Reddit, Tell Me Where I Went Wrong
"AITA for Repairing My Neighbor's House?" a short story by Marian Crotty
Reddit, Tell Me Where I Went Wrong
AITA for Repairing My Neighbor’s House?
My neighbor (32F) is not speaking to me (44M) because I made some repairs to her home while she was out of town. These were mostly exterior and relatively minor (clearing debris, replacing deck boards, adding a utility sink, installing a rain cap), but I did climb onto her roof. She says I was out of line by not asking permission and that she no longer trusts my judgment.
We live two streets away from each other in a small neighborhood of old houses. We have been friends for a year and hooking up for about three months. I would like more, but she is a relatively new widow and single parent to a four-year-old boy and doesn’t have the capacity right now. She is seriously my ideal woman, though, and I am willing to wait. I am not the most attractive guy and never thought I’d interest a person of her caliber. We’ve gone out a few times when her mom was watching her son or if there was a “Parents’ Night Out” at his daycare, but mostly it’s a couple hours together after her son goes to sleep. She’s invited me along with a larger group to go hiking a couple times, and we get each other’s mail and water each other’s plants if the other person is out of town.
I bought a house in this neighborhood after my divorce because it was close to my job and to my ex-wife’s house (we share custody of two teenagers), but a lot of people move here because it is one of the few affordable city neighborhoods in a good school district. Then they realize that because the houses are all extremely old repairing them is a hassle. You think about yanking down the wallpaper somebody painted over only to discover lead paint or try to replace a door and realize you’ll have to get one custom made. I’m an engineer and can get into this kind of stuff, but a lot of people don’t. My neighbor told me on more than one occasion that her house stressed her out. She could handle the yard work and minor repairs and outsource the truly big projects, but then there were all of these things in between. Installing a utility sink felt impossible when you had a full-time job and a young child and no spouse, but were you really going to pay someone to do that? “You don’t have to pay me,” I’d tell her. “Get the sink, and I’ll put it in,” but she wouldn’t let me. I figured it was about her son and his father, about not wanting him to see anyone step into that kind of role, and so I dropped it.
The night before she went out of town, we were on her porch drinking beers and watching for the fox that lives in the overgrown lot across the street. Her son had gone to bed about thirty minutes before and was still sleeping lightly. We couldn’t go upstairs yet and so we got to talk. Work, TV shows, a book she almost loved whose ending felt contrived, my daughter’s failing grade in chemistry that brought me and my ex-wife to a moment of real collaboration. We had a fan going to ward off the mosquitos, and the sunset was just beginning to brighten the edges of the summer sky. When the dog walkers passed, we’d wave, and this gave me a good feeling, all of these people seeing me with her. It felt like being claimed.
“This is nice,” I said.
“Being with you. I’m glad we don’t sneak around.”
She made a face. “Why would we do that?”
Her voice had a slight edge to it, and I knew I had to tread lightly. I couldn’t imply she was risking her reputation or trusting a person she barely knew to behave well if whatever it was we had ended.
“That first night you slept with me I was so happy,” I said. “I told myself, she has a kid and we’re neighbors. She isn’t going to hook up with me unless she thinks it could really be something.”
She took a long drink of her beer and seemed to consider her response. I was hoping she would say I was right, but she just shrugged. “We’re both adults. You never struck me as a lunatic.”
She laughed. “Sure.”
She tapped her phone and the light came on. “We can go in soon. Unless you want another beer.”
I shook my head. “I’m trying to say that I like you. I—”
She put a finger to her lips and shook her head. “Let’s not do this right now. Please?”
Then she led me upstairs, took off all our clothes, and pressed her warm body against my chest. The next morning, she and her son flew to Florida for a vacation at her parents’ timeshare.
I had a key because I was picking up her mail and watering her tomato plants, feeding her cat and sticking around long enough for him to get some attention. This, she had asked me to do. When a bad storm came through, shutting off the power in half the neighborhood, she asked if I would make sure her sump pump was working. I said, no problem. She has carpet in her basement and seemed real worried. I said, worst case scenario, I’d just install a battery-operated backup. This was over text, but she seemed so happy I almost hoped there would be an issue so I could fix it, but everything was fine. I bounced the toy mouse and let the cat whack it around for a while, and then I made a list of every old or broken thing in her house.
I was at her house every day for several days. I added a utility sink, replaced her dining room light, ripped out and replaced the flooring in her bathroom. I spent most of that Saturday in her backyard, cutting thorn bushes and removing rotten deck boards, and so I am not sure why her neighbors didn’t recognize me. I had waited until dusk to fix her chimney cap because it was hot during the day and I didn’t want to burn myself on her shingles and, apparently, the sight of a middle-aged man with a ladder climbing on top of an empty house at night was suspicious enough that someone called the police.
Three squad cars sped down the street with their lights flashing, and cops ran down the sidewalk with their guns drawn. From the roof, I sensed their urgency and fear and looked around for the criminal they seemed ready to shoot. “Raise your hands,” one of them shouted at least three times, but until he said, “You, on the roof,” I didn’t realize he meant me. They shone a spotlight on my body and instructed me to leave my drill on the roof and slowly climb down the ladder. On the ground, I explained the situation, but it was clear they still found me suspicious. If I belonged here, the neighbors should recognize me; if my neighbor wanted me on her roof, I should be able to call her and let her vouch for me.
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” I said. “I’m not her boyfriend yet, but I’d like to be.”
A bald cop with thick dark eyebrows shook his head. “We’re going to need you to leave. We’re going to stay here until we watch you go.”
His voice said I should be ashamed of myself, and I was starting to wonder if he was right—if I had totally misread the situation with my neighbor, if I was waiting for a time that was never going to come.
“Can I get my stuff?”
Alone with me, behind the house, a young cop with an overgrown crewcut told me he’d been where I was and he got it. He, too, had once been so into this girl that he’d missed the obvious signs that she didn’t really like him. But also I shouldn’t worry. There were a million lonely women out there, ready to meet a guy like me.
“Do you know Tinder?” he said. “Bumble? Hinge?”
His familiarity unnerved me. He looked about twenty. I jiggled the ladder to make sure it was steady and climbed back on the roof to retrieve my drill. From this height, I could see all of the yards between her house and mine, the raised beds of squash and tomatoes, lumber and cardboard shoved under porches, a kiddie pool propped up against a fence to dry, and something about this view made me feel close to my neighbor. I didn’t feel like an asshole yet or even a fool. I thought, “I’m in love with this woman, and she is still grieving. Fixing her house is the least I can do.”