Did I ever tell you about my next door neighbor?
Charles and Shelia moved in next door a few months after we bought our house. It was a new section of the community and all the homes were being newly built. We met them after we had moved in and after construction had begun on their house. From our first meeting, they seemed like a nice enough couple but we knew we wouldn’t be best of friends. And we were okay with that.
However, our neighborly relations were not so neighborly over the years. The details aren’t important but we got to the point where we didn’t speak to either of them. Not even a pseudo-friendly wave hello. We were invisible to each other. There was this unspoken tension between us.
We often longed that they would sell their house and move far away leaving a nice family with children to move in next door. Despite our desire for new neighbors, I always offered up the consolation to my husband that at least they were courteous neighbors.
They kept to themselves. Their house was impeccable on the outside (and presumably on the inside). They kept their yard exceptionally tidy. So tidy, in fact, we personally thought it bordered on obsessive.
When the builder was finishing their house and installing the standard landscaping, they insisted that they move the small holly tree from the side of the house to the front and center of the lawn. An odd choice for a front lawn, in our opinion. In fact, we had our holly tree moved to the back of the yard and let it grow wild on the edge of the woods.
But over the years, their holly tree flourished. They kept it trimmed in a perfectly pyramidal shape. You could often see the two of them outside with scissors trimming off every little leaf or branch that was out of place. At the time, we thought it was almost a bit comical.
Fast forward a few years and one day we noticed something different. Home health care vans started coming to the house frequently. We saw oxygen tanks being replaced. We saw Shelia less and less. Had they gotten divorced? Had they taken in one of their elderly mothers? It became the subject of neighborhood gossip but nobody really knew what was going on.
A few months later, we found out the sad truth. Shelia had developed pulmonary hypertension and had gone downhill very quickly. Her condition led to her final hospitalization where she suffered congestive heart failure and passed away at the age of 51.
We were shocked and flabbergasted. We had no idea she was sick. We had no idea anything was going on behind that impeccably cared-for lawn. And in an instant, our relationship with Charles had changed. Despite our differences and very unneighborly-like conflicts over the years, he was a human being and he was in pain.
We sent a simple but heartfelt sympathy card and that act opened the doors for reconciliation. He wrote us a long letter that had me weeping with every single word. He had lost his entire world and felt so alone.
We never became the best of friends but we helped him as much as we could. We sent over meals and Christmas cookies. We had conversations on the driveway. He brought over gifts for my son. But the pain was still there. After two years, he still hadn’t touched anything in Shelia’s closet.
He finally realized he couldn’t stay in the house they both loved so much. It was their dream and staying in the house kept her memory alive but it also kept him from moving on with his life. He sold the house in May and finally moved on. I don’t know where he went or how he’s doing but I know I gave him a heartfelt hug goodbye and truly wished him the best.
The day after he moved out, our new neighbors moved in. We’ve never met them. They made it clear from day one that they weren’t interested in making friends. Unfortunately, we’re back to having invisible neighbors. Only this time, we don’t have the consolation of an impeccable lawn.
They’ve cut the grass too short and the entire lawn has burned out. To be fair, they are from Boston and we told them that our grass here in the South has to stay long to survive the summer. However, they still continue to hack it. The weeds are now slowly growing up through the cracks in the driveway. It doesn’t look unkept. It just looks unloved.
The other day my husband pointed out their holly tree to me. It was withering in the summer heat. The leaves were turning brown from a lack of water. The tree that was so expertly pruned and trimmed and clearly loved was dying.
I had hoped there was still a chance for the tree to recover when we left for San Diego. Ten days later, we returned home and saw that it was too late.
Maybe it’s ironic that the tree that symbolized everything that drove us nuts about our old neighbor is now a reminder of what we miss about him.