The Awkward Spiral: How to Ruin Your Relationship with Your New Neighbors

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We’re standing at the front windows, looking out past the lawn, past the mailbox, and across the street, at the home of one of our neighbors. We just moved to a new neighborhood, and already my flaws have caused a relationship snafu with our neighbors, leading to an awkward spiral down to an abyss of fear and hiding.

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We’re not off to a good start.

Awkward Spiral: My Wife Peeks Through the Blinds
Are They Outside?

“Are they outside?” my wife asks, separating the horizontal blinds for a peek.

I’ve always been an overconfirmer. I’m not sure why. Do I not trust people? Do I not take them at their word? Or do I not trust myself? “I don’t see them,” I say.

“I’ll get Colleen.”

“I’ll get the car. Meet you out front.”

Like an expert double-play combination, my wife and I get the first out, but getting the second is a challenge. We still have to drive off without the neighbor’s seeing us.

The Good Deed

It all started with an attempt at a good deed. Our neighbor’s, Jan and Leo Turner were remodeling their kitchen and couldn’t use the stove, so my wife suggested we invite them over for dinner one night. This struck me as a possible application of one of those “good deeds” I had heard so much about, an action akin to a Lourdesian miracle. I had always been curious as to what an actual good deed felt like, so I volunteered to call Leo.

Admittedly, I’m out of practice with this line of behavior. A whisper inside me usually tells me that good deeds are something I ought to do more of, but when the grit forms on action’s whetstone, I usually give up and reach for a box of chocolate-covered Oreos. Does throwing out the empty box qualify as an act of mercy? I’ll have to check the catechism.

I wish I had thought ahead on this one. When I got around to plotting out all of the activities in my head, I calculated I might burn five or six microcalories by the time I was done: dial the number, have a conversation, extend an invitation. Too complicated. I started to panic.

In addition, I’d have to pause “Star Trek” reruns for thirty seconds, maybe more. I comforted myself that I could fast forward through the commercials, but still I was concerned. What if I had scooped too much “good deed” ice cream onto the brownie of life?

Volunteering

I could get behind good deeds in a general sense, but why would I volunteer to take the lead? Why did I offer to make the call? That’s not me.

This whole concept of volunteering was giving me all kinds of angst. Why would I volunteer? I never volunteer for anything. My goal in life is to participate in as few external activities as possible. I would have gladly stayed in my mother’s womb for years if I hadn’t been forced out. Do you think I would have volunteered to leave that warm and cozy amniotic fluid behind? Never. My whole life has been an awkward spiral since my mother unceremoniously booted me out.

But somehow, someway, for some reason comprehensible only to the Supreme Deity, I decided to volunteer. Maybe it was my obvious lack of practice that did me in. Perhaps, if I had volunteered more over the years? Walking little old ladies across the street instead of sprinting past them? Carrying groceries in from the car rather than hiding in the bathroom? Who can say?

A Phone Call: the Awkward Spiral Begins

So one week, and approximately three boxes of chocolate chip cookies later, I made the call. After the usual preliminaries, I laid out our proposal. “We’d like to invite you over to dinner one night.”

“How about next Thursday?” said Leo.

My mind whirled. An actual day, a concrete proposal, not a proposal in the abstract. Here’s where I flubbed it. Instead of saying, Sure, sounds good. Let’s plan on Thursday. If something comes up, just let me know, I said, “Okay, give me a call and let me know.”

Let me know what? Didn’t he just let me know? Didn’t he just say Thursday? I sensed confusion on the other end.

After a short pause, he said, “Okay,” and we hung up.

Days later, when I replayed the call in my mind, I was left only with questions. Why did I do that? We had just had the call. There was no need for a second call. I put the onus on him to call me to reconfirm what he had just confirmed.

None of that went through my mind when I hung up. I thought I had made a reasonable request to confirm the dinner. In spite of that, something gnawed at me throughout the week. I had no idea it would lead to such an awkward spiral in our relationship.

The Transcript

The gnawing sensation became an irritant that Thursday afternoon around five o’clock when I could see Leo out by the grill in his backyard. Had he forgotten? Should I go over and remind him? Was he bringing appetizers?

Around midnight, I resigned myself to the fact that they weren’t coming.

“Can we eat now?” asked my wife.

“I suppose so.” As we sat down to our frigid meal, I asked, “What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know.”

I replayed the conversation in my mind. “Do you think it’s because I asked him to call and confirm?”

“I don’t know. I’d need to see the transcript.”

A transcript. Of course. That’s exactly what I needed. As soon as I put my fork down, I went upstairs to my desk, typed it up, and presented it to my wife.

“What is this?”

“It’s that transcript you asked for.”

“I did not ask for a transcript.”

I thrusted the papers towards her. “You said, and I quote, ‘I’d need to see the transcript.’”

“Right.” She extended the word until it reached from her tonsils to the tip of her tongue. “Leave it on the end table. I’ll get to it. Promise.”

My wife’s string of unbroken promises came to an end that night.

I found the transcript in the trash the next morning, a harbinger of the direction our relationship with our neighbors was going to take.

How would we handle this schism with the Turners? Should we talk with them? Hash it out? Clear the air like mature adults? Invite them over again, have a fun time, and establish a solid foundation for future friendship? We talked it over all night, and decided there was only way to move forward: avoid the Turners like the zika quarantine.

Duck, They’re Coming!

I have the engine revving, my foot poised above the gas pedal. Lana sprints out the front door with Colleen in tow, while my eyes bounce from the neighbor’s driveway to the opposite edge of the house.

“Get in, get in!” I say, but our timing’s off.

Awkward Spiral: Avoiding the Neighbors by Hiding Behind a Tree
Quick! Duck!

The door opens across the street. I slump in the car. Lana also anticipates, her neighbor-avoidance reflexes honed to a scimitarish edge, and she and Colleen duck behind a tree.

I peek over the dashboard, but maintain a level below the steering wheel. Jan Turner saunters towards the mailbox. Her eyes survey the neighborhood with casual curiosity. I pray the car’s purr is too soft to hear at a distance. My wife and daughter lean into the tree, their backs burrowing into scaly bark.

Jan pops the mailbox and plucks out its contents. Head down, opening and reading one letter after another, she shuffles back to the house, no indication she’s seen us. The second the door closes behind her, Lana and Colleen cover the remainder of the ground between the car and the tree.

Safely inside, Lana straps our daughter in as I creep out into the street: no sudden starts or stops; a smooth, rolling getaway. As soon as we pass beyond the neighbor’s border, I floor it and we’re off, safe for the time being.

As we drive away, I wonder how long we can keep this going: living in the shadows, ducking and hiding whenever we see the neighbors, running behind trees and shrubs. I glance over at my wife in the passenger seat. She’s the picture of granite resolution. I have my answer.

Forever.

A Do-Over

Is it too late for a do-over? Can we turn the clock back to the day we moved in, or even the day before I made my ill-fated phone call? How about turning the clock back to the instant before we signed the contract? We’d be out of there like a shot.

Anyone else want a do-over? Anyone else out there hide from their neighbors? Let me know.

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