What Fresh Hell?

Berlin - March 8, 2018


I woke up last night – not unusual – I wake up many nights at two or three regardless of wine or coffee – I’ve heard that sleep is disrupted at my age – people joke about it, although it’s not so amusing when it’s dark and one’s mind churns. I try to remember my German lessons, which article, das, der, die – which one adheres to which noun. Then a name becomes stuck. I can’t remember someone’s name a name that would have at one point in the past tripped off my tongue but now it unglues itself and only hours or days later will it pop unbidden into my head and I think I’m coming down with my heritable brand of cognitive decline.

Not Good

Thursday, June 29, 2017

                Yesterday. The weather: beautiful. The place: leafy, green suburban neighborhood. My grandson was sleeping upstairs in the crib we now keep for him in our daughter’s old bedroom and I saw from the front window parked in front of our house a police car (K-9 unit) and a sheriff’s vehicle. Soon a maroon SUV drove up and parked in front of the sheriff’s car. My across-the-street-neighbor, only days before the birth of a second child, came over to see if everything was okay with us, if my husband was alright. I told her he was at work. My grandson napping. She said a swarm of cars converged in front of the house four doors down.

                We have lived in our house since I had several weeks to go before the birth of our third and last child, twenty-seven years ago. The house four doors down, and there is one in every neighborhood, the house where the inhabitants keep themselves apart, where the open garage reveals piles and piles of stuff, junk, where the hit-or-miss upkeep of even five years ago has faltered precipitously.

                Two years ago when I passed the house on my way home, I saw in the driveway an elderly looking man lying on his side on the asphalt with the door of his car open. I passed by, then backed up, parked, walked to him and offered to help him stand. He told me not to worry, that he had had hip or knee, I can’t remember which now, surgery, and just needed a little time to pick himself up. I asked if he was sure, that I could help or call someone for him. He seemed to want very much for me to leave. I did.

                I learned yesterday that this man’s wife had died, six months ago, that the driver of the maroon SUV is his social worker, that an ambulance came to take him away, that the police officers found weapons in the house, took them and that the house was filled with the smell of urine and dog feces.

                This morning, I asked my husband what neighbors should have been doing to help. He said neighbors couldn’t have done anything.

                When we first moved in to our house, I loved being able to, if the spirit moved me or the day particularly harrowing, roll into the garage without having to speak anodyne words about the quality of the weather, inquire about respective children, with my fellow neighbors. In those first years we all spent our time out back on decks.

                These days I’ve noticed a distinct difference in our neighborhood. Abounding now in the front of many houses are tables, chairs, fire pits, little places for being able to call out to someone walking a dog or rolling a child by in a stroller. We humans miss other humans and we hunger for human sounds, their smells, the way they laugh, the way they walk. We used to go shopping and have to speak to someone at the store. Now the boxes arrive on our front steps and we convince ourselves that anonymous convenience will always feel this right.