The Fourth River

Essay: “The Man Who Hated Us And Then Forgot,” by Karen E. Bender

By on November 13, 2016

 This essay also appears in The Fourth River Issue O.3 as part of the Melanie Brown Tribute



When we moved into our house, our neighbor, who lived beside us, brought us a pie. It was a kind gesture. We complimented the pie. He sat with his wife in our living room. We had never moved into a house before. We had never had stranger bring us a pie to say hello. It was our first house. It seemed a sign of hope. We were in a new state where we knew few people, and we were eager for things to go right.

Our neighbor smiled at us, a practiced smile. He was close to 70 but had surprisingly bright teeth.

“Watch him,” the other neighbors said, who knew.

There was the time he lent us a rake.

There was the time he asked us to cut down a tree in our yard. The tree was in perfectly good shape. He said he though it would fall on his house during a hurricane. But we said no and we did not want to cut it down.

Well, he said. You just lost the best neighbor you’ll ever have.

There was the time he stopped talking to us.

There was the time he let his dogs, muscled German Shepherds with sharp teeth, bark at us. They barked so loud we could feel it in our gut. They barked at us whenever we went into our yard, even when our daughter had her second birthday party. He never told them to stop.

For years, the air was weighted with silence whenever we passed each other. We planted flowers on either side of a brick wall, saying nothing to each other. It actually took a lot of energy to say nothing.

I felt my body tense slightly the way I did when I walked by him. Usually he would look away from me and clear his throat loudly.

There was the time when his granddaughter lurked around our front yard, wanting to play with our daughter. We thought we could see how they got along. They brought Barbies onto the porch and made them talk to each other in the back yard. The Barbies were peculiar little ambassadors. I don’t know what they discussed. Her Barbie was, apparently, prone to bossiness. For a time, the Barbies were doing okay. We watched from inside our homes while, in the yard, the plastic dolls said things that we could not. But none of us wanted the girls to go into each other’s houses, so these encounters became complicated, especially when it got cold outside, so after awhile this stopped.

There was the time when his wife got into a fight with a friend of ours, who had let his dog, Biscuit, off the leash, and she yelled, “You Jews!” to him, as our friend spent a lot of time with us. But she was making an anti-Semitic comment to the wrong person, because he was actually a deacon at his church.

Five years passed, ten. Flowers bloomed, wilted, etc. We swept leaves off the sidewalk. The children grew.

There was the time the ambulance came to their house. Our neighbor was carried out on a stretcher. There was the time he sat on a bench outside of his house, a bench flanked by happy stone elves. He sat hunched, mostly silent. The word in the neighborhood was that he had dementia.

There was the year we were out of town.

There was the time when we returned, when our son ran into the house and announced, breathless, “S– said hi to me.”

I thought this was a joke. He had not said hi to us for ten years.

Then, soon after, I was walking down the sidewalk, and I saw him in the driveway.

He smiled, teeth still bright, lifted his hand, and said, “Hi, how are you?”

There was the time the air felt light.

The air was just the air.

He had forgotten who I was. He had forgotten that he hated us.

Our houses looked almost the same as they had ten years ago. The new flowers dug in their roots.

There was the time that was lost.

“Hi, how are you,” I said, and lifted a hand in greeting. Then I walked back to our house.