A #MeToo story about the abuser next door

My first attempt to put this out there publicly was a tweet:

Men: It is NOT OKAY to be friendly with a woman, to be a father-figure/mentor, then start touching her and making comments on her appearance. It’s really not okay to then profess your “love” and threaten her feeling of safety. We don’t talk about this enough. What a shit week.

The following is a stream of consciousness account of my thoughts and feelings after a man I trusted betrayed me. I am adding my story to the compendium of #MeToo to further expose the problem we have with men’s perceived entitlement to act on whatever they’re feeling. Even this man, who claims to be feminist and seems to champion women, decided he had a right to violate my safety for his feels.

****

The last couple of weeks have been rough. My mind has been all over the place, looking at things from different angles, fending off dark thoughts. What do I feel? What do I want to say? What good can come of this? I’m so tired. It’s been hard to get up in the mornings but also hard to go to sleep. I’ve been napping and I’ve barely worked. My stomach is in knots.

It started back in November. As the days grew cooler and shorter, I spent more time chatting with our neighbors who go outside several times a day to smoke on their front patio. Over the nearly six years that my partner and I have lived in this house, we’ve been treated like family by these neighbors. We’ve spent birthday dinners and lingering evenings with them and members of their family.

In the last few months, I’d been spending time with them almost daily. I usually spent more time with him than her simply because we had more to talk about. She doesn’t read the news or keep up with anything around current events. Her idea of a conversation is complaining about her day, every day.

When she would get bored and go back inside, her husband and I would smoke a bowl and shoot the shit. I started playing disc golf with him and his friends on Sundays. We were alone together during the time it took to drive to the course and back. A few times, we went out to play just the two of us. I began to worry that his wife would think there was something going on.

Sometimes when it was really cold, I would hang out inside their house. One day while he and I were watching TV in his game room, his wife barged in, threw a fit about something and I got that feeling like a cold shock. “This is it,” I thought. “She thinks I’m trying to steal her man. She thinks I’m a homewrecker.” A couple of days went by and she apologized for her behavior. She said she was in a bad mood that day and just venting. I cried and told her I was worried she hated me. She laughed and reassured me that she was not worried about my relationship with her husband.

Things started to change

Something gnawed at me. Something wasn’t right. Two red flags appeared, though it took me awhile to admit that’s what they were. First, he got handsy. He would suddenly grab me in some “playful” way like on my knee or my bare foot. It made me really uncomfortable, but I brushed it off because a lot of people are more comfortable with touching and hugging than I am.

Second, he started commenting on my appearance. It was never anything more than a passing remark like, “You look gorgeous,” but I wasn’t comfortable with it. I don’t like being touched and I don’t like remarks about how I look. I rationalized it away because here was a man who was supposed to be a father-figure to me. He knows I am not all that close with my parents, that I don’t speak with my partner’s parents. He has also heard his wife speak many times about us being like their kids. Yet, that didn’t stop him. It never stops them because they can get away with it. I don’t believe I’m the first.

About three weeks ago, he made an inappropriate joke in a text message about me being hot. I responded with “Lol” because what do you do? The next time I saw him, he asked me if the text had made me uncomfortable and I replied, “A little bit.” Not very strong, I know, but here’s a 60-year-old man asking a 40-year-old woman if what he did was a problem, so he knows it’s a problem. I shouldn’t have to say anything. None of us should have to defend ourselves from this kind of bullshit, yet here we are.

text message from my abuser. I texted 'hot' and he replied 'yes you are. oops did i send that out loud.'

I told my therapist about this. I told her how the week before, after disc golf, he sat next to me, put his arm around me and said jokingly, “Here, let me grope you.” I told her how he took a photo of me with his tablet without my permission. How he then handed me his tablet to delete the photo but not before he felt compelled to email it to me. I told her how uncomfortable that exchange made me but also how my reaction is to freeze. When you’re in the middle of abuse, it’s not always obvious that’s what’s happening. I see it now. I feel it now. I started to avoid him.

the photo my neighbor took of me in my front yard.

A few days later, his wife called us to come out front with them and it was pretty fucking awkward. I had skipped disc golf the day before. Then I get to hear how sad he’s been. This is important, folks: The first time I see this guy after he’s totally inappropriate with me, I have to hear about how he’s the victim. She tells me how I have to be around to talk with him about things that she “can’t.” Oh, so my job is to talk to your husband because you don’t want to?

Two days later, I got an email from him with an attachment. I had an idea what it might be, so I waited a few days to read it with my therapist. He decided to hand-write me a letter professing his love for me and he made it clear that he’s felt this way for a long time. Am I supposed to be flattered? Am I supposed to care? What is this bullshit? And here we sit with the uncomfortable truth: We allow men to act this way; we encourage it with our toxically masculine ideas of love; we treat it like it’s no big deal.

the letter from my neighbor

I just want you to know there is no place in this universe you can go without my love as your baggage. …I’m sorry, but I had to let you know.

