You don't always see what's going on beneath the surface.
I’m still reeling from this; I just can’t believe it. I’m still not convinced this is real, but maybe some cruel joke being played on me.
Let me start from the beginning.
About five years ago, my wife and I moved into our dream home. I remember stepping out onto the balcony from the upstairs bedroom and overlooking the trees and thinking to myself: this is where I grow old. After moving from apartment to apartment, never staying in the same place for more than two years, it felt surreal. Then slowly, the rosy façade peeled away.
Our back yard is quite odd, to be sure. When we moved in, it was completely overgrown with dead trees, invasive plants, and was more or less useless as a back yard. So we began clearing it out to set it up the way we wanted it. That’s when we noticed that one of our neighbors liked to park their vehicles right up on our property and leave the country for a few months at a time, which of course made it difficult to cut branches down.
One day, my wife went to go confront them and ask them to stop parking up against our yard; she felt it was an intrusion on our privacy. As per her version of events, the guy was incredibly rude and shouted obscenities at her to get off his property and so forth. I thought to myself, surely I might be able to talk some sense to the guy, though she warned me not to go. I knocked at the door, and when he came out he was hostile, teetering on the edge of belligerence. I asked him, nicely, if he could move his cars and stop parking up against our yard. He shouted “why?” And while I tried to explain, he told me to get the eff off his property. I told him to get his cars off our property. A few words later, he lunges at me, then tries to storm back into his house, talking about how he’s going to go get his gun, only to be held back by some other guy that was there. The police came out, filed a report, and left. They’d told the police they don’t even have a gun.
Another day while I was trying to clear some more branches from our back yard, there was his car in the way. Unwilling to go to his door, we left a note on the car window, asking them to stop parking there. That’s when the wife came to our door to ask us to stop leaving notes on their car. We discussed her husband’s temper problem that she half acknowledged and half shrugged off, and tried to convey to her the reasons why we didn’t want people parking there.
Days turned to months, and I did my homework. You see, the roads in our community are privately owned. That is, from the edge of our yard to the middle of the street is technically my property, while from the middle of the street to my neighbor’s yard is theirs, and of course I pay taxes on my portion albeit at a lower rate because it’s a paved motorway. There exists what’s called an easement for ingress and egress, which means you have a legal right to pass through the easement on the way to your home even though technically you’re driving on someone else’s property. Finally, according to Florida law, there are no implied rights in an easement, meaning an ingress/egress easement doesn’t impart the right to park on someone else’s property just because it’s a road; you would need a parking easement for that. I typed up all of this in a letter (in more detail) and included a copy of the survey showing where our property lines were, and gave it to them.
Our property was not our property, and you can park on the road. In fact, when I explained all this to the police, the response I got was universal. The police can’t read a survey, and there’s no law against parking on the road.
Later, this man would come onto a certain corner of our back yard and tear it up. I would come home, and there he was, digging up my garden. When I called the police, I was told that I needed some kind of proof he was trespassing. And as for the corner of my yard, he would insist it wasn’t ours. He never claimed it was his, by the way, only that it wasn’t ours.
At one point my wife and I, our children with us, went up to his house with the intention of making peace. She told me it wasn’t a good idea, that he was a sick man. But I managed to convince her that maybe we misunderstood him. Maybe we came at him the wrong way, and we had a responsibility to try and mend things. I envisioned the four of us sitting down at the table while our kids played with their kids (who are the same age as ours), and together we would talk things over and come to an understanding and put all the nastiness behind us. Some guy peeked his head out the door, and we stated our intentions. He told us to wait there. So we did. For a long time. We were about to go, but thought maybe he was in the shower and took a while to get ready. Then the same guy peeked his head out the door again and told us he was on his way and we should keep waiting. So we did. At least ten minutes my wife and I stood outside this man’s door, our two young children getting antsy when a police car showed up talking about someone called and said we were trespassing. We got a barring order for that, meaning if we came onto his property for any reason within the next ninety days, we would go to jail.
My wife is a brilliant woman, a light unto this world like no other. Around this time, her job needed her to have security clearance. Part of that process involved her watching some video about clues that someone might be up to something, and to hear her tell it, this man hit every single red flag on that list. He lived like a recluse, lived at multiple different residences simultaneously, would spend a significant amount of time outside the country, had a violent temper, exhibited signs of needing to control and dominate others, frequently changed cars, went by multiple different names, flaunted wealth but never worked, lied habitually, and so on.
One day while I was at work, she had asked this guy to move his car because it was parked up against our back yard again. His response was to park it right out in front of our house next to our mailbox, leave it there for an hour, then park it along the side, walking all the way around our yard to go back home. Apparently, he really, REALLY wanted to show us that he could park wherever he wanted.
