly relations that would then have discouraged my neighbour from helping my father, I will never know.
I like to think it wouldn’t have.
But my parting impression from that experience was that my neighbour could now make all the noise he wanted and I would never complain because I was so grateful for what he had done.
Does this mean I would never raise a potentially divisive issue with a neighbour? No, I wouldn’t say never. I understand that sometimes noise and other neighbourly effects are a real nuisance and must be addressed.
But I would think long and hard before doing so.
My beautiful father has since left us.
But my own son, a newly-minted toddler, now lives with me (along with my spouse). Soon he will start exploring the neighbourhood and his independence; and should he ever need help, and mommy and daddy aren’t there, I hope a caring neighbour will be.
Author: Maneesha Deckha
Maneesha is a Professor of Law who lives with her husband and son in beautiful Victoria, BC. She is a vegan and an animal lover. Her articles and papers have appeared in many national and international publications including the Vancouver Sun.