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My dead neighbor

July 8, 2006

I heard the comedian Jeffery Ross tell a joke about his mother’s age once that went like this: “my mother’s been living in New York for so long, her phone number is (212) 8.” 

I’m reminded of that joke whenever I think of my next door neighbor, who was about seventy when he died back in May.  He lived with his mother, who was (for as long as I have known the two of them) absolutely devoid of any connection to what was going on around her.  Our interactions were limited, but a notable anecdote would be the time two years ago that I found her wandering in front of our house.  When I went out to check on her, she asked me if I had seen her son, and, pointing at my car, said “he can’t have gone far, here’s his car parked right here”.  It was an easy mistake to make, as his car was a different year than mine. Also, a different make, model, & color.  I stood outside with her, not sure what to do, when thankfully her son pulled up in his own car, having returned from the store, and took her back inside to her room, where I imagine she drew insane ramblings and incantations from occult works that she had memorized on the walls in crayon around the clock until this May, when her son died without warning. 

Now, the odd thing about living next to a house where someone died is that you would normally have to imagine that you’re seeing a ghost, but with this shadowy wisp of 104 year old woman wandering around, mysterious lights on at odd hours, and various assisted living helpers coming and going from time to time, it’s as though she is the ghost.  The house is haunted, but by a living woman, with no idea what’s going on around her, who all these strangers are that have shown up and routinely follow her around her own house, where her son is, and when he’ll be back. 

When I wander into our kitchen late at night, I can see the light on in their side hallway; sometimes I imagine I see her shuffling by, although she’s so frail I’m sure she spends most of her time convalescing.  When she finally passes as well, they might as well shutter the place up and just pay the property tax by renting it out for use as a haunted house every Halloween.

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