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The eMagazine for Women
The Accidental Enemy: Part 1
by Holly Whitman

© Copyright March 2010
"While most of the things you've worried about have never happened,
it's a different story with the things you haven't worried about.
They are the ones that happen."

~ Ruth Rendell  
Over the years I have been very lucky to have found some of the finest friends imaginable.
Some are friends for a season, who come into my life for a short, intense, meaningful
experience and then they are gone. Some are not particularly close friends but their warm
and familiar presence adds stability and connection to my life. Others are friends for life –
friends I can always call, who may live far away but with whom time and distance change
nothing. They are family to me. Interspersed with these great experiences, however, is that
inexplicable and disconcerting phenomenon I like to think of as “the Accidental Enemy.”
The Accidental Enemy, or AE, as I will now refer to it, is that person who, for no rational or
remotely understandable reason, is suddenly behaving like an enemy. Logically, it seems
that there should always be some marker, some reference point to which a person could
look back and  understand exactly how the problem began and, thus, have a chance to
mend it, but sometimes it is doomed to remain forever a mystery.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         *          *          *     
It was October 2008 and a very fine night to be out. I was returning home after attending an out of
town event with some very nice people. The moon was full and beautiful and I was basking in a
warm after-glow, listening to classical music on the radio as I drove slowly down my street.
As I neared my home, I noticed, to my left, my neighbor Bertha*, a rather eccentric woman
in her early 60s, who appeared to be pirouetting in her driveway under the glow of a
streetlight. Suddenly, she leaned toward the street, hands cupping her mouth. On my
right, I noticed movement and realized Bertha had a dog loose across the street and was
calling to him as I passed. The dog bounded straight toward the street, in a collision-
course with my car. I slowed and swerved sharply to my left in an effort to avoid hitting the
dog, hoping he would, instead, collide with the side of my car. I thought he might be
stunned but unhurt if this happened.

I heard a soft thump as I stopped my car, but I didn’t see her dog anywhere. I backed up,
rolled down my window, called out to her, “What happened to your dog?”
“His foot got broken,” she said. But that didn’t make any sense to me. The dog was
nowhere to be seen. Did he really run away with a broken foot? I asked her if he was

“His foot got broken – didn’t you hear that thump?” she asked impatiently. I told her I’d
heard the thump but didn’t see the dog, so didn’t know if he was hurt. Not knowing what
else to say or do, I continued on to my home. She was clearly violating our local leash
laws. Little could I know that small incident was the beginning of a serious rift with a
neighbor who was impossible to understand.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         *          *          *   
Our first encounter with Bertha happened one balmy summer afternoon nine years
earlier, when my husband Craig and I were house hunting. We had found the perfect
home and were sitting under a small tree beside the driveway, talking about whether to
make an offer on it, when Bertha walked past with several dogs on leashes. Craig
smiled at her and was rewarded with an unfriendly glare. We looked at each other and
shrugged. We had no clue that she only lived two doors down.  

Shortly after moving in, we met Bertha’s new husband Jake*, an odd character with one
thing on his mind – he wanted an easement to the six inches of our property that lay
beyond our wall, in his backyard. If we agreed, he could legally connect his back wall to
ours and his only expense would be to build a single wall across the back of his newly-
acquired property, which lay between our home and Bertha’s. Craig and I discussed it
and agreed that it would be the neighborly thing to do. Craig told Jake that we would
gladly do this for him. Jake said that he was being transferred to Germany for five years
because of work, which meant we would have to do this long distance. We let him know
we would work with him on it.
We took care of the entire process. Jake was supposed to pay the filing fee. Tracking
him down to get this done was a challenge and it seemed odd that he wasn’t more
helpful. On Jake’s first visit home for the holidays, he came over to talk to us. Craig
assumed Jake was interested in thanking us for giving him a free easement for just the
cost of the filing fee. But that was too easy. Jake had another request. Bertha
sauntered over as Jake started to speak.

“We would like for you to cut down that scraggly pine tree in your back yard,” Jake said,
and Bertha nodded. “It’s ugly.”

“Well,” Craig said, looking over at me, puzzled, “we can certainly talk about it.”

“It’s just really ugly.” Bertha sniffed. “We’d like to see it gone as soon as possible.”Craig
and I were stunned. No “thank you for the easement,” and a request to take down a
tree. And the property officially belonged to Jake, not to Bertha. Jake had a renter,
named Bob*, who was instructed to deal directly with him, never with Bertha.
The two of them made a very odd couple, indeed.
We discussed the request and rationalized that if we took the tree down, it would bring
in more light for the other trees in our backyard, as well as show our neighbor that we
were accommodating. Before Jake left to return to his job in Germany, Craig told him we
planned to honor his request. Jake just stared in his flat, unemotional way, listened, and
never said anything in response. Craig wished him a safe trip back to Germany and
came home to tell me of the strange experience. Soon after, with Bob’s help, Craig was
able to cut the tree down in sections. It was hard work for that thankless job, but we
made a new friend in the process.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *         *          *          *   
When Jake was first informed that he was going to be in Germany for five years, he assumed that Bertha was
going to go with him. Because she had several dogs, Bertha told Jake she needed to join him later, after she was
able to farm out her dogs. As time passed, Bertha got used to Jake sending regular money every payday.

Apparently, dog love meant a lot more to Bertha than husband love and she told him that she simply could not
leave her dogs. He would have to manage in Germany without her. As long as the money was coming in, what
more did she need?

Click me.  I dare you, you little
       grumble, grumble, grumble.....