Neighborhood Watch

I started to notice the changes about a year ago when I talked to her at neighborhood get-togethers or chatted with her when she was out walking her dog. Because I have a partial hearing loss, I first thought it was me. I must have misunderstood her words, or maybe they were muffled so I lost the context of what she was saying.

After a while, though, I started to realize that it wasn’t me. I may not have heard every word she said, but I knew that her sentences often didn’t make sense. She’d start talking about one subject and end up on another one altogether. She would forget a word and substitute another with a similar – but not equal – meaning (“big” for expensive, “little” for cheap). Every now and then she forgot the names of neighbors she had known for a long time.

Lately, other neighbors have started to talk about the changes they’ve observed. At first, we approached each other carefully because we didn’t want to set off any false alarms: “Have you noticed…?” “I’m not sure it means anything, but….” She is a well-loved neighbor; smart, funny, generous in spirit, and it breaks our hearts to see her struggling. Although an official diagnosis has yet to be made, we are pretty sure she isn’t going to get better.

Before Nancy retired, she had a high-powered job running the Special Ed program for a local school district. Although she loved her job, it was stressful, so she retired as soon as she was eligible for a pension. Not one to sit around, she filled her days with family, friends, and volunteer work. When her son and his wife had their daughter, Nancy embraced her new role as a grandmother. She happily looks after the baby several days each week and tells anyone within earshot how much she loves her granddaughter and relishes being her part-time caregiver.

Her son and daughter-in-law live fairly close and have witnessed the changes too. Although she doesn’t want to discuss it when her son tries to broach the subject, she apparently has willingly given up control of paying her bills. Her good friend and across-the-street-neighbor looks in on her regularly and helps her with once simple tasks that confuse her, like sending emails with attachments.

Her son wants her to be able to stay in her home for as long as she can. She is happy and, so far, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for a change. Fortunately, she lives in a neighborhood where everyone knows – and looks out for – each other.

So, we, the neighbors, worry and we watch. Worry for her and for her family; watch as someone we care for goes through a decline… one we are terrified to see in ourselves.

I scream for Halloween!

Most people when asked what holiday is their favorite will pick Christmas, Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving. I have always put Halloween at the top of my list.

My brother displaying his loot.
My brother displaying his loot.

As a child, it was all about the costumes, candy, and the annual Halloween carnival held at my elementary school. A whole gang of us ghosts and goblins would trick or treat up one side of the ¾ mile route to the school, enjoy the carnival, then trick or treat on the other side of the street as we made our way home. Then, the mass ingestion of candy would begin. I’m sure our parents confiscated some of it so my brothers and I didn’t go into total sugar-comas, but for the most part what we extorted from our neighbors was all ours.

Now, as an adult, Halloween has taken on a different significance for me. I still love the costumes – on others, I rarely dress up – and I do admit buying trick or treat candy that I like so that any left overs won’t go to waist waste. My favorite part, though, are the decorations – and the scarier, the better. I can’t get enough of the skeletons, ghouls, and severed heads. One neighbor turns their front lawn into a haunted cemetery. Another, using spooky lighting, tattered draping, and eerie sounds, makes their porch appear to be the entrance to a haunted house. I don’t remember such elaborate house decorations when I was a child and, I admit, I’m a bit envious of today’s trick or treaters.

We don’t get many trick or treaters on our block anymore as most of the kids have grown up and moved on. A recent surge of babies being born in the neighborhood will hopefully change that in the future, but for now they are too young. Usually, by 6:30 or so, we have seen our last Harry Potter, witch, and Minion, and there are no more knocks at our door.

All is not lost, though because a neighbor’s house has become the spot for the adults in the hood to gather and celebrate all things Halloween. After we determine that most, if not all, of the trick or treaters are gone, we turn off our porch lights, lock our door and walk down the hill to join our neighbors. Some dress in costumes, some bring Halloween-themed edible offerings, and we all enjoy celebrating the holiday with a little Zombie Zin.

zombie-zin

GratiTuesday: Great neighbors, great friends

I had a different GratiTuesday written and ready to go this week, but then I read the posts of several bloggers I follow and decided to change it. These posts explored different types of friendships, and, more specifically, the varying strengths of friendships, how they change over the years, and how it can be difficult to meet new friends as we get older.

Reading those posts reminded me of how grateful I am that I have dear friends who are also neighbors.

neighborhood_houses_144641

When my husband and I moved into our neighborhood over 20 years ago, we already had good friends who lived just a few doors away. In fact, they were the ones who alerted us to the possible availability of our house before it went on the market.

