Thursday, September 15, 2011

From grief to relief to anger. 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds

The old woman next door, hair so white it almost seems colorless, back so bent her stance resembles an upside down letter J. We speak across the backyard fence from time to time. She tells me she and her husband were the first people to move on the block, in the mid 50's, a few years before I was born. The couple who originally owned our house, both long dead, were friends of hers. Our house sat unoccupied for close to 8 years, all the utilities stayed on and the children of the previous owners came by every couple of months to check the pipes, maybe to visit the ghost like memories that fill a childhood home, everything seeming so much smaller than they recall. Not long after we moved in I found hundreds of time cards in a box. 35 years worth. The mans name, small square holes punched in the cards, marking time like a convict making x's on a calender. The yard went to seed, the once manicured lawn grew ragged and bare in spots. The flower beds, just like the former occupants, died, leaving behind an empty impression lined with rocks and bricks. They were all friends and neighbors. Now it's just the old woman next door, and another across the street who rarely ventures outside. When she does come out, wearing those giant black sunglasses that practically cover the entire face, the two old women will meet in the middle of the street, talk, then retreat back inside their respective homes.

The woman's children show up about once a week. sometimes it's the son, other times it's the daughter. The son lives down in the Ozarks, has the look of an aged hippie.  The daughter drives a high end imported SUV with JoCo tags. This week it's the daughters turn. She is standing just outside the front door of the house as I'm leaving for work.
"Mom " "Mom"  She leans inside the doorway, like a frightened child peering inside a closet trying to see what's back in the darkest corner of it. I make myself look busy like I'm looking for something in my car. I don't want to appear to be intruding on her moment even though I am. Her voice gets softer after about the 4th or 5th "Mom".  As I watch it all unfold, I wonder if  this visit will end with an ambulance out front. No sirens, no rush to leave. The daughter seems to want to walk through the door, one foot is over the threshold. she is frozen in place. She is on her 10th or 20th "Mom" at this point, reduced to little more than a whisper. Just as I'm about to walk over to see if I can help, the old woman comes around the corner of the house. She gets within a few feet of her daughter. She speaks, but I can't make out what she says. The daughter jumps. she goes from concern, to relief, to chewing the old woman's ass for scaring her. As they go inside the softness gone from her voice, I hear bits and pieces. "Door" "Unlocked".  The tone is like that of a parent scolding a child, the roles reversed now.
As the door closes, I hear "Mother". The tone no longer soft.  The moment seemingly forgotten.


  1. Ain't that a bitch?!

    My folks moved to Arkansas when my Pops retired. They were still there, in their upper-seventies, when we had our first kid. Drove all the way up to Chicago to meet him.

    I was going to go somewhere with them, and I refused to let my Pops drive, told him the city traffic would mess him up.

    It would have, but I regret that to this day. He's been dead these 15 years, and it still humiliates me to think of it.

    Chicago, Illinois


    You're STILL an apologetic White man, but you're getting better!

  2. This is some good writing, right here.

  3. Dang, man, killer writing.

    Funny how we lose our perspective--and so quickly--isn't it? One moment we may have lost someone, the next, we're scolding the person we were concerned for.

    Humans usually just aren't that bright.

    Tell you what--I think your teachers from all your grades would be proud of what you wrote, above.


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