I want to kiss my neighbor. He is a bald, lanky old man who lives directly next door to me. He lives very alone, except for his tiny dog named Princess. Sometimes I hear screaming outside my window, and then run to the window because I am a sucker for semi-suburban drama and am secretly hoping to see an argument about missorted recycling get out of hand, but it’s usually just him, alone, telling Princess to stop eating her own feces.
He only speaks at one volume and it’s a very high volume. Even when he’s just asking, “How’s it going?” as I carry my groceries to my front door, it could be mistaken for aggressive screaming. It’s possible he is hearing impaired, but the more I observe him, the more I don’t think that’s the case. I suspect he screams for the same reason most people do: fear. I think he’s afraid people will ignore him, and the dependable thing about screaming is that it’s very difficult to ignore.
This screaming could probably be traced back to some childhood trauma of his—maybe his father beat him and whenever he mentioned the beatings to his mother, it fell on deaf ears—but I doubt he’s ever made that connection. I don’t think he actually knows he’s screaming. Who would tell him? Whenever he’s screaming at me, I certainly don’t tell him he’s screaming. In fact, I end up raising my voice too, kind of like how I always end up talking in the local accent when I travel. This is an embarrassing habit, though someone once told me it’s a sign of empathy.
My desire to kiss my neighbor began the day I moved in. I brought him a box of cookies from the local bakery—it’s important to get off on the right foot—and he refused them. As he screamed about not liking sweets and knowing a guy who once died of diabetes, I entered a familiar softcore fugue state I have only ever experienced when staring at a woman I am dating and realizing, for the first time, that I’m “in love” with her. In these blissfully disorienting moments, I tend to hold onto reality by focusing on the woman’s lips. I do this because I know that the only way to break the spell is to kiss those lips hard, with tongue, passion, urgency, etc.
So, I watched his lips as he screamed something about Governor Cuomo being a secret Nazi. I probably nodded my head a lot and even said something like, “You never know with Nazis,” but really I was imagining what his mouth would taste and feel like. As I imagined it, I grew confident in the accuracy of my imagination. His saliva would taste metallic and salty, like a sweaty battery. His lips would be firm, with no give at all, as if God took a utilitarian approach to this particular creation, knowing he was designing a man who would spend decades using his mouth to eat, drink, breathe, scream, but never kiss.
When he slammed the door, I awoke from my stupor. I made the short walk back to my house and considered my urge to kiss him. Maybe it was a raw impulse to soothe and love a man clearly in need of soothing and loving. Maybe I was legitimately attracted to him even though I had no history of being attracted to men or seniors of any gender. Or maybe it was simply a cognitive misfiring, a neural pathway randomly activating, and to try to make sense of it would be to layer meaning over the meaningless.
Whatever the explanation, my desire to kiss my neighbor only intensified over my first few months on the block. It’s unlikely he noticed, but it made our interactions stilted and awkward. He would ask me if I thought it was going to rain and I would nervously check both weather apps on my phone, over-explaining why I kept two weather apps on my phone. Once he asked to borrow my weedwacker and I blurted out that he could just have it, as a gift, and he wasn’t fluent enough in societal norms to refuse, so recently I’ve had to borrow my weedwacker from him. I hadn’t felt this way since high school, since having feelings for someone meant simultaneously hoping and dreading they might be sitting in every room I entered.
This morning, though, I was in my kitchen washing dishes, reflecting on the fact that I’ve lived on this quiet dead end street for one year now. Soaping, rinsing, and drying, I heard some screaming coming from the front, a little louder than usual. I ran to the door and swung it open to find my neighbor in a dispute with my other neighbor, a middle-aged woman two doors down from me. It seemed she was accusing him of leaving a mound of Princess’ feces in her front yard. My neighbor insisted the feces did not belong to Princess. He screamed that he knew what Princess’ feces looked like and the feces in question definitely did not come out of her.
Things escalated quickly from there. When the woman demanded my neighbor pick up the feces, he called the woman a “bitch.” This expletive prompted the woman’s husband to come running out of the house and get in my neighbor’s face, threatening to beat him up. My neighbor screamed, “Go ahead, kill me,” many, many times. At this point, I told everyone to calm down, to just relax. I said I would happily pick up the feces. I told them to go inside their homes and come back out in a few hours to discuss this problem with cooler heads.
Then, out of nowhere, the woman threw a small rock at my neighbor’s head. It narrowly missed him and landed with a thud against his brick facade. When my neighbor realized what had happened, he screamed he had a gun inside the house and was not afraid to use it. This is about when the police showed up.
In what I assume is standard protocol, the officers separated the two parties upon arrival so they could get each side’s version of the story. First they huddled around the woman, taking notes as she spoke. I couldn’t quite hear what she was saying but I knew she would present as a more reliable narrator than my neighbor, that her account of things would hold more weight. I think my neighbor sensed this too because when it was his turn, he immediately began screaming that it was unfair she got to go first, that she was a liar. He screamed that she was trying to frame him. The officers asked my neighbor if he indeed threatened her with a gun, and he screamed that she threw a rock at his head. They asked him to lower his voice, but he only screamed louder, saying she threw a rock at his head. He was really screaming now, getting very worked up.
I think, while this was happening, my neighbor accidentally made contact with one of the officers because next thing I knew they were wrestling him to the ground, and he was resisting, and they were screaming for him to stop resisting, and he was screaming about Governor Cuomo. I ran over to the dogpile, pleading for the officers to stop, begging them to let him go. They were being unnecessarily rough with him, bending his old arm far beyond its limits of flexibility. I started crying. They cuffed him, and I furiously took photos of all the officers’ badge numbers.
They pulled my neighbor to his feet and when he saw me standing there, crying, he said, “It’s OK. Don’t cry, papi.” The officers asked me if I knew him. I nodded. They asked if I was related to him. I shook my head. They asked if he was a friend. I said, “No, no, he’s my lover.” If my neighbor was surprised by my answer, he didn’t show it. He just said again, quieter than I’ve ever heard him, “Don’t cry, papi. Don’t cry.” The officers gave me a phone number I could call to inquire about bail, put him in the back of the cruiser, and drove away.