We have lived on our street for twelve years. It’s not a long street, about .2 miles, but still there are 45 houses on it. Like any neighborhood, it’s always changing slightly with people moving in and out and houses getting remodeled, but there’s still a good number of families who have been here for a long time and give it character. Each home has stories and we’re lucky enough to know lots of them – of those 45 houses there’s only a handful of families we don’t really know.
I think it has something to do with the weather and the fact that we walk and bike all the time. We’re out on the street every day, and the houses are just too close to each other not to say hey as you pass by. Plus, once you get to know some of the long time neighbors, well, they’re your rosetta stone to the histories of all the other houses, current occupants and past. That said, we’re lucky that our street is friendly without being overwhelming; everyone seems to mostly care about each other and not get too nosy.
Not too nosy. That’s a fine line, sometimes.
Marilyn grew up in the blue house right across the street from ours and many years ago fell in love with the boy who was raised in our house. One of our other older neighbors told me once that it was an illicit romance; their parents didn’t approve, and they’d meet secretly at the bend in the road and take off in his car. They married and later divorced, and eventually she moved back to her family home where she began.
In all of the years we’ve lived here, I’ve spoken with Marilyn few enough times that I could count them. To say she was reclusive would be an understatement. She rarely left her home and never took us up on our invitations to visit with us, although I certainly didn’t push that one since I figured our house might not hold the best memories for her. On the rare occasions that we visited her, it was like stepping back in time; she kept the furniture exactly as her parents’ had it. Every surface of the house had a patina of cigarette smoke and the air was oppressive. She kept the windows and blinds closed all the time.
We knew Marilyn was not well. She wasn’t well from the day we moved here. She had a whole suite of complicated issues, and I never could figure out where the line was, in terms of trying to help her out. She clearly did not have any family or friends checking on her – no visitors save the occasional talk with us or Susan next door. Last year I spoke with her and became very concerned but she turned down offers for assistance or even connections to services that could give her a hand.
This afternoon, the police came and knocked on her door. We were in the kitchen when they came over to tell us that Marilyn had died. It had been some time. It breaks my heart to think of her in her last days and our not knowing. It makes me wonder if we should have been more nosy, if we could have charmed our way into giving her more of a hand. What is the line between respect and neglect in a story like this? I wish I felt sure we’d done everything we should. What a horrible loss, in every sense of the word.