A black cloud blotted out the sky over The Problem House down the street. The property belonged to our friends, but some young adults rented it from them, earmarking our summer and now fall of 2016 with drama we could hear all the way over at our place. Marijuana smoke and screams wafted from the open windows of the house, and we counted at least fifteen people coming and going. Which ones were actually on the lease? The driveway was a used car lot and somebody at the residence fancied himself a mechanic and serviced vehicles all hours of the day and night.
Eventually our friends, the owners, told us the young people would be evicted if they continued to neglect the rent. And the tenants had dodged their other bills for long enough that the water was shut off, and the City was next in line to kick them out.
The main guy on the lease had grown belligerent with our friends, slinging around threats of arson and bodily harm. He had also done his own brand of home renovations in their charming 1919 home, violating code and undoing their painstaking work to update and beautify the property.
Then one morning at the bus stop, a woman approached me.
“Did you see all the graffiti on our block?”
The familiar churning in my stomach. “No. Where?”
She and I walked through the alley, and she showed me the affected properties. Swastikas, anarchy symbols, a racial epithet, and directions for where to find drugs—with arrows as long as my arms, pointing to our friends’ rental property—disfigured three garages.
When would the ugliness end?
At one o’clock in the afternoon a few days later, the girls and I arrived home. A young woman, half-naked, was squatting on our house’s landscaping stones, relieving herself.
I put the car into park and jumped out. “What are you doing? This is my house!”
Still crouching behind our rain barrel and now bewildered, she shifted her gaze to me and squinted for a few seconds. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Since she didn’t move, I edged closer. “Who are you?”
She tugged her footie pajamas back on then, zipped them up, and shuffled to an idling car in the middle of the street.
The previous night, The Problem House had had a party that raged until morning. Had she come from there?
Two weeks later, our friends employed Husband’s assistance; it was time to move the renters out. The tenants hadn’t done much to pack, though, and like a child too stubborn to help his mother clean his room, the main guy on the lease watched them haul out his possessions. Amid the items headed for the driveway were three pellet guns.
The day after the rental property was free of its abusers, the window in its front door was shot out. Husband found damage on our Honda too, and it didn’t take a crime scene expert to recognize the pockmarks on the windshield and side of our car were consistent with a pellet gun. Where was the ex-renter now? Living in his car, parked in front of our friends’ property.
My thoughts, laced with fear and anger, twisted my attitude, so I set out for a walk. Even in a city, nature—stronger than concrete—erupted in beauty. Before my stroll could start, though, I spotted a used maxi pad splayed out on the sidewalk in front of our house, its presence eroding my outlook even more. I stalked back inside, grabbed some disposable gloves and a plastic bag, and trudged out again.
Ugly circumstances threatened to urinate on my spirit, but then I looked up.
… whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
After soaking in the Living Water and some bathwater too, I lit a candle and grabbed Luci Shaw’s Sea Glass like it was a life preserver instead of a volume of poetry. Then I scrolled through an online friend’s Facebook page to drink in the loveliness she captured in photos: her stainless steel crock-pot sitting on a marble countertop, poised to simmer a batch of apple butter; her palm brimming with rare November raspberries; her pink and salmon-colored zinnias flirting with the camera.
Softness rested on my shoulders again. Darkness could be pervasive, but beauty was persistent too, and it always carried peace with it.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.