When nobody cares

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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

29 thoughts on “When nobody cares

    • well I love to live in a very little village and I had a lot of luck, that the habitants are very nice. Although I´m a stranger and do not talk their language very good I´m accepted by nearly everybode and they like me. There is no need to invite people or to talk a lot, it is just beeing friendly saying “good morning” and somtimes just have a little bit smalltalk. And the most important thing is, that you know, that people know and like you at least so much to really will help you if you are in need of help. It is still a giving and taking there, a nice togetherness, fast acceptance but on the other way no need to make conversation. I´m really impressed of this.

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  1. Please don’t beat yourself up about this. I am sure that you do more than most people to be a good friend and neighbour. It sounds as though she valued her personal space above frequent communications and genuinely preferred it that way. She sounds very clear-minded and has chosen to be with her daughter. If she had wanted more local friendship, I think she would have made that happen too.

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  2. Do you know what part of Utah she’s coming to? I hope it’s not one of the bigger cities where she’ll get worse than ignored, she’ll be forgotten and overlooked. I hope it’s one of these tiny little towns where people embrace others, are friendly still and really make an effort to be involved with the elderly and ill. Like here.

    Now I see that you’re angry with yourself for ignoring this neighbor and you even said you were “shitty”. Not so. As said by others, you NOTICED and you did something when you noticed. It’s the same for everyone you know, we all get wrapped up in our tiny lives so much so that sometimes we don’t always keep up with the finer manners like being neighborly. Not saying that you did that, I think it was more circumstance AND, being a hermit crab or sea urchin myself, the lady invited that kind of behavior. I do it myself and I’m noticing the same results as your neighbor experienced..people don’t want to bother those who make it clear others aren’t welcome.

    I’ve lost two neighbors up here since I moved in…both moved away. Both were closer to me than the ones I had in Salt Lake for 22 years. Both tore my heart a little when they moved away too (although, as you point out, not our place to feel betrayed and hurt. It’s THEIR life and their choice. I personally think these people leaving me (in a sense) is part of why my inner hermit crab has surfaced so strongly and why there’s another layer in the shell around my heart. It hurts when people leave. I’m sorry you had to experience that and remember, even though I only know you ‘on-line’, I consider you to be a fine and caring individual who thinks about others constantly and notices the little things.

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  3. Hermits are difficult crabs to reach, you know. And she, in her heart, knows it well. Touchy sometimes snappy and reactionary makes it difficult. It’s a bit like trying to caress a sea urchin …. its not at all natural and will give a nasty surprise rather than a rich reward. The fact is, over and above everything, you care enough to be upset and if you can bring yourself to make that call to her cellphone from time to time then you will make an impact in her last chapter which she will carry away with her. We are all failures. Make yourself the better person now. Even if she did once insult your poinsettia and cut down a perfectly lovely apple tree. This has touched me deeply and I want you to not beat yourself up. I don’t believe she would want that.

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  4. I’m so sad for you Bridget, because I know you take these things to heart and wear the hurt. You’re not a shitty neighbour, and you are not a shitty friend. YOU CALLED! When you noticed something odd, you called. That’s the part that says you’re a really good person 💕

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  5. Bridget I think you are being too hard on yourself. Had she wanted a friendlier relationship you would have been there, I think picking up on cues others give off and responding to that is what happened. She wasn’t looking for friendship or companionship. I understand it makes you feel bad because you are the good person you are, and moving forward maybe some of your other neighbors you will find you can be more “neighborly” to/with. ❤

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  6. This is so heartbreaking and I feel for you, however, it’s highly unlikely you’re the worst neighbor. You can’t force a person, especially one who treasures their solitude to change. I’ll bet if she were one to allow people into her life this scenario would have played out differently.

    I couldn’t help but smile at her buying a car for her 80th birthday and taking a part-time job. Maybe she realized she needed a change after all.

    It sounds like your neighbor was content being a loner although it’s sad she fell ill and was hospitalized. By merit of you writing this post, it shows you care about her.

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  7. I’m not sure if this is true or fiction…but if it’s true I hope she does call the woman to check on her at least once. She might still bark, but she might also be glad to talk. I like to live alone, would probaby be considered stand-offish, but somehow I’d still like to think someone cared.

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  8. Pingback: When nobody cares – The Militant Negro™

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