Then, these original friends introduced us to several neighbors who also became our friends and, over the years, we’ve been lucky to acquire even more friends as they have moved into our hood. Although we have a core group of four couples who socialize regularly, we often get together for celebrations, barbeques, and holiday parties with many of our other neighbors too. Several of us are retired couples, but there are also a few singles, retired and not, and younger couples, with and without children.

Over the years, we’ve watched neighborhood children grow up and get successfully launched, helped each other with household projects, celebrated milestones, mourned losses, watched each other’s houses when traveling, and always knew we could rely on each other when any help was needed.

Our neighborhood feels very much like the one I grew up in during the 60s. It’s the type of neighborhood I hoped for when my husband and I were looking for a home to purchase, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it. Unfortunately, neighborhoods like ours have become increasingly rare in our modern world, especially in larger cities. I’m sure there are many reasons why things have changed, but I believe, whatever the explanations, the loss to our sense of community is profound.

I am so grateful for all most (our neighborhood is great, but not perfect) of my neighbors, but primarily for our core group of eight. I am confident that any of them would jump to lend a hand if we needed it, and I hope they know the same about us. I’m also grateful that, after all these years, we still have fun together and have never gotten tired of celebrating our friendship.

Death Didn’t Take a Holiday

We had a death in the neighborhood yesterday. Actually, we aren’t sure when our neighbor died. It could have been yesterday, but more than likely he had been dead for several days – or more – before being discovered. The last time his neighbor across the street saw him alive was on Thanksgiving. She later became concerned after noticing that his garbage hadn’t been brought curb-side for pick-up and that a flyer hung on his door hadn’t been touched.

We live in a fairly tight-knit neighborhood. We pretty much know everyone up and down both sides of our long block. There are a lot of long-time residents; one or two are the original owners of their late 1950’s era homes. It’s almost impossible to walk from one end of the block to the other without stopping multiple times to chat. It is the type of neighborhood many people want to live in—friendly, sociable, supportive, and connected.

John’s mother was one of those original owners. Before Audrey passed away several years ago, she put the house and a sizable amount of money into a trust for her son. She did this because she knew that John wouldn’t be able to care for himself because of his mental illness. Despite his violent behavior towards her and others, and his pattern of eschewing medication for his bipolar disorder and instead feeding his meth habit, she decided that the best place for her son was in our neighborhood.

Most of the time, we were able to ignore John and his craziness. He could often be seen walking in the area wearing multiple layers of clothing (even in the summer) and large headphones, constantly talking to himself. Other than being odd, he was mostly harmless; he avoided us and we avoided him. Other times, though, he’d become enraged and verbally attacked those who lived around him. He was enough of a threat that a few neighbors took out restraining orders against him. It was not unusual to see several police cars in front of his house. We quickly learned, though, that it’s not possible to force a mentally ill person into treatment if he refuses. Even if he doesn’t have water or gas service because of unpaid bills. Even if it is obvious that his mental and physical health is deteriorating. Even if we think he could be a threat to himself or others. Even if.

John had a sister and two kids from an earlier marriage. All had been victims of his abuse and all had become estranged from him over the years. Once his mother died the only people who “cared” about him were those who could profit from him; the ones who took advantage of his mental state by crashing at his house, eating his food, or selling him drugs.

So, now John is dead and the neighborhood is breathing a sigh of relief. Whether he died of drugs or a heart attack; whether he had been dead one day or six before being found, we’ll probably never know.

What we do know is that he died alone and without a friend in the world. His kids – both now young adults and seemingly reasonably-adjusted – will live with a memory of a father they could never know. They also now have a house to dispose of- the inside of which is probably so disgusting a sane person wouldn’t live there. They have a lot of work ahead of them to get it in any shape to sell.

We are a neighborhood that looks out for one another. We help each other with house and car projects. We celebrate good times together and support each other when bad things happen. But, this one got away from us. We watched helplessly as John’s life careened out of control and spiraled down to its inevitable conclusion.

I admit that I wasn’t sad when I found out that John had died. His pain is over and his neighbors no longer need to be afraid of what he might do. I am sad that we can’t, as a society, do more to aid these tortured souls. Because of lack of funding and a few probably well-intentioned laws that had unintended consequences, we are often helpless to intervene.

I think we can do better.