Monday, December 21, 2009

The 'Burbs

I was downstairs in the kitchen today when I happened to look out the window and saw my backyard neighbor Steve outside. He was with three other people, a woman and two men, and they all looked very sad. One of the men was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, not unusual given the unusually warm November afternoon. The other man wore a polo and slacks, while the woman wore a white blouse and black slacks. Each of them took turns patting my neighbor on the back and hugging him. Instantly, I called out to my wife, “Gloria must have died!”

Now obviously I’ve gotten ahead of myself, so perhaps I should start from the beginning. When my wife and I moved into our current house several years ago, one of the first things we noticed was that our backyard neighbors, whom I will call Steve and Gloria, seemed to be very good friends with our next door neighbors, whom I will call Joe and Carrie. We used to see Gloria and Carrie walking back and forth between each other’s houses all the time, knocking on each other’s sliding doors and letting themselves in. They would have outdoor barbeques throughout the summer and hot cocoa in the winter. We met Gloria not long after we had moved in and she told us all about how close she and Carrie were, how their families took vacations together and had dinner all the time. And they seemed to be the best of friends because for the next two years we would always see from our kitchen Gloria walking over the Carrie’s or Carrie walking over to Gloria’s. In retrospect, it seems that Gloria went over to Carrie’s more than the other way around. There were also several other things that seemed to suggest more tension between the two, such as the fact that Gloria did not work while Carrie did. Gloria would spend many a summer day sunbathing in her backyard. Carrie would spend many a summer day mowing the lawn. Given that Gloria and Carrie were likely in their late thirties and were clearly not childhood or even high school friends, you could tell their friendship had an expiration date.

Perhaps a year later my wife and I were in the kitchen and we had a realization. We had not seem Carrie go over to Gloria’s house or vice versa for some time. Was it weeks? Was it months? We surmised the two must have had a falling out. Over what was anyone’s guess. I did remember one day seeing Gloria walking hand in hand with Joe, Carrie’s husband. I didn’t make anything of it at the time, but it came back to me as we pondered this seemingly failed friendship. Not too long after Carrie and Gloria stopped hanging out, we saw Carrie and Joe having drinks with our other next door neighbors, Mark and Cathy. They did not seem to be close before, but now seemed quite chummy. We believed that Carrie and Gloria must definitely have had a fight, and that Carrie had moved on, and Gloria wanted nothing more to do with her backyard neighbors.

A few more months later my wife and I came to another realization—we had not seen Gloria for some time. Where had Gloria gone? What had happened to her? We theorized reasonable possibilities, morose possibilities, and even ludicrous possibilities.

“Maybe she went back home to take care of her sick mother.”

“Maybe she left him and moved back home with her parents.”

“Maybe he killed her and buried her in the backyard mulch line!”

Every once in a while we would look out our kitchen window and into the sitting room of Gloria’s house, as if expecting to see her walk across the room. Steve would come out and mow the lawn every week just like clockwork, but one late spring day we saw him pull up everything in the mulch line. And as the holidays went by, we looked across the yard to see if any decorations had gone up. It wasn’t that men don’t put up decorations, but that men usually don’t put up decorations and especially not if a woman is not around. All of our observations told us that Gloria was not living in that house. This was very concerning. Where does a thirty-something stay at home mother of two children go all of a sudden? We figured Carrie must know, but since we weren’t very close with her we decided it would be rather callous to ask about Gloria.

But then I saw Steve outside very sad with people that must be friends and family also very sad. And everyone including Steve talking on their cell phones every five minutes. This and the fact that Steve had just mowed the lawn yesterday told us that something must have happened to someone close to him. I believed that one of the women was his sister, who seemed to be offering him comfort rather than the other way around, which would make it unlikely that it concerned one of his parents. Though I didn’t see both his children around, without Gloria it also seemed unlikely that it concerned his children. That would only leave Gloria. Something had happened to Gloria.

“Gloria must have died!”

It’s hard to imagine what could have happened to a thirty-something woman who looked healthy enough to sunbathe in her own backyard in a bikini not one year ago, but the list of suspects isn’t very long. I didn’t really know Gloria at all, and I keep thinking I’ll look across the backyard one day and see her walking through her sitting room. Deep down I know I won’t though, and I’ve been reading the obituaries to see if Gloria will show up there. One day I’ll have to ask Carrie what happened to Gloria. Otherwise I’ll be talking the kids treat or treating around the block to Gloria’s house one year to see if she’s there.