When They Take The Neighbor Away
I live in an older neighborhood, demographically speaking. The condo complex itself was built new in the 1990s, from what I can tell.
At least that's when my neighbors on either side of me moved in here. My condo is the size of a house, with two equally large condos on each side. My neighbor to the right of me is an elderly divorcee named Dee, who has lived by herself in her condo since 1994.
Dee sits in her living room facing out the front window like a lifeguard watching the pool from sunrise to sunset. Everything that happens on my street is witnessed by Dee unless she has left the window to get a fresh pack of her cheap reservation cigarettes or a new Coors Light.
On Saturday mornings when I sneak out of the house to go do some sunrise fishing I often see her beer can on the window sill.
I love Dee. Every now and again I will go to a dispensary and buy her a pre-rolled joint.
She'd go herself, I'm sure, but our condo is at least 25 miles from the nearest one. Dee appreciates the gesture and keeps me informed on all the neighborhood gossip.
Often our conversations revolve around the neighbors across the street from us who have two small girls. Their girls are the same age as my twins, so you would think we would love having them across the street. We do not.
They are the kind of neighbors who will spill the entire contents of a trash bag next to the Dumpster and say, "Good enough."
The kind that sit out front smoking cigarettes pretty much 24 hours a day. When I get up for the morning show at 3 a.m. and take the dog out, they are still sitting out there.
Dee and I often talked about the neighbor on the left side of my house, though. Her name was Mary and she was a widower that had lived in the condos even longer than Dee.
Mary was 94 years old, which she told me one day as I drove her to Safeway. During this horrible, no-good winter weather Mary was home-bound and she didn't buy groceries ahead of time.
She ate fresh warm soup at Safeway every day for lunch. She ate breakfast at the same local eatery for more than 20 years. Occasionally I would see her car at Denny's for dinner. Sometimes, I would have to wake her up, sleeping in her car in the dead of summer in the parking lot at Safeway or even around the block from the house.
I have lived in my condo for almost three years, and over that time Mary has deteriorated very rapidly. She started being brought home by the police department. Every other day it could be an ambulance or police from the other end of town from her attempt to go to the mall. I spoke to them every single time and she had become confused and was found traveling sometimes 10 mph on the interstate. I eventually talked Mary into letting me put my name and number on her dashboard, just in case. At least that way I could explain the directions to her house for whomever was going to drive her home.
She was once reportedly seen trapped in a roundabout for more than two hours because an accident had diverted traffic from her regular route.
Each time emergency responders would bring her home. I would talk to them when I was home, but many times I was gone, so they spoke to no one but Mary.
Each time she talked her way back into her house without them seeing inside. Each time I told them this was happening almost daily. When we got our first huge snow, I checked on her every day. She couldn't leave if there was more than a couple of inches of snow.
Our driveways are paved hills essentially, with our garages on the lower level. Mary beat me outside one morning when it was icy and spent two hours grinding her tires to the wires. She was unable to drive for the rest of the winter, which I took as a welcome break from her terrorizing the roadways at 10 mph.
As you might have guessed, Mary was also a textbook hoarder.
When I would knock on the door to check on her, I could see mail from the 1990s piled from the door and into the downstairs bathroom. We both have the same split-level floor plan, so I could surmise it was about three feet deep at the bottom.
Then a week went by and she never answered the door. I knocked and knocked and hollered. Dee was at my side on one cold Friday evening and as we stood in the snow and the police officer there with us informed us he was not about to go in that house.
At Christmastime relatives and friends would send her gifts. There were three brand new arrivals from Nordstrom that had been sitting on her porch since that Monday.
After 30 minutes of knocking and fear, I heard a shuffle by the door. Mary stood there glaring at me with a contempt she hadn't shown me since my dog pooped in her yard three years earlier.
"Why are you bothering me?" she wanted to know.
I almost hugged her right there I was so happy to see her, but I contained myself and helped her wedge the door open enough to squeeze the Nordstrom boxes inside the house. She promptly threw them down the stairs without looking at them.
"Well, thanks for checking on me," she managed as she closed the door.
That was the last time we saw Mary.
She fell in her bedroom the next day and had to call the police to knock down the door to get her. She had hurt her shoulder and was wedged between the stacks of garbage and her bed.
I tell you this now because I have been living with guilt of knowing what was going to happen to my neighbor, but also fear that she was going to burn us all alive one night. I never felt sorry for Mary, she chose to live her own life in her own way, never apologetic and never backing down. This old lady was a real-life Clint Eastwood.
I actually heard her yell "Get off my fucking lawn!" at all five of my children at some point the first year we lived here. That's a direct quote.
My youngest is now 6 years old.
I had never yelled at an old woman before I met Mary.
Dee and I were talking about that day earlier as we watched the cleaning crews put on their masks and rubber gloves.
This afternoon I had a Coors Light with Dee.