The people nextdoor

The creaking of the swing set outside my window is just another reminder of what I don’t have. My own house is quiet. Outside, amidst the creaking swing set I hear laughter. My house is still recovering from the latest siege, my mother screaming and pulling my hair in her attempt to subdue me. From what, I can’t say.

The laugher outside fades and I pray the neighbors didn’t hear the screaming coming from my house, the high screams from my mother, my cries and pleas begging her to listen to me. I am 5 years old but I know things are not right in my house. The people are not right. They don’t act like the people I see on television, and my mother doesn’t act like the mothers I see at my friends’ houses. My father works crazy hours and is very kind and even fun when he is home but he is hardly home.

Later, in my room alone, I comfort myself and eventually fall asleep. I awaken to the sounds of the neighbor kids laughing and splashing in their pool. I am hot and my room feels like a furnace but I dare not open the door. I wait until my mother comes in and lets me know its ok to come out. This time my mother is quiet, almost normal. She tells me to come down for dinner. Still nothing is quite right. I pretend everything is normal and help set the table. I can’t figure out how she seems so ok after the nightmare of this afternoon.

The people next store, the Fazio’s were in every way the all American family. While my father worked on weekends, Frank , the father, manicured their quarter acre lot into a small estate. The shrubs were clipped into topiary and the lawn didn’t have a blade of grass out of place. Our own lawn had a huge patch of yellow grass where the old cesspool had been dug the previous summer. My mother didn’t plant flowers and my father wrote poetry in his spare time. He cared little about our front lawn. It must have bothered the neighbor because he once approached my dad and offered to cut our lawn just so he didn’t have to drive past it on the way to his own house.

When he wasn’t mowing his lawn, the dad next door washed is car. He scrubbed the hubcaps on that bright green Pontiac until it glistened in the sun.

When fall came and it was time to go back to school, the neighbor girls, one my age and the other two years younger, showed up at the bus stop in identical dresses, their mom, perfectly coiffed with a warm smile sending them of with their perfect lunches, sandwiches with the crust cut off, no doubt.

I stood there alone with my meager lunch of soggy tuna on whole wheat bread and a bruised apple rolling around in a giant paper grocery bag. I hoped they didn’t notice my oversized lunch bag and really hoped they didn’t hear my mother screaming at the top of her lungs that very morning. I smiled and tried to pretend that there wasn’t a giant cavern between our two houses but inside I was certain they knew just as I knew that the only thing we had in common was our street address.

The neighbor girl who was my age had no particular interest in me at all. When we had moved in a year before, my mother had told me that right next door there was a girl who was my very age, that I
would have a friend, a playmate at my new house, but it was not meant to be. The first time I met her was on that creaky swing set and she called to me from over our fence to come over and play. I walked around the fence over to their backyard or paradise as I called it in my head, and was dared to eat an acorn. I refused and her and her little sister made fun of me thus ending any potential for friendship.

Still, I couldn’t help but envy her with her perfect blond hair braided into two pigtails by her mom. On rainy days, while my mom was home watching The Mike Douglas Show on our black and white Zenith, the neighbor mom was waiting at the bus stop with not one but two umbrellas, one for her and one for the girls. I didn’t mind getting wet but I came to associate those umbrellas with love and in my house it was in short supply.

Every year our elementary school held a school fair. It was the high point of the year and the high point of the fair was the raffle. I knew even back then that I wasn’t particularly lucky but not unlike all the girls at the school I had their eye on the handmaid Holly Hobby Doll made by no other then the neighbor. She was talented with a needle and thread and made the most beautiful dolls. She also made the best Halloween costumes that were the envy of our neighborhood.

My mother hated Halloween and dressed me as a hobo every year. She dressed me in rags and instead of candy she handed out raisins. Next to the neighbors, I looked like Cinderella at 1:00am trying to hitch a ride on the next railcar.

As time passed, I gave less and less thought to the neighbors except for the summers. Hearing the sounds of them all splashing around their pool just over our split rail fence, hearing their giggles and laughter, I imagined the mom bringing out a pitcher of lemonade while they played around on the cool float I spied between our bushes.

My mother’s screams were of such a fevered pitch, that they carried out into the street. She didn’t seem to care who heard her but I did and spend as little time at home as possible.

The year I went away to college was that last time I saw the next door neighbors. I came home infrequently after that and spent my summers working at a residential sleep-a-way camp in another state. By the time I finished college I had been free from the crazy house that I had grown up in for four years and knew I could never go back.

I found my first job soon after graduation and moved three hours from my home. My mom sold the house soon after and the nightmare that was my childhood slowly faded.

About ten years later, I received an email from a friend. She forwarded me so information on my former neighbor. I hadn’t thought to the neighbors in years except that on some level they were never far from my thoughts. By this time I had children of my own and I was already well into re-creating the household of my neighbors. I had by then one child and more on the way. I planted flowers in my yard.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *