I remember the first time I got cursed out by our neighbor. I was trying to back out of our driveway which was located on a fairly busy road. Our neighbors had planted low hanging trees and high bushes which directly infringed on our line of sight trying to leave our home. After many kind and patient conversations asking them to trim their foliage, I finally couldn’t see anymore but our neighbor, Bob, did not care.
This one particular morning, I happened to catch him as I was trying to pull out with my two small children. He stood on his porch with anger in his eyes and told me that I was an idiot for buying our home. Bob told me I was a terrible mother for purchasing a house on a busy road and that he wouldn't do anything to trim back his landscaping.
I was close to tears as I cautiously pulled out onto the road, praying I didn't get hit by one of the many tractor trailers that speed down Rt 501. It had been years since anyone had spoken to me like that. Since I was in Italy and my rapist berated me.
Bob used mild profanity, but it wasn’t the curse words that caused such distress in my spirit. It was the aggressive nature of his speech. It was the disregard for my dignity. He spoke to me like I was an animal. I didn’t know what to do with that.
I remember speaking to my husband, Matthew, about what had taken place, and while he calmed me down, he also told me just to let it go. (This was all before my past abuse came to the forefront of our lives and we had the knowledge and tools to deal with this type of person.) Matthew was in school full-time and working full-time, so dealing with a grumpy neighbor wasn’t and couldn’t be a priority for him.
But I had to manage the situation. I wasn't yet staying home full time, but I was the one who managed everything and everyone in our lives. This new aggressive person living next-door to me had me completely unsettled in just a moment.
Eventually I was able to speak to his wife and ask her to help. "Tracy" had always been more gentle. More kind. More understanding. She seemed to like me and our family, but more than that she seemed to understand how difficult her husband could be. From that point on I approached Tracy, instead of Bob for fear that he again would speak so harshly to me.
As time went on, I did my best to "kill him with kindness" as the saying goes. I would say "good morning" to him and he would blatantly ignore me. The kids would see him outside and I would guide them to say hello to "Mr. N." Our children would be friendly and kind yet Bob went out of his way to ignore them.
Like a good little Christian, I believed that's how I should behave. That’s the example I wanted to set for my kids - to be kind regardless of how we were treated.
As the years went on, I had a few more confrontations with Bob; at that point the worst had been the time he cut our privacy hedges in half while we were on vacation. I filed a complaint with the police because he pushed our boundaries too far by damaging our personal property. Even then he tried to belittle me by attacking my ability to maintain our home.
This past April things escalated very quickly. Bob had gotten into the habit of using our personal driveway for his friends to park or for loading and unloading his truck. He would get irritated at me for asking very gently and tentatively not to use our driveway on a certain day because we were expecting guests. But in April things went from bad to abusive.
We had just come home from church, had lunch with the kids and Matthew and I sat down on the couch with our afternoon cups of coffee.
There was a pounding at the door.
I looked at Matthew. "That's Bob." I could tell from the way he knocked. I had only experienced it a few times in the 12 years we lived in that home, but it made my entire body tense up.
"Matthew, please deal with him. If you don't, he'll come back later when you're at work and I just can't."
Reluctantly Matthew went to the front door to see what Bob wanted. He demanded my husband go outside, which Matthew did.
"You better get your f--cking c--t wife in line or I'm gonna kick her ass!"
...Bob's opening line.
I wish I was joking.
My anxiety immediately went through the roof. The kids and I hid beside the window as we listened to Bob say the most horrific things about both Matthew and me. Words that would make me turn off a movie were now being used to describe me. Triggers were being hit left and right sending me into mild panic attacks. Two of our children were crying.
Matthew patiently allowed Bob to get in his face, scream his awful words, and throw his temper tantrum. He allowed it, not because he was fine with the things being said but because he is a United States Marine combat veteran. He survived a war in Iraq; Bob wasn't going to disturb him.
After nearly 45 minutes of Bob screaming, Matthew was done. The police were called and a No Trespassing letter was filed against the neighbors.
But once again I found myself deeply afraid. Like my post-rape kind of fear.
I was afraid to mow the lawn. I was afraid to have the kids playing outside. I was afraid to walk my kids to preschool because we had to walk in front of their home. I was afraid to be seen through the windows. I was afraid every time "Tracy" Facebook messaged me. I was afraid to go out to the car, which meant I avoided leaving our home.
I tried not to be, but this person had re-traumatized me and I fought to find my emotional tools in order to manage my fears.
It also didn't stop with that isolated assaulting incident. Between April and September, we had to call the police 4 more times for his aggressive behaviors. Bob screamed that he hoped our whole family would get hit by a truck and die, that he would "lay into" me every time I went outside, that he would "f--k" me every time Matthew left the house, and once, under his breath, that I deserved to be raped.
How did that happen? How did that evolve from a grumpy neighbor into a monster living next door? How did we allow our boundaries to be pushed that far for that long? I found our entire family in the midst of an emotionally abusive relationship and I couldn't figure out how we didn't see it coming.
That's how abuse can work, though. I think of the analogy of the frog who is slowly boiled to death. He doesn't jump out of the water as it gets hotter and hotter because he doesn't realize it's happening until eventually the frog is dead.
Abuse can be a slow process of pushed boundaries, inappropriate comments, violated dignities, and distorted truths. Unless it's fast and violent, abuse can disguise itself behind grumpy old men or charismatic young men. It's not always obvious, especially to those to whom it's occurring.
We didn't even know the situation with Bob had become abusive in nature, mostly because Tracy had always appeared kind and friendly. During those tumultuous months, though, we saw a different character - one of the protective abused wife - and were able to recognize her role in the manipulation and bullying. But once Matthew and I were able to identify the situation for what it was, we knew there was only one thing to do which would ease my anxiety and keep our children safe.
We moved. We quietly sold our home without putting it on the market, packed up our house in two weeks and moved late at night with the help of some incredible friends.
I needed to disappear when Bob and Tracy weren't around. I didn't want them to know we were gone until weeks later. I wanted to ensure they had no idea where we moved because abusive people don't let you go easily. I have taken big measures to make sure they can't find us easily because I don't trust them to leave us alone.
We were leaving an emotionally abusive relationship and abusers who have that kind of control don't like giving it up. I have been assured by the police that they saw Bob for what he was and the law is on our side, but I understand this type of personality. I understand it's need to control through fear and power. Bob and Tracy aren't the only ones in my life that have used this technique on me.
For now, though, we are free. We are safe. And we are happy.
Liria Forsythe is the founder and president of Speak Truth Ministries. Her blogs are reflections of her experiences and struggles in the aftermath of her past abuse as well as how she chooses to thrive now.