San Diego Soliloquies

Friday, November 07, 2003

Lachesis Passes to Atropos

We are collecting the newspaper for our next door neighbors. I had seen them as they were getting into the car Saturday, and they asked me to. I forgot to ask for how long, or where they were going. We had talked of the fire instead, and how close we and people we care about had come. They then drove off. He had said he would be back Monday to mow the lawn.

Over the weekend I figured out that they were probably at their new house, or rather their new mobile home. It’s in a park near us, built in what was our favorite canyon to play in growing up. He had described it as smaller and easier to manage, and since they are older and living on a property almost as big as our ¾ acre yard, I could see the attraction.

I have been rushing to meet a deadline, a J2ME application on NextTel phones for a start-up here in San Diego. Monday I heard him mowing before I rushed off to give a demo. Tuesday I saw the crew he had hired to restore the decking working as I paced the backyard, trying to acquire more GPS satellites for a better fix. Wednesday was quiet, but Thursday I was struggling with adding more capability for a deadline that had been set for that afternoon when the doorbell rang. I was in a foul mood as I opened the door.

It was our neighbor. I reached past the door to get the newspapers we had collected. He took them and paused.

"How are the dogs?"

"Well, getting better. Sorry about all the barking. We’re trying to train them better."

"Oh no, no problem there. The one across the street though…" He gestured over to the newest neighbors. "That dog’s just miserable."

A pause.

"You know I had a hunting dog like that."

Oh God no, I thought. I’ve got a deadline. I stepped out the door and started him walking towards the driveway.

"Yeah, we were hunting quail, and he flushed some. So I shot and I guess he though I was shooting at him because he slinks back to me and starts hiding behind me."

We were about at the middle of the driveway.

"Wasn’t any good for hunting then. So I took him to a dog trainer and the trainer said ‘Look I’ll evaluate him and see what I can do. If I think I can help him, it will be $1000, no matter how long it takes’. So he took him and kept him and do you know how long he kept him?"

I had no idea.

"Two years. And he still wasn’t right. Oh he would go out with me, but it was like he was hunting for himself. He’d find a covey, then flush it way before I could get there. So I just stopped hunting with him."

He raised the papers in a semi-salute.

"Thanks for this."

My neighbor walks with a careful shuffle but more quickly that you would expect. He shuffled over the bit of sidewalk between our driveways. I wanted to make sure I knew what was going on.

"So, should I keep saving the papers?"

He stopped and thought a bit.

"I should probably change the delivery to there."

"How’s it going? Are you feeling a little strange there?"

"Well, yeah"

His driveway is about five feet below ours. He looked up at me from behind old horned-rim glasses, dark brown sad eyes beneath an antique San Diego State baseball cap.

"You know Nancy has Alzheimer’s."

I held myself very still.

"She’s confused with the new place. She’s told me she likes it. You know she’s never been really good at meeting new people but they had this senior exercise class and she really enjoyed it a lot. And this weightlifting, for seniors you know, that was fun for her too.

"But she’s so confused. The dustbin. I’ve led her to it twice a day all this week, so I thought she’d get it. But this morning I had her go to empty the garbage and I followed her, and she ended up having to ask someone where it is, which is good she stopped because she had already passed it."

He looked back at their house from the head of their long driveway. He had told me the story of how they’d bought it, after months of weekends spent driving down from Long Beach to San Diego, searching from Chula Vista to Del Mar before finally finding this one hidden in Allied Gardens, a neighborhood you never hear much about. He had found a house that met every single one of her wishes, then had spent a month reassuring her that it was ok for those wishes to be fulfilled. He turned back to me.

"Last night I woke up and she was in the living room with her jacket on. ‘This was nice’, she said, ‘But I’m ready to go home now’".

He glanced back at the house.

"She thinks her mother owns this house, that we’re coming home to her mother.

"So, we’ll probably move back in and sell the mobile home. But that upsets her too. ‘Why’, she sometimes says, ‘Why is this happening? Why can’t we stay here?’".

He has a habit of rubbing the backs of the fingers of his left hand against the palm of his right. It may ease the pain of his arthritis, severe enough that the tips of his fingers are twisted violently out of true. His right index finger is bent over almost overlapping the first joint of middle finger.

"I say, ‘Honey, we’ve had such a good life. Maybe we have to balance that out now’. Now I don’t mean to be superstitious, but we really have had a good life."

I remember the pride in his voice as he ticked off everything Nancy had wanted in a house, a place to live. This house had met them all. He had matched her dreams.

"Maybe such a good life has to be balanced out. Maybe some way. So we may come back, maybe soon, and just finish out here."

He shuffled away, raising his hand to wave as he turned.

"Thanks for the papers."

"If there’s anything we can do…", I stammered, "Please, please let us."

"Thanks, but we’re good now."

Since I'm home almost all the time, I watch for them now, and guard their home as best I can.


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San Diego Soliloquies