My Neighbor Marilyn

Posted by laura on Sep 30 2009 | Uncategorized

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.

4 comments for now

4 Responses to “My Neighbor Marilyn”

  1. This news really made my heart sink. Marilyn was such a tricky personality, but I feel so awful that nobody noticed.

    I do remember one funny story. We had just moved in and Sheila (the 22 yr old super cat) was sniffing around in Marilyn’s yard. She invited both of us in for a visit (cats love visiting new houses, right?) Her house truly was frozen in time, but we had a nice visit.

    01 Oct 2009 at 8:11 am

  2. Mum

    We are sorry to hear about Marilyn’s death, and we wish her life had been happier. The one thing we can say without any doubt at all is that you and your family did absolutely everything neighbors could do for her. We can never know why people choose to live in ways we don’t understand, but you did exactly the right thing in your gentle offerings of neighborly affection and assistance, and then respecting her right to choose to live in her own way. It is hard to feel so helpless in the end.

    01 Oct 2009 at 1:50 pm

  3. Eileen

    I am sure that Marilyn knew in her own way that you were there. Very sad though…

    01 Oct 2009 at 3:03 pm

  4. laura

    Thanks, Mum and Eileen! I appreciate your messages so much. It’s easy to look back and say ‘I wish I had,’ or ’should I have,’ but it just was what it was. She was complicated. We’re all so sad for her and wish it could have been different, though. Such a shame!

    02 Oct 2009 at 8:49 am

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