The house next door has been vacant since we moved into our home four and a half years ago.
Then a couple weeks ago, someone finally moved in. A lady from a block over bought it, fixed it up (a little), and then rented it out.
So on a sunny, clear, uncharacteristically beautiful Saturday morning (March 24th, to be exact) Terry and his son, Chris, moved in.
Terry is sixty-ish, likes to smoke on the back patio, and is wheelchair-bound. Chris is thirty, autistic, and goes on multiple daily walks around our neighborhood.
I learned all those things in the exactly four days they were our neighbors. But I’m still haunted by Terry and Chris, still look for them every time I’m outside playing with my girls, still long to smell the smoke that I despised when Terry would be outside.
It’s amazing what can change your heart.
The Tuesday afternoon after they moved in (March 27th, to be exact), an ambulance, fire truck, and a sherriff pulled up in front of their house. Chris was losing it in the front yard–and even now as I type this I feel so helpless for him–as paramedics wheeled Terry out on a stretcher, his lifeless body gray and rigid. They didn’t cover his head and had left the plastic resporiator tube hanging out of his mouth.
They loaded him up into the ambulance and then the ambulance just sat there. There was no rushing to the hospital with the sirens blaring. There was no lights flashing and no frantic driving. It was not going like it should.
And so Terry’s body laid in the ambulance as Chris paced the front yard and the cop tried to figure out what happened. That scene haunts my dreams. Chris’ hands flailing about and the moaning. I know those things will never leave me.
The ambulance finally pulled away and the landlord showed up to take Chris. And since then the house has been empty again.
It’s been fifteen days and there is still no Terry. Chris has been by a couple times to get the mail.
Last weekend some of Terry’s family (friends?) stopped by to go through the house. Chris (my husband) and I both, at separate times, made trips out to the garage to “check on stuff” so that we could hear what was being said. Not to be nosey and spread gossip, because we were genuinely concerned about that man and his son.
The words we heard were not promising: life support, ventilator, hospice.
We’ve learned since that visit that Terry had been unconscious most of the day and Chris just thought he was sleeping. Terry is diabetic, has kidney problems, and many other health issues.
That poor boy sat all day with a dad that he thought was sleeping but was actually in need of medical attention. That just breaks my heart.
And we now know that Terry won’t be coming back home. That the boxes will never be unpacked. That the house will again sit vacant until another tenant can be found.
It’s not the empty house that worries me. It’s Terry and how his life will end. It’s Chris who has (for some unknown reason) no other parent around. Chris who has to deal with knowing he sat all day while his dad was dying. What will become of that boy? That boy who is my peer, but can never live on his own the way I can.
I have many regrets about the whole situation: why didn’t I choose that day to take the banana bread over that I had made to welcome them into the neighborhood? Why did I just stand in the kitchen while Chris freaked out in his front yard for the whole street to see? Why didn’t I go to him and try to help?
As soon as I stop thinking about it for a second, I look outside my window and see the house. Or I glimpse Chris stopping by to pick up the mail. There are constant reminders of this incident, my lack of response, and my remorse.
This haunts me.
Terry and Chris. They lived next door to us four days. Not even long enough to unpack the boxes that stare at me as I look through my kitchen window.