October 15, 2001


It is early Sunday morning: another hot, breezy Indian Summer day in the works, here in the Bay Area. ("Firestorm Weather," the local weather puppets are calling it as they cast an anxious eye toward the Berkeley Hills.)

David and I are standing in the parking lot behind our apartment building, unloading our bikes from the back of the Subaru. We left the bikes in the car overnight, following yesterday's lovely, leisurely ride between Sausalito and Mill Valley: we were too tired/too lazy to drag them into the apartment after we got home. Now we're getting ready to do a little Sunday morning errand-running, and we need to clear some space in the back of the car to make room for groceries. As we work together -- pulling bikes and helmets and riding gloves from the trunk -- we're laughing, jabbering, touching, joking around, kissing ... all of the normal icky-poo David-and-Secra stuff.

At that precise moment, our neighbor Lydia walks past us.

Dressed in nothing but a dirty T-shirt and underpants -- clearly she wasn't expecting to run into neighbors at this hour of the morning -- she's hobbling across the gravel parking lot in bare feet, coughing wetly, uttering colorful little Spanish curses as she hobbles. Her hair is disheveled, her eyes red and wild, her face mascara-smeared and puffy. (In other words: she looks like *I* used to look on Sunday mornings, a lifetime or three ago.)

As she walks past us, she shoots a look of undisguised, unfiltered, 100-proof hatred in my direction.

Lydia hates me. I'm not imagining this. Although we've never exchanged more than a word or two, in all the years I've lived here in this apartment complex -- although I have never been anything but civil and courteous towards her, even as the police were dragging her off in handcuffs again, kicking and screaming -- I have somehow managed to become a convenient and localized target of her rage and discontent. This is evident in the toxic looks she gives me ... the exaggeratedly wide berth when we pass in the laundry room ... the muttered profanities as I walk past her door. On the nights when she and Ralph have been drinking -- which is pretty much every night, judging from the contents of their recycling bin the next day -- she hurls mocking curses at me if she hears my voice outside her open window. (That is, when she isn't hurling mocking curses -- and Corningware -- at the hapless Ralph.)

I don't take it personally. If I were her, I would probably hate me, too.

As she walks past us in the parking lot, David and I fall momentarily silent. My eyes averted, I hear rather than see her fumbling with her keys ... hear the ancient hinges creak as her car door swings open ... hear her opening the glove compartment and rummaging noisily through the contents, still swearing under her breath. Eventually she locates whatever it is she is looking for -- cigarettes? lighter? MK-7? -- and she slams the rusty car door shut.

I hear rather than see her stalk past us towards the apartment building.

I want to say to her, We're more alike than you know. I want to say, I remember what it's like to feel sick and pissed-off and powerless all the time. I want to tell her, It's not as difficult as you think. You start out small, changing what you can change. The rest of it comes gradually. But of course I don't. Me preaching The Recovery Gospel According To Secra on a website is one thing. Preaching to a neighbor -- and a hostile neighbor with a police record, at that -- is quite another thing entirely.

So instead: I stay as far away from her as possible.

I've learned to tiptoe quietly past her open window, whenever we enter the apartment complex. I've learned never to say 'hello' to her boyfriend in the mail room ... never to smile at her baby when he toddles in my direction. I've learned never to remove Lydia's clothes from the dryer, even if they've been there for two fudking days and the other dryer is out of order. I've learned to warn guests away from Lydia's side of the courtyard, especially when we hear the sounds of breaking glass and slamming doors coming from apartment G-101. I've learned not to watch from the window as the Alameda Police Department bangs on her door in the middle of the night.

And I've learned that irrational hatred is irrational hatred, whether it's coming at you from across the globe ... or from across the apartment complex.

throw a rock