Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Yelling

I come from a loud family. We’re always cranking the stereo, playing musical instruments, singing, calling across the house to someone else, and talking over each other. We make fun of each other, debate, shriek with laughter, shake Yahtzee dice in the little red cup, bang dishes, and generally create a cacophony. But we’re not yellers. We might be strident or firm, but we don’t shout at one another. Angry, provoked or irritated, we don’t yell.

The mister and I are no different. Even in our most heated discussions, we don’t yell at each other. I fight like a lawyer, with reasoned thoughts and measured words, and I stay firmly on topic. When seriously angry, I lean towards silence and perhaps a little bit of sulking. The mister fights like a girl, bringing up past grievances and changing the topic willy-nilly in the middle of an argument, which I find intensely irritating, but it’s a habit that will unfailingly reduce me to laughter after a few minutes because it’s just so damned girly of him. And no matter how angry he is, he has never once raised his voice to me.

My neighbors are different. They’re yellers. Angry, shouted words whip out of their mouths, particularly the father’s, and fly through our open windows. The father and the pre-teen daughter shout at each other, husband and wife screech, and the five year old is often chastised at the top of someone else’s lungs. I’ve never heard the crack of flesh against flesh, I’ve never seen suspicious bruises, but I’ve heard ugly, mean words.

I’ve gone over and knocked on the door. “Can you keep it down, please?” They comply.

I have thought about calling the police when the yelling seemed particularly vicious, but never have.

Someone did. Two weekends ago, someone heard the yelling and called the authorities and the neighbors received a visit from the cops and social services.

And now they’re looking askance at everyone. The father confronted me today while I was walking my dog. “Was it you, did you call the cops?”

It wasn’t me. The mister and I were on a lake up north when the police visited and, indeed, this confrontation was the first I heard of the incident. I assured him that no, it was not me, nor was it the mister. “But, frankly,” I told him, “I’ve been tempted to call before.”

Tonight was National Night Out, a night when neighbors gather to recognize each other’s faces and learn each other’s names, and try to cram a year’s worth of community building into two hours. The neighbors were noticeably absent. But I chatted with some other people from the street, catching up on their children’s achievements, updating people on our kitchen remodel, dodging questions about when the mister and I plan on procreating, and hearing from nearly everyone about the police incident.

We’re a quiet, safe street, a mix of elderly retirees and very young families, and nothing exciting ever happens. The presence of a couple of squad cars and another government vehicle is unheard of, so everyone was buzzing with the information. I know who called the police. And I can’t blame them. Apparently the yellers had been yelling for several hours, sometimes at each other, sometimes at a video game, and everyone basically ignored it, but when the wailing of their 5-year old son echoed through the open windows and into the street for nearly half an hour, the caller began to worry and picked up the phone.

And I wonder, the next time they yell, will I walk over and knock on their door again, assuming it’s just a different way of communicating, distinct from my lawyerly approach, but not necessarily bad, or will I call the cops? What should I do? Which is right?

1 comment:

NGS said...

Our neighbors yell a lot. They are loud talkers and sometimes I think they yell just to be heard over one another. There's a small child who lives there, too, and he screeches like a howler monkey all day long. The problem with our neighbors is that they yell in a language I don't understand. I can't tell if it's happy yelling or unhappy yelling, but we have never called the police. But maybe someday we will.

There's no right or wrong in this situation. You can only do what will help you sleep at night. If knocking on the door works and calms them down temporarily and you can live with it, that's what you should do. But if that scares you? If the thought of approaching a home filled with potentially angry people to ask them to be quiet scares you? Calling the police should also be something you can live with.

Good luck with this situation.