Our Attached Neighbor

We’ve lived in our city duplex since 2005, and in our entire tenure, a fireplug middle-aged man named Al has been our neighbor. We have many fine neighbors on this street, but Al was our “attached” neighbor. Jeff complained about his chattiness, but I quickly remind him that he was the ideal neighbor – polite, quiet, helpful, and rarely home. (He worked nights.)

On Friday, I came quickly after a phone call at work from another neighbor, Dawn.  “Al passed. When are you coming home?”

Al’s mother passed away about a year into our tenure on State Street. I believe she had cancer. I never spoke to her but saw her often in her mid-80s, white American car with “Mom’s Taxi” on the front plate.

Al’s younger brother followed a few years later, one of the early victims of the opiate epidemic. “He installed carpet,” Al explained once. “He got hooked when he was injured on the job.” Al found his body in a “pay by the day” motel he was staying at. They were to go fishing. Al later inherited his brother’s small boat, one of his only possessions.

Al’s dad was the only one left and a near constant presence at the house. He didn’t speak much, but you’d know him by his pipe smoke. He was quiet but quick to complain about change in the world or a health problem if you inquired. He passed last year.

We attended his funeral and learned he was a veteran of WWII in the Pacific theater. Al proudly showed off the medals and photos he inherited while also confiding that he could never do enough in his dad’s eyes.

He seemed energized that summer – up at all hours of the night and overly eager for conversation. He went out of his way to fix things for us or inquire into our home projects and lives. “He’s used to being a caretaker,” I explained to Jeff, “and now he has nothing to care for. He’s trying to be helpful.”

I didn’t see him much over the winter, but for a season associated with hibernation, this was nothing unusual. Dawn stopped me about a month ago and told me Al was depressed. I sent him a text message with no reply.

His cousin would tell me that Al had recently bought a gun. The time of death was 1:48 am Thursday night, the same time Baby Cow had started barking but then didn’t want to go outside. She sat on the dining room rug looking around like she had a superpower. “I’ve summoned my human, and she is here.” I remember the time but noted nothing myself other than the earliness of the hour.

Not much changed at his house in the 13 years we lived next to one another. He has the same cars and the same boat neatly winterized in the backyard. His garden hose has it’s own housing, and there are pots quietly stacked next to his patio. Several neighbors reported speaking to him on Wednesday, and one asked him directly if he was suicidal. He didn’t want to talk about it.

Al’s house. The military unit was his father’s.