The Bean Blog (currently on hiatus)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Death of a Neighbor

There's only one neighbor on my street that I've ever had any run-ins with, and now she's dead. Actually, our run-ins used to include her husband, but he's dead too.

It all started four or five years ago. Something was happening that generated excitement and caused the neighborhood to empty out of their houses and stare. I think it was a fire on the railroad tracks. I'd walked down closer to the corner and happened to stop in front of my neighbor's house. Our neighborhood is made up of rowhomes, and some of them have trees planted in front that grow out of little squares of dirt in the sidewalk. This neighbor had such a tree.

I was with one of my dogs, Will, a little shih-tzu. When we paused in front of this woman's house, Will understandably started to sniff the tree and then he lifted a leg to pee on it. The woman and her husband started yelling at me, telling me to get the dog away, that what he was doing was disgusting. I looked at them in confusion for two reasons.

1) The tree was growing from the sidewalk. Sidewalks are communitty property. They do not "belong" to individual property.

2) Will was peeing. Little bitty Will (11 pounds) was peeing a little bitty urine. If he had been pooping, of course I would have picked it up. But peeing? One is under no obligation to do anything about peeing.

I was honestly confused at their reaction, so I started out by saying, "He's just peeing." They continued to be verbally abusive to me. So I came right back at them and said things along the lines of, "This tree doesn't belong to you," and "I'll let me dog pee here anytime I want, you mean, old assholes."

Now, I'd like to point out that if they had nicely said to me, "Hey, would you mind not letting your dog pee on that tree in the future? We'd really appreciate it." I would have said, "Oh, I'm sorry. Sure, not a problem." But because they were yelling at me, I yelled back.

The old man died shortly afterwards.

The old woman remained, and I kept true to my word. I walked by her house regularly with my dogs because the house I was renting (at the time) didn't have a backyard, and I took the dogs out four times a day to "do their business." When one of them wanted to pee on her tree, I let them. Oftentimes, the old woman would come to the door and stare at me, trying to intimidate me. I would stare right back at her with a little smile as if to say, "Oh yeah? And what are you going to do about it?" Sometimes she would start yelling at me again. I would happily taunt her with remarks like, "I love it when one of my dogs pees here. I try to stop them from peeing other places just so they'll have something saved up for this tree."

I asked other people in the neighborhood why this woman was such a nasty cow. They shrugged their shoulders and said that she could be a little prickly. Everyone else seemed to get along with her. One time, when I was discussing this topic with a neighbor from a few streets over, she said, "You know she has cancer." And I said, "Good. I hope she dies."

I don't regret many things that I've said in my life, but that's one that I do.

Things between us didn't change until the Bread Winner and I bought the house we now live in, which has a backyard. We rennovated the inside first, which took about two and a half months, from mid-May to August 1st in 2003. We worked on the house and worked on the house, every day, doing everything ourselves (with some help from family and friends). This house is directly across the street from the mean old woman's house, and she liked to sit outside in the summers in a chair and watch who was coming and who was going and generally what was going on. She couldn't help but notice all the work that we were putting into the house, how we were making it better.

She started being...almost...friendly. More so to the Bread Winner than to me. Her daughter and grandson had moved in with her after the death of her husband, and the daughter was nice to us. Once she even helped us as we were pushing either the refrigerator or a big filing cabinet up the three stairs that led to our front door. Another time, the old woman offered to give us some trim she had in her basement that she had no use for.

It seemed that a truce had been called.

She made it through chemotheraphy. She was doing fine, as far as I knew. I haven't seen her much, but then again, it's been winter. There hasn't been an opportunity to observe her sitting out in her chair, gossiping with the other retirees in the neighborhood.

The Bread Winner and I came home from having breakfast with a friend on Saturday morning, and a few of the neighbors that we are good friends with were standing out in front of the (formerly mean) old woman's house. One of them said to me, "She died this morning."

What? I didn't know she'd been sick again. I didn't know she'd relapsed. Apparently, she'd been in the hospital for a month and had just come die.

Back when I'd said, "Good. I hope she dies," I'd never really experienced a death before. I didn't know what that meant to the people who survived. And somehow, without knowing that, I didn't have a good understanding of life. I wish I had never said those words. I guess we live and learn, and one of the hardest lessons to learn is how to live through a death.


  • Maybe that's the blessing that's come out of all of this. Realizing how much of an impact words can have.

    By Blogger D.T., at 12:14 PM, April 05, 2005  

  • I don't really think that my words had any "impact." I didn't say them to the woman who died or her family. I doubt what I said ever got back to her. But nonetheless, it's not something that should be said, no matter what the impact. Actually, it shouldn't be thought, either. At least, not in this feeble context.

    By Blogger Oz, at 11:02 AM, April 06, 2005  

  • But it did have an impact. On you.

    By Blogger D.T., at 12:06 PM, April 06, 2005  

  • d.t., wise words. Even if it only had impact on one person, that's something.

    Unfortunately, it seems most of us have to learn these things the way you did Bean... doesn't make it any easier, but it does help you to avoid it again in the future.

    By Blogger Debra, at 3:51 PM, April 07, 2005  

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