He had a black, BMW M5 that he allegedly used as a show vehicle. One morning, I saw him in our back yard again with a shovel, digging up my yard, with his fancy BMW parked right next to where dirt was flying around. I went outside and demanded him to get off our yard. Naturally, he ignored me. So I got up close to him and demanded him to get off our yard. He threw a shovel full of dirt over my feet and acted like I was some complete nutcase for making such a scene. When the police came, he went into the back seat of his BMW and pulled out a stack of papers he’d conveniently had there to show them all this evidence he had against me. The police kindly told me that they can’t read a survey to tell me where my property lines were to determine if he was crossing them or not. It was immaterial, apparently, that he never once claimed that piece of land was his; only that it wasn’t ours. It took a great deal of begging and convincing, but at least we did get a barring order against him this time. It wasn’t until later when my wife’s sister was looking at the photographs that she noticed he was doing yardwork in pristine, white, Air Jordans.
We found out later on that a barring order is useless. While my wife was in the yard with our two young children looking at spiders, he was there in our yard taking pictures of them. The police told her that since she didn’t have any proof, there was nothing they could do, even though he was still on our property when the police came. But he greeted the officer with a friendly “hey! How you doing, officer? Great to see you!”
Things finally went before a judge, as both he and I were trying to get restraining orders against one another. Now in the Bible, it says that when someone takes you to court, you should try to reconcile with them along the way lest they throw you under the mercy of the judge. I actually didn’t want to try by that point, but I still felt it important to follow the teachings of the Bible for some reason. So, I sent him a text message saying I wanted to make peace, bury the hatchet, set aside differences, and so on. I read it three times just to make sure I wasn’t saying anything provocative. And you know, he presented the text to the judge as evidence of me stalking him. Additionally, I learned that I’d done all manner of crazy things I had no idea of. Apparently, I put a poopy diaper on his prized BMW, I went searching through his cars with a flashlight one evening, and so on. I had no idea I’d done any these things, but his wife was terrified of me. So now I have a permanent order of protection against me, meaning I get singled out at every airport screening, I’m not allowed to own a gun, or come within 25 feet of his property or his cars or his children. Meanwhile, he walks away without a scratch.
At some point, my wife did order another boundary survey of our property, and they came out and staked our corners, proving we were right all along about where our yard ended. Now, the back corner of our yard directly abuts his property. It was the day before Easter 2015, and I had some branches in the back I had to clean up. So I did. The neighbor was away somewhere, so nothing came to my mind one way or another. Then as I sat down to dinner with my family, we saw some police cars in the back. They were there for a long time, and we presumed it had something to do with some teenagers that were loitering around. Then, the cops came to my door and without so much as asking one word of my point of view, arrested me. You see, while I was in my own yard, I was also within 25 feet of his yard. I was taken downtown where I sat the night in jail, went through magistrate, and didn’t come out until my wife’s mother met my bail over 24 hours later.
Yes, I was arrested for working on my own yard while my neighbor was out of the country.
The most difficult for me has been the lopsided treatment we’ve received at the hands of the police in all this. We’ve been lectured at, threatened, and dismissed. The cop who hauled me off said to me that the fact that everyone hated us should have been an indicator of something we were doing. To be sure, this man spent over an hour on an international call trying to convince the police to arrest me.
Everyone around us thinks this man is great. I feel like I’m being gas-lighted. I have felt like tearing my hair out and screaming at the top of my lungs, “how can you not see?”
For two years since that Easter, things were (relatively) quiet. My lawyer put in a motion to modify the protection order, granting me the right to mow my own lawn. The neighbor hired his own surveyor to come out and draw up our property, who then once again proved we were right all along. Not that that changed anything; he would still park his car on the yard, trampling some plants in the process. Every time he did, I called the police, who advised him to move his vehicle, and then left. Then he would park his car there again. A couple times he sprayed Roundup on our yard, killing off the plants that were there. This was after his own surveyor told him where the boundaries were. The police told me it might have been truck exhaust, and said that without proof, they couldn’t do anything. Another time I was out walking with my wife when he just stood in his driveway staring me down with his arms crossed. This is what I’ve gotten used to; this is our dream home.
I have been made to feel like I was the one with the problem. I have been told that I was the trouble maker. I have mired in self-doubt over this situation, wavering between analyzing my own actions for anything I might have done to bring this upon myself, daydreaming of one day reconciling things so that we can live next to each other in peace, and being terrified that one day this man will just snap and come to kill us all. Some time ago, a cousin of his reached out to me on Facebook, and we talked for a little while about how he’s such a monster when I suddenly panicked, thinking I was being set up somehow for another breach of the restraining order. Every time I mow my lawn back there, EVERY SINGLE TIME, I rehearse in my mind what I would say to the police if he called them on me again and neglected to mention the order was modified. I don’t expect to be listened to by these cops; it feels so biased I actually wonder if they’re on his payroll or something.
This morning, I read in the news that his wife was gunned down and killed in Jamaica. This happened on Tuesday.
I also learned this morning that ten years ago, he was the lone witness and suspect when his girlfriend was murdered shortly after she named him the beneficiary of a million-dollar life insurance policy. He’s actually still a suspect in that one.
I also learned that about a month ago, he was named beneficiary of his wife’s million-dollar life insurance policy, and that the day before she was murdered – by four men riding motorcycles who shot her and then sped off – she’d left him because of his incessant cheating.