Excerpt from the letter

Why are men allowed to prey on women like this? Why are they allowed to dress up as father figures only to incestuously proclaim they love us? It’s sick and yet so normalized. We don’t talk about it enough. Not really. I haven’t found a way to, beyond typing this out. I’m trying to pick up the pieces because now I am the one who has to find my way through this.

  • I feel trapped in my own home. Most of the time, this man is within 75 feet of me. I live next door to my abuser.
  • I feel trapped in my own clothes, a dark wardrobe of long sleeves and long pants carefully designed to hide me that isn’t working.
  • His wife is trying to talk to me but I don’t know what she knows or what he’s told her. Probably nothing.
  • If she does find out, will she try to mess with me? What does she know that she can use against me?
  • He told me he knows when I’m up because he can see when I’ve raised the blind on the kitchen window.
  • When I sit on my back porch, I can still hear him outside, smell the cigarette smoke.

My first thought was to put up eight-foot pickets on the fence that divides our backyards. I hate how easy it is to see back there, how easy it is to see me. I’ll have to put pickets up along the front of the house too.

Maybe I should just extend the fence into the front yard. Because every time I go to leave the house, I worry I will see one or both of them. I worry they will try to talk to me. I worry that I will be asked to deal with this pain right in front of them.

I get in my car with the garage door closed and leave as quickly as I can. When I come home, I drive into the garage and immediately shut the door before I exit my car.

Maybe I should just move. I can afford to move. I don’t like living next door to a man I can’t trust not to assault me.

Maybe I should get a gun. A handgun is easier to carry but a shotgun is probably more effective, more practical.

Maybe I should just go away for a while, work from another state so I don’t have to be near this guy all the time. Did I mention he just retired? He’s at home all the time now. I’m working from home today because I’m tired. I worry he will come over.

They still have a key to our house because, you know, he would feed the cats when we went out of town for the weekend. Has he been in here other times? I wonder if he ever went through my things while we were gone. My mind continues to find ways in which I feel violated.

****

A few days have passed. I told my other neighbor, a girl friend of mine, about what’s been going on. She was mostly supportive, but it was distressing to witness her socialization, hear her immediately try to rationalize his behavior herself.

Maybe they’re swingers? Did he touch you in that way that old men do?

I let her know that neither his actions nor his letter supported either of those things. (Nor would that matter!) I decided to let her inside my trauma, just a little. I told her how this was dredging up the past for me, from when my stepdad sexually assaulted me as a teenager.

Sometimes I forget who I’ve told about my past abuse, or just how much I’ve told them. It’s not something I think about often or too deeply anymore. But this situation with my neighbor is triggering because it’s acting like an extension of my story from 25 years ago, when I lived with my abuser. When I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening because I didn’t have anyone to tell. In 1993, I had recently moved in with my birth mom and her new husband because my relationship with my parents (dad and stepmom) had really broken down.

I didn’t have any close friends. We moved to a new state right before I started high school, and it was just a few months later in February of my freshman year when I moved to a new state again. I was 15. My stepdad was 36. I thought we were friends. We bonded over shared interests in sports and spoke on the phone often. It was fewer than four months before he took advantage of my trust in him.

I realized a few days ago that my neighbor is about the same age as my stepdad. It’s odd to be sort of re-victimized by the same profile all these years later. I haven’t had a relationship with my birth mom for the last several years, in part because she sees me as culpable in my own abuse, thinks I “wanted it.” I expect the same treatment from my neighbor’s wife when she finds out what her husband has said to me, done to me.

****

Yesterday, my partner changed the door locks and I’m feeling safer. I continue to avoid my neighbors, though. My girl friend thinks I need to respond to the emailed love letter and tell my neighbor that he’s dead to me. That what he did is disgusting. That he has no respect for me, his wife, their relationship or my own relationship with my partner. I’m not convinced that’s necessary. I don’t owe him anything.

Would it feel good to threaten to forward his email to his wife if he doesn’t leave me alone? Maybe. But I also don’t care about either of them anymore. I’ve already grieved a lot of this kind of pain because of what I endured as a teenager and I’m a lot stronger now. I’ve learned how to separate myself from people who are not good for me. It takes time and practice.

My hope is that by putting this story out there, I can help someone else feel stronger, someone who’s feeling alone and unsure in their own story. Behavior like this from men is wrong. It’s not love. It’s a damaging sense of entitlement. We can band together and expose these men for who they are and stop pretending like it’s rare or weird or our fault. Because the truth is, we all know men like this.