I was working from home last Friday when I heard mens’ voices. From the safety of my upstairs window I peered through the blinds and watched them open the gate and enter my courtyard.
I walked downstairs. I opened the sliding patio door and stepped outside.
They were surprised to see me.
The tall man introduced himself as the head of the homeowners association, the other a landscaper. They are going to cut down the bushes – including the Rose of Sharon I just pruned which is getting ready to bloom – so they can repaint the fencing. He looked with distain at the toys on the ground and my flimsy metal patio furniture and scolded me for things which cannot be seen from the street or any other vantage point unless you are standing right up at the fence looking in. A fleet of plastic trucks harming no one.
I looked up at him, my heart pounding, my voice quaking. “Please leave.”
“Excuse me?” he said.
I pointed to the still open gate.
He looked down at me. Down because he had to. And maybe because he wanted to. “I will leave and I will be polite about it,” then said that the fenced in courtyard–visible only from my windows, accessible only by my door and the four foot tall gate–is a common area and tiptoed just at the edge of saying that as a renter I have no right to expect such a thing as privacy in this outdoor space.
“You could have knocked first.”
“How was I supposed to know you were home?”
“You could have knocked. You could have noticed there was a car in the driveway.”
He agreed to knock in future.
I felt acutely small. A speck of a thing easily picked up and pocketed or swept aside. I wished I were taller, wider, stronger. I wished I’d felt cool confidence instead of hot trembling.
But I used my voice anyway. And for that I am proud. As I saw on an Instagram meme, I will not apologize for the space I inhabit. I will not let my first and last words as a woman be, “I’m sorry.” There is a time and place for apologies and amends. This was not one of those times.
I was civil. I will said please because my parents taught me that manners respect the dignity of other people. I cleaned up the toys. I wrote to my property manager.
Later that night, inspired by the fierce-woman-fire-poetry of Amanda Lovelace, I wrote this:
I spend so much time
around the middle,
except for the moment
when you looked
down at me and said
A fire giant,
tattooed in ink
for taking up
behind this fence,
you to please knock
I do not
but pay for
so my son
has a place to play
b r e a t h e.
May you know how to say please and still inhabit your own space, without apology. Without fear.