My neighbor died last night. Around midnight, I walked outside and saw the nervous red and blue whites pulsating next door. The local firetruck, several police cars, an ambulance and other department vehicles sat in his yard and along the street. I stood on the side and watched as different medical and official people went in and out of his house. I stayed rooted to the hard, cold concrete and watched. I didn’t need to walk over and add to the chaos when I already knew he was gone.
There was no rush from the paramedics. I watched them bring a stretcher out of the house and load it into the ambulance. Their movements were not hurried and the ambulance did not take off with lights and sirens blaring. The firetruck left, as did some of the police cars and emergency vehicles. Family members milled around, some on phones, others talking to the officials who remained.
I walked inside before he was brought out. The memory from five years, four months, nine days and fourteen hours of another body in a blue bag being removed from a house is still strong. The memory of a more recent body removed ten months and one day ago is too fresh. Those two memories forced me inside before I could bear witness to another body in a bag.
He was a good neighbor. Any time anyone needed help, he was always willing to lend a hand. He fixed my lawn mowers more times than I can remember. He was the voice of the neighborhood. Although his opinions were strong, he was respected by many. Over the last few years, his health rapidly deteriorated. This past year, I saw him less often outside, no longer daily pacing the area as our own personal neighborhood watch of one. Instead, I would infrequently see him on the porch or in his yard, a tank of oxygen following behind him like his beloved dog.
The last time we talked was some time ago when we happened to be outside at the same time. I don’t even remember the conversation. It could have been about my grandson or his grandchildren or the weather or why the city was slow in cutting the ditches or any number of things. I wish I could remember. The last time I saw him was a week ago, sitting on his porch as I drove by. He waved, I waved.
I’m not sure what I’m feeling now, except for the sadness of another death. The hurt and grief belong to his wife and family. We were neighbors, protective of each other, but respectful of each other’s privacy.
I will miss Bud. He was the fixture in our ever-changing neighborhood. Out of dozens of homes, only a few of us have lived here for more than fifteen years. Bud and his wife and family were here for decades. Always tinkering on lawnmowers and cars, I remember the time he showed me the car he was building out of an old refrigerator. The man was imaginative and a genius when it came to the inner workings of motors.
He lived the life he wanted, without compromise and, I hope, without regret. This neighborhood lost more than a neighbor; it lost some of its spirit. Another root that kept the neighborhood grounded has been unearthed. I can feel it in the air, this lost connection.
He was a good man.