This afternoon, between the end of school and the beginning of work, I went running, my little girl ahead on her bike. Down the dirt road we went, and then she circled back to me as we approached a small camp where a man stood in the road. My child was afraid of the dog there, and she rode closely beside me.
I stopped running and said I was sorry to hear about his wife.
He told me they had celebrated their nineteenth wedding anniversary on the first, and then last week, they ate dinner together and fell asleep. He told me he woke in the morning and washed dishes, and when he checked on her, still in her recliner, she had passed.
The couple hasn’t lived in that camp for years. They moved down to the bottom of our road, in an old farmhouse wrapped with plastic to the keep the wind out, painted pink in one section, green in another. The acres have substantial mounds of cowshit, junked vehicles in piles, all manner of debris with all kinds of people coming and going. He considered his occupation “junking,” and had told me in 2008 his occupation had gone all to hell. In the spring, their pasture is verdant long before anywhere else.
The camp, on its footprint of property, has had a revolving door for years with a series of single men and one winter a woman with two young children. With no water or plumbing, the cabin is surrounded by piles of exactly what we’re never sure. Large things like soiled mattresses and campers, a shower stall, salvage windows, and piles and piles of human food garbage. Built in a dank hollow, the camp has always exuded to me the desperateness of hard-up and hardscrabble people, on the fringe, looking to stay away from the law. Who in this extended family owns what property, or if it’s even owned or rented, has always been unclear to me.
This neighbor and I have never been on poor terms. He recalled, today, talking to me years ago, when the road often held only myself and my daughter in her stroller. When she was three or so, she asked me how he could eat corn-on-the-cob, as he had only one front tooth.
Today, he watched his grandson mow a patch of tangled weeds, telling his story, his eyes tearing. Tomorrow, he’ll plant a rosebush and bury her ashes.
I said what little I could, that she hadn’t suffered at least.
He shook his head just once and said, I don’t know. It was in the night, you know, and no one thought that was going to happen, you see.
The little girl and I continued down the road. When I returned, I lifted my hand and waved, running, and he hollered to me, These weeds can some grow!
O my neighbor, may your rosebush bloom beautifully.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
– Raymond Carver