The house next door is dark. It hasn’t been dark for a long time. There has always been a light on. At night, the porch light was lit – if not a room or lights out on the deck. This summer there have been many fires in the fire pit. Their back yard is clearly visible from our house – I mean, they are next door. Our former neighbor moved out of there last summer and the new owners moved in shortly after. It was an annoying introduction to new neighbors because the property survey revealed that the rickety wooden fence that was falling apart in what we called the “far yard” was about one foot behind the property line. This meant that I have been mowing about a foot of their grass. I didn’t care – what’s one foot matter? But that was the first impression I had with my new neighbors: a legal brief sent to us by their realty lawyer that demanded a signature and notary seal – sent back immediately. I seriously had no mind to deal with that. We had just undergone a battle with our rear neighbors’ realtor who had included our “far yard” into the sale of the house behind us. I had to get the Town involved; it was ugly. But these folks proved to be different.
I just went downstairs to get Kelly a bowl of ice cream. McKenna is at a friend’s house, Shaun is sleeping and Abby wants to stay in our bed tonight. I can totally understand. I looked outside and the house is dark – it’s so odd.
I just cannot go into the whole history, but trust me when I tell you that it is not very long. There is a mom and her small child. There is no husband or father – except the Mom’s father. He is there to help with the move in and to help his daughter and grandson. There is another guy there too. He’s there to work on stuff – he’s their fix it man. He would wave to me almost every time I left or returned to the house. He was there, beer in hand, in his chair in the garage. I would raise my hand up through the sun roof. He would wave back. Kelly spoke with him on many occasions – I didn’t.
I’m going to say that I knew this guy before I knew him. He started drinking beer by 9am and worked hard all day. He was a jack of many trades. He knew how to do everything and he did it so well. He had demons. Like I said, he started drinking at 9am and stopped when it was time to pass out. He ran power tools and took precise measurements. He did such great work. I admired him and I knew him. I knew his pain and I knew his kind. I grew up with construction guys working for the family business. (My father and two brothers) They smoked pot and drank a lot, but could frame out a room or ANYTHING while they were using. They actually couldn’t do it as well when they were sober. I know that because they all tried at least once. They used to all joke about it…about how they were useless when they were sober.
Fast forward to Wednesday, August 22, 2018. That’s still today as of this writing. I turned on my street and as I rounded the bend I saw first responders. They were in front of the neighbor’s house but I was still concerned about my kids so I rushed into the house. They were fine. They had no idea there was anything going on next door. I made sure they were OK and wanted to see what was going on. A guy in our neighborhood is a chief at the local station – I saw his truck there. I noticed some commotion in the backyard. I closed the blinds and told the kids to continue with their TV show.
I went out on the deck and down the stairs. I rounded the corner and down into the yard. That’s when I saw him. The yellow shirt, the camo pants, the pale face, the fallen ladder, the stillness…the rope. Fuck. Al hung himself. FUCKING WHY? Oh my God, Kelly! She had a beer with this guy last week. We have a broken toilet and have been wanting to remodel – she brought him through the house to show him. Maybe we could hire him when he was done next door. Maybe we could help him out too. We never told him that. Maybe he would have had something else to look forward to. Maybe not.
I can still see it. I can still see that scene in my mind’s eye. I can see the yellow tarp they wrapped him in while awaiting the Medical Examiner. He was wrapped for almost 2 hours. I left as they were investigating. I could see his face again – and I wondered why.
Why didn’t we make it more clear that we were here for him? Why didn’t I make it clear that I was an ear for him? A shoulder? Why? Why? I know it is not my fault and I cannot feel guilt. But I cannot forget the emptiness I felt…as though I were he. The emptiness and lonliness he must have felt. He measured the rope so perfectly. His feet were practically touching the ground. He was only about half an inch off. He was never half an inch off. Dammit.