Sunday, August 2, 2009


I had a rough night last night, sleep-wise; a couple of weeks of rough nights in fact. Ever since my dog got sick, pulling a couple of all-nighters, I am still trying to get back to feeling well slept and rested again. But I was awake at 5 a.m., alert enough to turn on my light, check my email, write an email, check the Giant's score from last night. (You know, all the important things.) But luckily I was able to get back to sleep—a pretty rare occurrence—probably around 6ish. A deep, comfortable, dreaming sleep that I was brought rudely out of by my upstairs neighbor hammering. And hammering. And then hammering some more. I turned over and looked at the clock. 7:15. On a Sunday morning.

I lose sleep to this woman on average at least once a week. Some weeks nearly every night or morning. Occasionally, rarely, I go a couple of weeks without being disturbed by her. But she always makes up for it. A month ago, the night before I was leaving and driving to Portland, about an eleven hour drive by myself, she was up, on her balcony loudly visiting with a friend until 1:15. I finally turned off my alarm which had been set for 5:30, deciding that getting enough sleep was more important than arriving by a certain time. Nice idea… except that they were at it again before 7.

Though their loud friendly and fun banter was nothing compared to the x-rated fury that, a few months ago, she began unleashing on her partner in the middle of the night. I would lie in my bed, wondering if this was the night I needed to call the police. One night, just as I was reaching for the phone, the partner fled down the back steps and out our back gate. I was grateful she had escaped, but then worried about her anew. It was the middle of the night in the middle of Oakland. Where would she go? Did she have her car keys with her? On and on, as though worried about my own daughter. Two weeks ago she (the neighbor, not the partner who I think has finally moved out, thank god) rang my doorbell at 5:30 in the morning, needing someone to let her in the back because she was locked out of the front. She was so drunk she could barely walk, and kept dropping her rolled joints, nearly falling over when picking them up, chronically missing the front pocket she was trying to slide them into.

There are so many things I love about this apartment. My first apartment in over thirty years, my first foray from suburbs into city. It’s in a decent, cute, older Oakland neighborhood. The building has much character, and my unit is charming, bright, sunny, and cute—especially after my sister and I repainted the kitchen which, when I moved in, was purple, orange, and lime green. (I kid you not, the cupboards were purple, the cupboard doors orange, and the walls the lime green!) It’s a four-plex, a nice quiet community, I was told as I signed on the dotted line, committing to twelve long months. And for the most part, it is. Though the walls are paper-thin, and not much goes unheard from unit to unit, my other neighbors are sweet and nice and have great energy. Though I hear them regularly, I am not disturbed by them. Just the opposite, sometimes, as it’s nice to know that there are folks nearby.

But with her, it’s different. For the record, I have complained. To my landlord, and to his brother, who lives in one of the units. I know they both know it’s a problem, and I know she disturbs Peter, too. I’ve also asked her personally if we could observe a quiet time. She was reasonable, she was apologetic, but she’s an addict. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, it’s unnerving. Lying in bed at night, just as I did when I was little, hearing things go bumping and crashing in the dark, fearing that in her drunken/high stupor, she will hurt herself… or all of us. Like so many addicts, she is sweet when sober, full of rage when not. Though even when sober, she is just plain loud. The youngest of eight, she told me. She had to be loud to be heard, she said. I’m sorry, she said, it won’t happen again. Right.

It’s a habit of mine to look for meaning in everything. It’s interesting that I’ve moved out of my quiet home in the burbs, to a place that I had hoped, had intended, to be a bit of a sanctuary; where I could rest, grieve, and begin to heal. Sometimes it’s almost comical… I look around my cute little “cottage-y” space, complete with adorable new sofa, “shabby” craigslist furniture, books lovingly displayed; indoor “garden,” complete with fountain, and at all my “spiritual” and inspirational trappings, all the while listening to her screaming the F-Bomb and worse--trust me, there’s much worse—right and left. The quiet serenity of the space I’ve created in direct contrast to such volume, and such violent rage.

Yet here’s a truth: When I lie in my bed, my own rage bubbling like a fresh spring up and over, I am no different from her. Yes, I meet her raging with fear, but I meet her lack of simple, common courtesy with out-and-out rage. I do. It’s not something I am proud of, as a self-proclaimed spiritual “seeker.” Nor do I have the excuse of alcohol or drugs. But rage is rage, and there’s far more than enough of it already flying around our imperiled little planet. Yes, there are times when there has been understanding, compassion even. But never when I’m tired and needing sleep. The response is automatic. How dare you disturb my precious sleep.

And there are also times when I am profoundly aware of how lucky I am: that given the amount of alcoholism that runs in my family, that didn’t happen for me; that I have not just a roof, but a nice one over my head; that I have a brand-new warm comfortable queen-sized bed, plenty of food in the fridge; and the biggest one, that the bombs I hear exploding are simply of the “F” variety, and not the kind that so many live in fear and danger of, the kind that terrorize, brutalize, maim and kill on a daily basis.

I don’t know why exactly I came to live here. I know the practical reasons I chose this place, besides its potential cute quotient, that is: friends in the neighborhood, my job within walking distance, cheap rent. But my sense is that I will be long gone before I am ready or able to integrate whatever lessons are here for me. I’m too chronically tired, still too off balance from all the changes, still too often on the brink of meltdown. I don’t know why the reality is so much different than what I’d hoped for, with all my salting and smudging, space clearing and cleansing, prayers of intention. Maybe it’s just life, and life can sometimes suck. But I like to think there’s more to it than that—need to think there’s more to it than that.

It’s been good to write about it. The anger is gone, for now. But then so is the hammering…

I’ll end with one of my favorite Rumi poems:

So the sea journey goes on,
and who knows where?
Just to be held by the ocean
is the best luck we could have.

Until next time…
Be well.

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