Death of a Neighbor

“Bread, milk, Windex, tofu…” I mumbled to myself as I made my way down the stairs towards my car. I knew I would have been better off just writing out a full list of what I needed to pick up at the store, but I just hadn’t felt like bothering. “Bread, milk, tofu, Windex…” I was almost to my car when I heard my neighbor’s door open.

I looked up at the sound of my name. “Oh hey Brad,” I greeted one of my neighbors who had come out of the house. “How are you?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he asked, “Did you hear about what happened to Thor?” Thor was his roommate – my other neighbor.
“He was killed the other night.”
My gloved hand flew to my mouth as the words, “Oh my God,” escaped my lips. I didn’t know what to say.
“Yeah,” Brad continued. “It was a car accident just down the road from here. He lost control of his car and slammed into some trees. I didn’t know if you knew or not so I just wanted to let you know. There will probably be a lot of people coming and going over the next few days…”
“No problem,” I said as soon as I found my tongue again. “Wh-when did this happen?”
“Tuesday night, around 1am.”
I was silent for a minute. “Well, if there’s anything I can do…” I started, the traditional thing to say when you don’t know what else to say.
“I don’t really think so,” said Brad, “but thanks.” He turned and went back into the house and I numbly opened my car door and started the engine.

There was ice on the windshield so I got out and began to scrape it off. It wasn’t long before I noticed my eyes were filling with tears. I put down the scraper and went back into my side of the house. As soon as the door was shut behind me, I broke down in tears.

It’s funny, but when somebody dies – whether it’s someone I knew well or not – I find myself going through the same types of thoughts… When did I last see the person? What did we talk about? What other memories do I have of that individual, however minute those memories might be? Once I’ve cataloged all these things, I begin to replay them over and over in my mind.

Then I start to think more about what I could have done differently in my relationship with that person. What should I have done that I didn’t do? If I could do it over again, would I change anything?

Of course then I think about any times when I might have blown the person off a little, or been not quite as nice as I know I should’ve been. And naturally I wish I could take it all back.

In this particular situation, Thor was the one of my two neighbors that I’ve had a more personal relationship with. Brad has always been the one I’ve talked to about apartment-related stuff (water softener issues, mouse problems, etc.) Thor was different. Thor would go out of his way to be nice to me. He brought me my mail on a fairly regular basis. If I was home, he would knock and give it directly to me, if I wasn’t home, he would wrap it in plastic and leave it by my door. Once he left flowers on my doorstep because he was preening in the garden and had some extra flowers he thought I might like. Last summer he stopped by to invite me over to their side of our house for a drink and to just relax with them on the porch for a bit with some friends they had invited over. Thor was just a nice guy.

The week before Thor died, I had been sick with the flu. He had stopped by on Tuesday with my mail. “Yeah, I thought you might be sick or something,” he had said. “Let me know if you need anything.” He brought my mail the next day too. “I hope you feel better,” he’d said when he left.
“Me too,” I responded. “I’m supposed to leave on a business trip tomorrow.”

This past Monday (the day before he was killed) I was just getting home from work as he was leaving. “Feeling better?” he had asked me.
“Yes,” I said. “Much.”
“Were you able to go on your trip?”
“Yeah…I just got back yesterday,” I told him.
“That’s good,” he said as he started to get into his car. “Take care.”
“See you later,” I said. And that was the last time I saw him.

Now that he’s gone, I can’t help but reevaluate my time with him and how I could have made much more of it, but I didn’t. Thor was so friendly that I know if I had really reached out to him, he would probably have responded. If I had simply stopped for 5 minutes to make conversation with him when he’d bring me my mail, rather than just say my quick “thank you” and go back inside, we might have had a real friendship develop. But I didn’t. Not really so much because I didn’t want to, but more because of the effort it would have involved.

Looking back at that now, it screams of selfishness. Honestly, how hard would it have been to just take a second out of my self-involved day and spend a few minutes investing in someone else? Am I so busy and important that I truly don’t have time for other people? Of course what I have to remind myself when I start into this downward spiral of guilt is that I didn’t know… I didn’t know Thor was going to die. I didn’t know the last time I saw him that I wasn’t going to have another chance. I just didn’t know.

God help us all to not take things for granted – especially people.