Goodbye, NeighborMy neighbor, Jeanette, moved away yesterday. I did not know her last name. We’d lived across the street from each other for almost fifteen years. She had lived there another twenty-five years before my family arrived. She raised her children there. She lost her husband there. She tended her roses in the sunny backyard with a view of rollling hills, a beautiful bay, and the lights of the bridge crossing the strait.
She had been born and raised in England. I knew this because of her British accent and her occasional trips there to visit family. She was retired when we met her; I don’t even know if she ever held a job outside of her home or not. I only went into her house once. The rest of the time we would catch each other gardening in our front yards. She always wore the same thing– a long-sleeved nylon turtleneck top and elastic-waist polyester pants. And on bright days she wore a straw hat that tied beneath her chin.
Sometimes I walked across the street to her yard; sometimes she came over to mine. Most of the time we talked about our gardens–
“What kind of lavender is that?”
“Why won’t this vine grow?”
“What should I do with this crazy bush?”
When my husband went on a well-intentioned but unsupervised tree-trimming spree, she commiserated with me over the loss of the sweeping lower branches of a bluish pine whose spindly bottom trunk had become pitifully revealed in my husband’s attempt to make it look like a “real tree.” And when the freeshia’s were overflowing in golden yellow in her yard, or when my roses were heavy with pink and magenta blooms, we’d “oooh” and “ahhh” in mutual admiration.
One day she mentioned to my husband that she might be moving in with her daugher. (Jeanette had been diagonosed with macular degeneration.) Then the “For Sale” sign went up. We checked the flyers with the price. We watched prospective buyers trickle in and out. We saw the SOLD sign added and then the packing, the boxes, the cleaning.
She was supposed to move on the fifteenth, but plans changed. And yesterday I could tell that her leaving was imminent. I sat in my office all morning, working on the computer, working on an altered book, watching her through the window blinds. And when the moment seemed right, I went across the street to talk with her one last time.
I stepped inside the open door into the bare house. The sight of its emptiness and the open view beyond made my heart ache. I called her name and spoke to her for a few minutes. “I know we didn’t know each other very well, but you were a good neighbor,” I told her.
I gave her a hug. I could feel the soft folds of loose skin through her nylon turtleneck when I squeezed her arms. I gave her another hug and walked back across the street.
Why did I feel so sad about this neighbor leaving? Maybe it has something to do with change. We get so used to things being a certain way; it’s hard to have things come undone. School ending and students moving on, my mom’s Alzheimer’s getting worse, my son leaving middle school and going on to high school, the possibility of my own family having to move away to follow my husband’s job. Changes just keep happening, and sometimes I just want to hold up my hands like a crossing guard and yell “STOP!!!”
I watched as the last truck loaded with furniture pulled away. I saw Jeanette’s daughter leave with her car loaded with clothes and bedding. Not long after, I peered through the blinds and watched as Jeanette stepped outside her front door for the last time. She stood in beside her car for a moment, looking back, then she got in her car and drove away. I knew I would never see her again.
“Good-bye, Jeannette,” I whispered to myself.
That evening, I spotted my new neighbor’s car sitting in the driveway.