My Neighbor is a SocioPath

by Mark Hahn

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. — Matthew 7:15

Driving down Linden street on our way to get breakfast at Franks, we passed house number 3343. Even at first glance, the signs of anger and hatred jumped out at us. I felt a dull pain in my chest. I had known oppressive places filled with hatred. When your home becomes a battle ground there is no escape. Human instincts take over and you are helpless to their destruction. This is how wars are started. Some wars are very small.

When Timothy saw us shooting photos of the signs he had put up defaming his neighbor, he came out to ask what we were doing. I told him just taking photos, then let him do most of the talking. He wanted us to understand his battle. He wanted us to know why he was fighting against his neighbor. He was looking for allies. He wanted us on his side. We only heard his side of the story. God and everything good was on his side. His neighbor was somewhere inside her silent house, perhaps listening or watching us.

He looked at my camera and said, “Take my picture too.”

This was his life. This is what his life had become. A battle between two houses. A battle between surveillance cameras and spite walls. A battle between Biblical passages and American flags. If you were looking for a fight, this is where you would find one. It was not a fight between one neighbor against another, it was an small epic battle between right and wrong — at least it was in Timothy’s mind.

“My friends all tell me I should sell the house, that I should just move on.”

While I listened to this I thought I had to agree with his friends, but I let Timothy continue.

“How can I leave? She’ll just do all this stuff to the next person who moves in. That wouldn’t be right.”

He saw his battle as a civic duty — a selfless crusade.

He pointed out all the neighbor’s surveillance cameras aimed at his house.

“Look what she’s doing to me now. There’s nowhere I can go on my property without her looking at me.”

Living under these circumstances had to be hard — having no privacy or escape.

Timothy showed us where he had constructed a spite wall from 4×4’s and $4.00 blue tarps in an attempt to block the views from her cameras.

“She went to the police and lodged a complaint against me because one of the tarps is frayed. Why couldn’t she just have told me before bringing the police into it? I would have just done it if she would have talked with me. Now I have to fix that tarp today or be fined by the city. All I want is her to step onto my property and talk with me. She has to come to me, stand right here.”

Timothy was emphatic. She had to come to him. He didn’t seem to recognize that he was well past the point of reason. He didn’t recognize that all of his actions blocked rational communication. The problem here was bigger than his spite wall and the surveillance cameras. The problem was that a line had been drawn in the sand and neither was willing to budge. The problem was that they had fallen into a fight to the death. Nothing mattered but winning, even if it destroyed them both.

Timothy showed us the surveyor’s marks that delineated the property lines. The neighbor had paid to get a second opinion and the mark had been moved over a couple of inches — placing it squarely on the fence line. Technically, I figured that Timothy’s signs proclaiming that his neighbor was a false prophet and sociopath was partially on her property. Having to see these signs every day had to be as taxing on her as her cameras were to him.

The whole concept of home is fed by our possession instinct. We can read all we want on social theory, philosophy and what we think is the Word of God, but we are all still just little animals inside. The mere fact that we have touched something gives it value — it becomes something to fight for (whether we are baboons, butterflies or human beings).

In the case of home ownership and the current economy, it would be surprising if either neighbor on Linden St. held much real equity in their house. Residing in a house that is owned by the bank gives us no more real ownership of that property than renting, except in our mind, but the concept of home and personal property is rooted in our DNA. These two neighbors were trapped by instincts that predate homosapiens and that none of us can completely escape.

I once was told about a guy who fought a California wildfire for three days with only a garden hose. He said that no matter how stupid he recognized the act to be in hindsight, that when it was going on, he could not control his actions. Something primitive deep inside him was awakened and he found himself willing to fight till the death against the fire threatening his home. The fire was something living in his mind that he would never surrender his home to it.

Now he laughs, saying, “Everytime I watch the news and I see some fool on a roof doing what I did, I know exactly what they’re feeling. For every wildfire, there is at least one person doing the same thing. They can’t stop themselves. I know what it feels like and wish I could tell them to give it up, but I know they won’t listen. Plenty of people tried to get me off that roof.”

He then tells you how all his neighbours who were evacuated to safety lost their houses. In the end they all got large new houses while he was stuck with his old and dirty little smoke damaged house that he so heroically protected. There was nothing in the outcome that made the fight worthwhile.

You have to wonder how Timothy or the neighbor will feel years from now after one moves or dies. Will they recognize what a waste the battle had been? Will they realize how much they lost, how much of their lives were thrown away or will they simply justify the battle till the end?

“She’s spreading rumors about my substance abuse and psychological problems. That doesn’t have anything to do with this fight. I’ve been sober for almost three years.”

“Congratulations,” I told him, “I have twenty.”

We had a connection. I shook his hand in support. Climbing out of a messed up life of substance abuse is a good thing for anyone.

“That’s where I want to be in twenty years, sober and right with the good Lord.”

“In the past, I was on psych meds, but that was something different too. It has nothing to do with what she is saying. Jesus is my savior now. My life is turned around.”

“She says she’s with the Lord, and when I first moved in, I participated in her religious meetings. I thought she was with God, but now I realize she isn’t. I’ve been reading all about sociopaths on the internet and she is exactly what they call a sociopath. They’re not like you or I.”

“Do you know anything about sociopaths? They’re everywhere, most people just don’t know it. My brother was a sociopath too. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was. He’s dead now — murdered. Lots of drugs and a messed up situation.”

It was clear that Timothy’s life had been been difficult. He was trying to put it back together and find a place for himself in the world. He looked to God and the Bible to give him a path. Ironically, his neighbor was trying to follow the same path, but these paths crossed and collided in tragedy.

Both houses displayed American flags and Christian proclamations. Both neighbors obviously felt in their hearts that they were patriotic Americans and devote Christians. There was no difference in what they believed, only how they felt about each other. No matter what God or country we belong to, we are all human in the end.