Posted by: alegra22 | July 8, 2011

over the fence

I felt the violence before I heard it. A rumble moving through the dark earth surrounding the foundation of our home. A dull impact against the walls. I thought of large things falling from a great height. Or an explosion, a wall collapsing, a distant collision.

I opened the door leading out to the deck and then stopped when I heard the screams. A man or two men. A woman or maybe a wounded animal moaning; an ugly, suffering sound repeated again and again. It was an almost-word. A plea, a worry stone held on the tongue and turned around in the mouth over and over and over.

Glass shattering. More glass. The sound of metal coming down. Screams. The rumble passing through bricks, frames, earth. Passing through our fence. I inhaled and it was in my lungs. A toxin spreading through my blood.

Dan pulled me away from the door, closed it. Locked it. We pulled the drapes closed. Checked all of the other doors in the house. Outside, the wild things continued to gnash their terrible teeth and roar their terrible roars. Their thunder moved through the night. Glass shattered, walls shuddered, again and again, the repetitive non-word with its wounded-woman-animal sound.

It’s been a while since our neighbors have had a domestic. We’ve called the police several times over the years that we’ve lived here. When we hear the sound of fist against flesh, a woman screaming, we pick up the phone. On days full of sunlight and seagulls, we’ve whispered our children into the house away from the violence they don’t understand. We’ve waited until the hard consonants and angry voices fade and then we’ve waited some more. When we’re sure the boundaries of our world are stronger than the fence we built and stained with prayers, we let the children out.

Days or weeks later, we wave at our neighbors or speak to them over the fence, ignoring the gang members that move behind our property. Back and forth like sharks in a dark current. They are good people. We’ve spent time talking over the fence.

“I don’t get it,” I said to Dan last night. “Every time they fight like this I expect sirens, yellow tape, and bodies pulled out in bags. How do people get like this and not kill one another? How do they wake up the next day and carry on?”

“Alcohol,” Dan replied. “And it’s normal, it’s what they’re used to.”

“It’s a credit to the human capacity for self-control that people go this far and don’t actually kill one another,” I said.

After Pepita scratched at the door to the point of desperation, we let her out but remained standing guard. We called her back as soon as her business was done, before she could bark and draw attention to herself. We double-checked the locks, closed the gaps in the curtains, and settled down to watch our programs.

I woke up this morning with my skull echoing nightmares, the kind I haven’t had since I was a child. The neighbors were faceless shadows. They swung their heads toward us, predator-like. They’d caught scent of our fear and now they were hungry. We barricaded the doors. Hid with our children clutched tight. I could feel them climbing the fence, moving around the house, searching for a way in so they could tear us to pieces.

After the invasion dream, I dreamt I was trying to walk up a hill to reach my children. My legs kept buckling beneath me. The muscles felt paralyzed and then jelly-like. I tripped over my feet. When I wanted my right foot to move, it was my left one that responded. I began hopping to reach my destination.

The neighbors were quiet this morning. The house very still. I still expected a change, some proof of what had rolled over us during the night, but there was nothing.

As I moved through the day, I thought about all of the violence in the world and how grateful I am that I’ve been born into the life that I have, one full of choices, opportunities, and support. Over the years of living here, we’ve learned to think about our environment differently, to appreciate what we have and how we might extend it to those around us.

But lately, I’ve been learning to live my life in a different way. I’m trading in trying to figure things out for listening, pushing forward for waiting on the right moment to act.

I think the message might be that it is time to trust my legs to walk into a new future. To appreciate what we’ve been given, including celebrating my family’s freedom to choose something more than what we have.

I am beginning to dream of  trading in tall wooden fences for a new way of defining our boundaries.



  1. I swear the first 3 paragraphs I thought you were talking about an earthquake.

    I never can wrap my head around a man hitting a woman…let alone why she stays or vice versa.

    • Dan, It felt like an earthquake! I don’t know why, but it travels through our house in a way that made me think of shorebreak. I went outside because I wanted to make sure there wasn’t an explosion or something.
      The whole thing is hard for me to wrap my head around, period. We’ve heard women hitting women. Women beating up men. Men beating up women.

  2. I guess no matter how well we try to create a peaceful space around us, there are going to be disturbances like that beyond our control. I can imagine the violence is earth shattering and really disrupts your own life and it’s hard to protect your family from it, even if it is on the other side of the still comes into your home like the thunder and lightning from a storm outside that can scatter and shake things up. Alcohol and drugs can fuel eruptions like that but there’s an even deeper (and weaker) trigger. I know I had to live through it with my dad being like that every so often. It was really bad at times and I’d just hide out in my room as he threatened whatever it was in his sight, kicking and punching holes in the walls and furniture and throwing things across the room, even the dog or his own family. I don’t understand causing physical harm to anyone like that. It’s a definite act of weakness and stupidity. And insanely enough, when it subside, it’s as if it never happened. It’s awful when things have to be that way especially when your own family has to be exposed to it. As an adult, I am grateful to have the choice to never expose or live through something like that again.

    In your dream, the explosion disoriented you but nonetheless, you are still walking in an ‘upward’ direction up hill toward your children and that is a great symbol.

    Yes, I thought in the beginning of this you were writing about a dream of an earthquake or natural disaster.

  3. Jennifer,
    Thank you for sharing this. I was going to write all of these other thoughts in response, but mostly I just wanted to tell you that I was grateful you shared and it impacted me. xxx

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