The guy across the street died four months ago, and I had no idea whatsoever until this past Saturday. I guess it’s a testament to the insular world I live, I guess. But nevertheless I was shocked when I went by his house, didn’t see his car, and my wife told me he had died “some months ago.” Maybe I’m just not in the loop around here, either because I’m not from around here originally or because I just don’t know my neighbors that well. In twelve years of being neighbors, I never even knew his name.
He had one of those boat cars. You know the kind, that is long and wide. When he would pull out of his parking space he never looked to see what other traffic might be around. Which I guess was okay around here because everyone knew he pulled right out regardless and veered clear when they saw him coming. No one ever honked.
Then, when he was home, he would sit out on the stoop (it was really just a slab of ground in front of his house) and smoke his pipe. He would nod when I passed by, and I would always nod in return, but that was pretty much the most communication we ever had over the course of those twelve years. I think he was married but I’m not really sure. The lady I saw at his house could very well have been some other relative because I hardly ever saw them together.
And now his house is going to be for sale. I can tell. No one is living in it right now, but the yard is being maintained, and the house looks suitably humbled. It’s larger than ours. I can tell from the outside. When my wife mentioned that if the price was right maybe we could move in I looked at her like she was crazy, though.
“We can’t move into a house where a guy died,” I told her.
“We don’t know if he died in there,” she replied.
“But still, maybe he did,” I said.
“And so what?” she asked. “People have died in every old house.”
She was right, of course, but maybe it was more the feeling that the house across the street will always be his, even if he only inhabits it in spirit form now. Perhaps in a sense every house is like that, too, that every house has the spirit of its former occupants, that they are as ingrained in its wood as the bottom layer of paint on its wooden slats. Could you imagine? When you walked through the halls you could feel those spirits all around you, either inviting you in or scaring you away.
I still can’t believe it either, that he’s really dead. My brain can’t quite fathom it because it seems like just yesterday he was sitting out there in front of his boat car, on his little stoop, smoking that old pipe and nodding to me as I passed. But it wasn’t yesterday, and it wasn’t the day before. It was over four months ago, and I hadn’t missed any of that interaction in all that time. It made me realize that if I were to pass, I would probably also be “that guy across the street” to my neighbors. It made me want to do more to embrace my community and have my community embrace me.
Maybe then when I die they’ll call me Sam. Because I was him to them.