When I moved into my neighborhood with my wife, our first real house, there were many surprises for us. Many, that as children, we probably never noticed or even considered about a neighborhood and the people who call them homes.
- The almost-naked neighbor who walks around almost every day in front of his window. (I have spoken to him quite a few times and I still have yet to hint, “You know, windows do go both ways.”)
- The neighbor who seems to need a joint each evening at around 9 PM to calm down (that is the house with the raccoons in the backyard. I like to assume those raccoons are very, very chill… and then raid our trash for munchies).
- The neighbor with no furniture in his living room. Not a single freaking chair. (This will probably be our serial killer, which we all will tell the documentary filmmakers someday: “I don’t know, he really kept to himself…”)
Then there is the arguing. It is like carolers during the holidays, except it doesn’t follow a specific calendar. Every house gets them visiting at some point or another. They build into a chorus, voices reaching new heights together (both volume and octave) and then like a song, ends. The silence is always the hardest part when you hear it from the outside, for you know that is when the crying is probably going on.
The most we seem to say to each other, even though we spend so much time so close, are the lawn signs.
We put our hopes on display, declaring to those who might care what we find important or what we might need. But even those seem to deteriorate in time, like jack o’lanterns three days after Halloween.
The thing that impacts and shocks me the most are the estate sale signs.
The estate sale signs pop up like surprise tombstones.
“This way to an estate sale!” “Now take a left.” “Now take a right!” “Come pick through the pockets of the corpse!” “This way!” “THIS WAY!”
I must admit I have gone to a few since moving into the area, but I have yet to buy anything at one. They are more moments of me giving into my curiosity. I am the Alice who can’t help touching the looking glass. Just a bit closer, and you can see what life is like on the other side… Just a little closer.
As a writer, I’ve always enjoyed figuring out characters inside and out. And when you go through an estate sale that is what you get. It is everywhere. Nothing is hidden anymore. They lay it out for you on the table, with little price stickers on items. It is all just there for someone to analyze.
How well read was he/she? How smart? How well-informed? How religious? Were they loved? Did they love? Hobbies? Travels? Hopes? Wishes? Interests? You get everything! From medical and physical issues down to even if they enjoyed sex.
The deceased used to live in the house and they hang in the air. You breathe them during the estate sale. You can’t escape it. It’s overwhelming. And I assume (if I was to buy anything) they would come with me home, like a little remnant.
The smell of an estate sale is not of decay, but something more lingering. I like to compare it to the smell of a scented candle after it gets near the end; that moment when all you have left is the wick and only the stale smell of burning and smoke.
I do not like the smell. But really, who would?
A few weeks ago there was an estate sale down the road from our house.
The old man who lived there had many emotional issues. At least that is what the other neighbors told me (They even hinted that he had tried suicide a few times; I’m not sure if he got it right this time or not). There were obvious signs though too of his problems, like the giant slab of concrete that he put in the middle of his lawn. This slab was not for a table or a display or a chair.
No, it was just a slab of cement.
He would sometimes dress up on Halloween, be a little too happy to see the kids; and on other days he would have the lights off for days in his house.
Another strong memory of him I have is from one of my first weeks in the neighborhood. I was taking my dog out for an early morning walk, when I happened to see that he was watching an adult movie from his front window.
It was hard to miss. Big window, big television and big body parts.
I remember saying to my dog, “Well, that is one way to begin your day.”
You could tell during his estate sale that he had little real comfort or companionship in his life. The only picture I could see was of him with a new car (and a boring one at that, not one I would say worthy of a framed picture), an unopened train set (that feels sadder each time I think of it), a few books on Audrey Hepburn, and a collection of old porn that was very reasonably priced.
The reason I bring up this sale is not to embarrass the deceased. I am just stating what I saw. This is his truth.
What got me is that the people that ran the estate sale kept parking their van in front of our house. Every day during that week, I had the words “estate sale” shouting at me through my front window. It was as if someone was saying “Someday, someday…”
That van was as loud as the occasional neighborhood argument.
Every night, I go to sleep in a room that someone died in.
This is not too surprising; the house is almost 100 years old and it is the master bedroom. Unless you have a newly manufactured home, this is probably a fact you have to deal with it.
By the way, this is further proof that there is no such things as ghosts. I don’t even feel a whisper or a hint of anything. I am sure my snoring would have woken up some spirit by now, right? If the spirit had any hand on this world or that home, it was lost. That candle is out. Poof.
I don’t need more reminders of death, thank you very much. Frankly, I would like to go a day without thinking about it. I am not a very depressing kind of person, and yet the older I get, the more I am wondering if I am spending my time wisely. It is all so limited. Everyday brings me closer, like it does everyone. What is my legacy? What am I adding to this world?
I like to believe that the markers of my life, my time in this world, will be wanted and cared for by my children. But honestly, we know that won’t be the case. That is not how things work out. I have as much junk as anyone else. And each says something about me.
I know my wife and I have enjoyed the stories of our neighborhood. We have seen engagements (good and bad), marriages (good and bad) and divorces (bad and good). We have seen children grow up and move out. We have seen family emergencies with weeping and ambulances, robberies, and even a tornado.
The hard truth that is sometimes hard to accept is that we are also characters for them. And I have a short story that proves this point.
Before our son, my wife and I would walk the dog every day after work. When she was in the last trimester, my wife stopped taking the walks with us. Understandable, of course, and we carried on without her. Then, after our son was born and we took him out, a neighbor raced across the street to say how happy she was that we worked it out.
I’m still not sure what we had to work out.
Did she really create this elaborate story out of a simple dog walk?
…And I like to call myself a fiction writer.
My wife and I dream of moving to a new neighborhood. The dream house would have a sun porch for her knitting and my reading. It would be closer to the kids’ school and friends.
But I know, no matter how far I go, it won’t stop the little signs from following me. They will always be there and waiting.
Then my moment will come, like an actor with his big break.
I will be on the stage without any makeup, no lines.
The audience won’t stay in their seats. They will approach the stage… one at a time…
They will join me in the spotlight, look me up and down, circle me, seeing every truth, every bit of me…. And… then… finally… they will close the curtain, taking what they want, leaving nothing… not even me.