Friday, January 1, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor...moving forward...moving away

January 01, 2010
Love Thy Neighbor

It was a normal good-bye, except the part where there was nothing normal about it. What I mean to say is that if normal is seeing a dear neighbor for the last time, just before he checks himself into a retirement home, then I wish fervently for much more abnormality in the future. This was an undefined good-bye, fraught with undertones and overtones that threatened to drown us out in a symphony of despondency. More than likely, I would never see my neighbor, Bob, again and there was not a Hallmark card or moment in sight. Though my coping mechanism for sorrow, anger, and discomfort is often humor, even I recognized that a “Catch you on the flipside,” jokey remark wasn’t going to work. I’ve known Bob for ten years and what a rich, memory-filled ten years it’s been; a relationship that can only be honored with shared reminisces of our journey down this country road together.
Through the growing up of kids – ours – a wife’s debilitating Alzheimer’s – his – and a multitude of pound puppies raised – both of ours – good-byes were plentiful, establishing an integral bond that was more important than I recognized while in the present tense. Our street side encounters have always provided me with a sense of security and history, even as we now shared tears and silently realized the tenuous hold time has on us all.
Our kids rode bikes in front of Bob and June’s house, waving excitedly as they transitioned from training wheels, metaphorical and otherwise, to the two-wheeling lifestyle of young adults, eliciting tears from both parents and progeny as they sustained life’s boo-boos. Through it all, there was always our neighbor, Bob; rock steady, solidifying our sense of community and belief that we were safe as he told stories of courage, hope, and determination. A vigorous man, all of the neighbors enjoyed seeing Bob strut briskly down the street for his daily constitutional and mail retrieval, making more than one of us feel a tad guilty that we weren’t doing the same. After all, he had a good four decades on us all, so that old excuse, “I’m too tired to exercise” was shown in all of its pathetic glory as a cop-out.
And then we didn’t see Bob. Well, not as much, anyway. When we did see him, we noticed his gait was slower, his trip to the mailbox took longer, and his recognition of us was slower as well. His macular degeneration ramped up, juxtaposed next to our ramped up schedule of commitments, so we missed not only his decline, but June’s which led to her recent death. My kids were growing up and though I contemplated their moving out plenty, ironically enough, it was Bob’s that would be my first entrée into the world of painful relocations. Our busy lives didn’t lessen, though our interactions with Bob did, leading to this last one; this final good-bye.
Bob will finish up the business of living, alone, at a veteran’s retirement facility in Yountville, California. I found this out, much as life’s events that are grievously memorable and painfully meaningful are often found out – suddenly, without preamble, and with the knowledge that this would be an ending without a beginning. It was a spontaneous, serendipitous moment that I selfishly acknowledge will prevent me from countless hours of pointless self-flagellation had I missed this last conversation.
I fully experienced this last good-bye in real time because, when I saw him, I just happened to be completing the most basic of tasks, bringing up our garbage cans from the street. The frame of this task was so appropriate, in that Bob often brought those trashcans up for us in the early days, knowing my husband commuted and I was alone with two small children. A tall, gallant, and handsome septuagenarian, he helped me with my errant trashcans, without asking and I always imagined him tipping his hat toward me, had he been wearing one. Currently, our exchanged pleasantries turned into words of greater import as he gave me the news of his move.
It was happenstance on this day that I got to hug Bob, hold his hand, and tell him what he’s meant to our family. It is happenstance that allows us these joyous relationships at all. It will be happenstance if I see him again, before he joins his beloved June, but it is good fortune wrapped around a core of gratitude that allows me to hold him dear in my memory, savoring that last interaction like the precious remembrance that it is.
There is much to celebrate in my life, including our 10-year journey with Bob, and yet I can’t help believing that my voyage will be a bit more lonely, even a shade less grand. As I walk the neighborhood, noticing the houses filling with younger people, Bob’s last joking aside reverberates in my head: “I’ll be renting my house out to a group of Hell’s Angels.” That Bob. He always knew how to make me laugh when we chatted, almost as much as he made me cry when we said good-bye. And my garbage cans? They still sit around a little too long, but whenever I retrieve them I simultaneously retrieve my image of Bob, and imagine him walking with me, up my lengthy, uphill driveway and he tips his hat toward me, making me smile.

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