First my next-door neighbor, Bill, disappears. His health has been precarious for some time, but one could generally catch him early in the morning, picking up his newspaper at the bottom of his driveway, or checking his mail that he knows darn well never arrives before 3 p.m. After Mom’s death I canceled my newspaper delivery and found I could sleep in a bit longer each day, so I would generally miss Bill’s walks down the driveway, which was fine by me because he was a garrulous, well-meaning, but exceedingly tedious fellow who never understood the immense value of a brief “good morning” (with no follow-up conversation) between neighbors.
He put his house on the market about two months after the housing bubble burst. And he had priced it too high even for a strong market. Needless to say, the house was taken off the market six months later. Bill had hoped to move to a nursing home, but decided to stay around for a while longer. He’d have weekly doctor visits and occasional hospital visits, and not-infrequent falls. Tony, the neighbor directly across from him, tended his lawn and looked in on him daily.
First I see that Bill’s mailbox is taped up. The outside lights come on with a timer, so they gave no indication of Bill’s presence or absence. Then Bill’s lawn starts looking shaggy. The Florida growing season begins sometime in April, but weekly cuttings aren’t generally needed until May, especially since it’s been a dry year. Why isn’t Tony cutting his lawn? Wait a minute, where is Tony, anyway?
You may remember my telling you about Tony some time ago. His blue diesel pick-up is still in the driveway. I’m sure I heard him start it up and let it idle for a half-hour sometime last week, didn’t I? But then I notice that I never see him around. His garage door, usually open and the scene of activity, is always closed. Tony has likewise disappeared. His wife hasn’t been around for a couple of years now; I wonder, briefly, if she made one final appearance and, in a fit of rage, killed him.
Did Bill die? Did he go into a nursing home? If so, why isn’t his house on the market again, and why has he left no provision for cutting his lawn? When the weeds became chest-high, I paid my lawn guy $40 to bring Bill’s yard back into the land of respectability.
Then there’s the Corner House I told you about. The place has gone into foreclosure, and its crazy and/or criminal residents have relocated, thank goodness. That’s three houses shuttered and vacant in the same month.
The folks across the street, the ones who plowed down my mailbox, have been extremely quiet. Maybe absent, I don’t know. I never see them. And my next-door neighbor, Felix, is disappearing in a different way: he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He and his wife went up to Long Island for a family reunion last month, and I fed their cat in exchange for swimming in their pool. Good people. Felix is at the stage when he’s really upset at how his faculties are slipping away, and he’s becoming increasingly frustrated and bad-tempered. He mentions that he thinks Tony must be in prison, though he has no basis for his opinion. His wife is the personification of patience and long-suffering, but I can see the strain it’s putting on her.
So yesterday I’m getting acupuncture and discover that I’m missing my wallet. I hope it dropped out of my pocket in my car, but it’s not there. It’s possible I lost it on the brief walks to and from my car, and someone quickly grabbed it, but it’s more likely that I left it at home. I rarely do, since I tend to double- and triple-check my pockets before leaving, a habit I’ve had for decades. I was meeting a friend for dinner, and I’m grumbling because of how much more this is making me drive out of my way, and I’m hungry.
And there, in front of his house, is Tony. “Where have you been?!” I shout, gleefully. He’s happy to see me too. He explains that he’s getting married. (Apparently the bad-tempered woman is now his ex.) He and this woman dated some 30 years ago, and they’ve recently reconnected, and he’s been in Connecticut with her, and they’re getting married next month. He’ll go where the work is: Connecticut if it’s there, down here if the jobs are more plentiful here. She’ll stay in CT, where her comfortable career is. He says it’s an ideal arrangement for both of them.
Tony clears up the mystery: He too had been bothered by the denizens of the Corner House, especially the tall, bald, crazy-eyed fellow who kept asking for rides, and didn’t want anyone to know that he was leaving for fear they’d break into his house and become squatters. He was similarly afraid for Bill, so when Bill went into a home — an actual home owned by an LPN who takes care of a handful of seniors there, forming a pleasant little community — Tony didn’t think it would be good for the news to circulate through the neighborhood while the Corner House people were still there. Now they’re gone, so the news can spread freely. And Tony will make sure Bill’s lawn is tended, even if he’s living in Connecticut at the time. I mention, as a joke, that we wondered if he had been carted off to jail or something, and he replied, “No, those days are far behind me!” Another little surprise.
So all’s well with our neighborhood, except for Felix. I wish I had a magic wand. Or a miracle cure. For now, all I have is friendship and support. And the knowledge that we all disappear from time to time, sometimes forever, and always for good. Nothing is permanent, the Buddha tells us, except change.