Thursday, September 20, 2012
Fragile and Temporary
Flies buzzed all around the sink as I went to rinse out my tea mug. I looked up in annoyance as saw that there was a hole in the screen, which is how they’d gotten in. It didn’t account for their numbers, though. There were dozens. Yeah, I admit it, there were dirty dishes in the sink, but they’d only been there since the night before - maybe 12 hours? Annoyed, I called out to TDO to complain to him, and just as annoyed he called back at me asking what I wanted him to do about it, then doubly annoyed, I bit back a snarky reply and sighed and just loaded the dishwasher, instead. Something made me look over at the neighbor’s house and a sense of foreboding came over me.
Not long after, The phone rang. I saw it was Sebastian calling so I let TDO answer it. These days, Sebastian hates me and tolerates TDO. I roll with it, because what else can you do? Sebastian is sick. No he can’t explain what’s wrong. He needs to see a doctor - NOW - and his back hurts but he isn’t sure that’s related. TDO sighs in frustration at the dramatics and not for the first time in the day asks, “What do you want me to do about it?” I hear him say he will be down in awhile but he’s in the middle of something. It’s his stall technique. If the spawn in question isn’t all that sick or is just trying to ditch a specific class, they’ll usually give in and just say they’ll struggle through the day.
Sebastian is relieved. “I’ll wait here for you in the nurse’s office,” I hear him mumble through the phone to TDO.
He’s really sick.
We decide to get Sebastian together. TDO is still not convinced Bastian is truly sick. I remark that he hadn’t eaten breakfast and maybe we should take him out and see if that perks him up, so we go to the school and gather him up. Admittedly, he looks pale. But he’s my kid - he always looks pale. Still… I’ve got a bad feeling. Bastian scarfs down his breakfast and all through the meal I have this edgy feeling. I mother hen Sebastian as much as he’ll let me, we hit the grocery store for essentials, then head home.
As we pull into the driveway, I remember I have to pick Scouting stuff up from Miss S. I teasingly tell TDO he should take me in his Mustang with the top down. I’ve never ridden in his car with the top down, but I have this itchy-need-to-be-free feeling so I throw it out there on a whim. Truth told, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever even ridden in TDO’s car. I’ve never driven it. It feels like an odd request after I throw it out and yet he agrees to it and we take off. The whole time I have a nagging feeling that something is up. I triple check on Bastian before we leave. As we are pulling out of the driveway, I look over to the neighbor’s house and even though the house is quiet and still, I have a uneasy feeling.
We spend too long at Miss S’s - me talking her ear off - but, well, I miss her, and haven’t seen or heard much from her lately. Plus, part of me doesn’t want to go home, and not just because I have a recruitment event to attend later in the evening. TDO oddly doesn’t want to go home, either. We grab milkshakes then start the trek home, not quite right, either of us.
As we pull into the driveway, he gets a call. Someone from work wants to know if he’s heard from the neighbor, J. A sinking feeling starts in. I remember a conversation TDO had with a different neighbor where she had expressed concern and thought maybe J had gone out of town since he wasn’t a answering his phone or door. That was last week. Sinking turned to dread.
We walked over to his house together. TDO checked the gate J uses to keep his deck closed in. Locked. In fact, everything looked locked down tight. But we could hear the his dog. He wouldn’t have left Penny by herself. He just wouldn’t. I ask TDO to peek inside the garage since I’m too short to see in. He says he will but he stalls. He knows. We both do. When he finally looks, he discovers both cars are parked in the garage.
In shock and what little scrap of denial I have, I gather up Tilly, who has wandered over to see what all the fuss is and head home to call husband of the neighbor who had mentioned her concern over not seeing J for awhile. They had been close. Maybe he had heard something. But no. “Now that you mention it,” he said with concern, “It’s been awhile since I’ve heard from J.” We let a heavy pause linger between us to say what we both know without saying it. We know the truth. There is no hope left.
Meanwhile, a CHP car shows up. The officer and TDO poke around and call out to J. There is no answer. TDO goes around back and wriggles the doggy door loose and climbs through. He knows the instant he enters the house. The smell is overpowering and instantly recognizable. Still, someone needs to check. He lets the officer in. The officer knows instantly, too, and tells TDO to check upstairs and he’ll check down. They both know J’s upstairs.
They are used to death - not that they want to be - but as gruesome and awful as what they encounter can be, it’s still fresh. Old death - well. It’s different. If fresh death reminds them of how fragile humans are, old death reminds us of how temporary we are. We’re just part of the endless cycle, and not an especially significant part. TDO warns the officer. But J was CHP. Not a stranger or just a neighbor but one of them so the officer can’t just wait downstairs not knowing. He about loses it and quickly retreats to the driveway after looking in.
TDO calls me with the news. I don’t have the heart to ask yet if it was suicide or a seizure (J had extensive health issues which is what forced him out of the CHP) but I can tell TDO has put on his face - the “strong until this is over” one. He needs my strength, too, so I offer to come get Penny. He agrees it might be best.
As I arrive at the house, I can see the officer isn’t ok. I know that several of the guys were good friends with J, and I also know first hand that seeing a dead body - any dead body - can be shattering. I can’t help him, though, because I can’t bring J back and I can’t wipe the memory of what the officer saw from his head. I can play normal, though having an entourage of animals following me around might not be entirely normal. I let him pet Vesper. The life and warmth and soft fuzz of a kitty can go surprisingly far in bringing one back to the present. At least for a moment. Penny refuses to let anyone near. She is not ok.
None of us are.
I headed home and got ready for the scouting recruitment. All the while, I’m playing the what if game and repeatedly apologizing to J. We were not close. I didn’t know him. But I should have. I should have checked on him. I should have gotten to know him. I should have been a better neighbor. I should have been a friend. Ah. From what ifs to shouldas. But in my heart I know that I couldn’t have stopped what happened. I know that even if we’d have found him sooner, we wouldn’t have found him any less dead.
Still feels like a terrible waste.
And a horrible tragedy.
So I’ll do what I can do since I can’t fix what’s happened. I’ll cling harder to my babies and reach out to my friends. I’ll vow to be a better friend and a better neighbor - and in the end fall short, because I am only human, after all.
Guess we all are fragile and temporary humans.
Krush at 09/20/12 10:35 AM
Sending love and hugs through the miles! You are a wonderful friend and I’m sure you are a wonderful neighbor…although Pgh to CA makes that hard to determine. Love you!