She is gone. The house is empty; a shiny red realtor’s sign is placed in the yard. She left unnoticed, the neighbors didn’t give her a farewell; no cards or well wishes were exchanged. She lived in this neighborhood for 25 years; everybody knew her, but nobody felt close to her.She was our direct neighbor. We shouted over the fence, talked about the weather and complained about the worms who ate our tomato plans and our lettuce. She told me to get rid of the BMW* -when I talked about my illness; she set my head straight with just one sentence. She was right.
The first years, after we moved here, we exchanged Christmas cards and little gifts. I brought her a Poinsettia, and she left green and red colored fudge in front of our door. After a few years these exchanges stopped -and as much as I try to remember why I can’t come up with a reason. Did I tell her that I didn’t eat food with food coloring? Did she tell me that the leaves of the poinsettia are poison for cats? Perhaps we both said something and neither one of us took it well?
Or was it the apple tree in her front yard? She cut it down because kids stole apples from the tree -as kids should. I shook my head, didn’t understand it but it was her tree -I had no say in it.
A couple of times I stopped by her house and talked with her for a while, but that ended too.
She was a loner – a hermit crab. She liked to stay to herself and let everybody know who tried to come to close. Perhaps that’s why I gave up, or I just got too busy. She bought a new car for her 80’s birthday and got herself a part-time job at a local driving school, where she sat at a desk and read a book for a few hours, until the phone rung. “It gets me out of the house and takes care of the car payment,” she explained, and I smiled.
Before Christmas, I noticed all the full, extra trash bags in her front yard but didn’t think much about it. The following Garbage day, there were more trash bags lined up beside her overflowing trashcan.
I called her, asked if she was doing alright. “I am moving tomorrow,” she said and told me that she had been pretty sick. “I got sick and spent two months in the hospital,” what shocked me because I hadn’t noticed.
“I have colon cancer and will move in with my daughter in Utah.” I didn’t know what to say. What can you tell an 87-year old woman with a deadly disease? I was still searching for the right wording when she made it easy on me.
“All I hope for is a good time in Utah, as long as it might be,” she said with a chuckle, and once again I thought about the BMW. I wished her well, told her I would watch the house and hung up.
Am I the most terrible neighbor ever? I sure feel like it. How could I not have noticed that she was gone for so long? Why did I stop checking in on her? Yes, she barked at people sometimes, but that’s no reason not to care.
I told my husband when he came home, asked him if he noticed. “The light was always on,” he said and shook his head. “No, I didn’t notice either.” In summer, in summer we would have noticed, I convinced myself, but in fall or winter, it’s hard to miss someone who always stays in the house.
It didn’t make me feel any better – What a shitty neighbor I am.
I called the other neighbors, thought we could get a card or perhaps a farewell present. I didn’t tell them the whole story, just asked them if they had been close to her at one time and informed them that she was moving. Neither one of them cared enough to even ask why or where to. How sad!
This all rattled me a bit. Like many of us, I spend a lot of time online caring and commenting on blog posts of people I have met in a virtual world. Most of them I will never meet or talk to in real life.
I was sad, when one of my blogging friends died of cancer last year and overlooked the “real thing” next door.
Well, I have her cell phone number. I might have been a shitty neighbor, but perhaps I can be a better ex-neighbor. I will check on her until…..
*BMW stands for bitching, moaning and whining. The post can be found here