A few years ago the house across the street from us went through two face lifts. The first was by a pair of brothers who “flipped” the house — bought it, painted it and did some major work inside. All this was in about a month’s time and then quickly sold it. This wasn’t too long before the market crashed; they were lucky to unload it for a lot of cash.
The owners after them took the house and gutted it. What a waste, we thought, as we watched the work of the brothers get carted away by dump trucks. That summer, we watched the gutting process from our front window. The work trucks, excavators and general fanfare of the contractors entertained our older son for hours. We speculated about who these new owners were and figured that they were a large family, as this house has at least four bedrooms in it.
To our surprise, we heard through other neighbors that the owners who purchased the house and renovated it were business owners. They would be using it as an adult care facility for elderly people. We were disappointed. As a family with two young kids, we’d been hoping for playmates across the street. At a minimum, we had hoped for people that were invested in our already close-knit neighborhood. In our interactions with the new owners, it was clear that bonding with our ‘hood wasn’t what they wanted to do. Their only interest in us is if we park in front of their “business.”
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon that a fire engine, Medic truck or ambulance arrives at this house across the street. Each time I see an emergency vehicle arrive, I wonder what’s happened. It feels strange to have no idea who is living in this house. With every other house on our large cul-de-sac, we know who lives there and we talk with them at least a few times each year. We have an annual block party, have summer BBQs with close neighbors and enjoy holiday parties in homes of those who live near us.
At first we tried to establish a connection with the owners. They said they would attend the block party, but didn’t. We went to the house on Halloween to visit the residents, but the nurse who opened the door shrugged when our older son said trick-or-treat. We greeted family members who came to see their relatives. But in the end we didn’t get much return for our attempts at creating some type of relationship with these “neighbors.” And then one of the visitors backed into our car but didn’t leave any contact information. When we approached the owners about this incident, they weren’t helpful nor did they demonstrate much remorse. It left us feeling frustrated and, disappointed and the proud owners of a car with a large dent on the driver’s side door.
While we don’t know the people who come and go in the house across the street, I believe that the residents who sit at the picture window might enjoy watching our young children as we go about our daily lives. That hope makes me feel better about the fact that the house is a business and that I don’t know anyone who lives there. My husband’s grandmother lived in a similar in-home care facility for the last years of her life in Texas and was much happier being cared for there than she would have been in a nursing home. I don’t doubt that this facility provides comfort for its residents. Even so, its existence makes me think more about community and what it means to be part of a community. Are these my neighbors who live across the street? Should I make more of an effort to know them?
Today I was at our large front window with my younger son, watching for my husband who had gone to the garage to get some holiday decorations. There was a van parked out in front of the house across the street but I didn’t think anything of it. Then the front door opened and a man wearing a jacket and tie pushed a gurney out onto the walkway. The caregiver closed the door behind him. As the man in the jacket and tie came through the gate at the front of the yard, I saw that there was the shape of a body on the gurney. The body, including the head, was entirely covered by a quilt. This was a first for me.
Thankfully my two-year-old son wasn’t interested in the gurney. He was only curious where his dad might have gone. But I couldn’t stop watching as the man loaded the gurney and the person on it into the back of the van. Who was the person under the quilt, I wondered. How had he or she died? Where was the family? How long had the person been living there?
After lunch I asked my husband if he’d seen the van. He said he had, but hadn’t mentioned it because he’d hoped I had missed it.
For us, there is an unspoken sadness about the whole event. Sadness for the loss of a life, of course. But also for our loss as neighbors — for the connection that we don’t have, and for this reminder of life and death that is literally always just beyond our front door.