I’m ashamed to say I’m often oblivious to the obvious. For about 15 years – half the sum of time I’ve been abused by one of my neighbors – I thought it was only because he didn’t like me. It took another considerable span of time to figure out that the reason he kept pushing, kept insulting, kept doing everything he could to make my life difficult, was because I was a woman living alone.
When Neil was alive, I never had to deal with angry men. If I had a problem, all I had to do was mention it and he made a point of having a conversation with the guy. End of problem. When he died and I was alone, my protection disappeared. I wasn’t only by myself, I had to handle neighborhood difficulties without backup.
There are two men on my block – Jerk 1 and Jerk 2 – who have made it their life’s work to “get” me. Needless to say, they haven’t gotten me anything but angry and frustrated. The laws that protect older adults from abuse don’t cover bullying. For instance, when I found out years later that Jerk 2, at the prompting of Jerk 1, had my disabled car towed while I was going through chemotherapy. It took even longer for me to find out that Jerk 1’s car, parked next to mine, was also disabled and had been for months. That car stayed.
I can’t begin to enumerate the multitude of various insults and nasty things these two guys – friends of each other, of course – have done. But what bothers me now even more than their behavior is that the neighbors saw then what was going on, and see it still. Never once has anyone intervened Not a word, something like “Why don’t you just leave her alone?” that would have put the Jerks on notice that they were noticed. Saying nothing gave them – and still gives them, free reign.
Jerk 1 stopped being a problem when I discovered that he had an illegal kitchen in his illegal rental in a garage/storage space. When he took out a complaint against me because my dogs bark, I told him, in front of a witness, that the next time he makes an official complaint against me – or against anyone else in the neighborhood, for dogs barking or anything else – I would have Building and Safety down on him so fast he wouldn’t know what hit him. That was a year and a half ago, and he hasn’t bothered me since – except for the time he shoved me in the driveway leading to my house, for which I filed a battery complaint with the Police Department.
I’m writing this because I know I can’t be the only person living alone without societal protection against bullying or violent neighbors. And I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to fix it. Elder abuse laws don’t cover bullying, at least not in Los Angeles. I took Jerk 2 to court for threatening to poison my dogs because he doesn’t want me to walk them in front of his house, and lost because that threat was not something covered by elder abuse law. He not only threatened my dogs, but said that he was determined to make my life so unhappy that I moved. I’ve lived in my home for 45 years. He better not hold his breath.
I also have a problem with the idea of having to prove this behavior is happening. Bullies almost never do their deeds when there’s anyone within earshot, let alone standing and watching. It makes me think of cases where women were attacked and their charges dismissed because there wasn’t enough evidence. Do the authorities actually expect an audience to a rape, in order to make the complaint valid? The whole idea boggles the mind. How did anyone prove anything, before cell phones were invented? Not all of us live our lives online.
If I gave in and stopped living the life I chose to live, Neil’s ghost would rise out of the water and drag me under. I’m able to withstand these people because he admired strength in people, regardless of sex. But I would like to see elder abuse laws strengthened to make it easier to stop bullying behavior.
If anyone who reads this is experiencing a similar situation, I would appreciate your contacting me. I’m not sure what, if anything, I can accomplish about this, but I do know there is strength in numbers. contact me at email@example.com
Elaine Jesmer, a stage 4 cancer survivor, is author of :