When Tony and I bought our first property, I was pregnant with Lucy. It was a time of great hope, dream and joy for us, despite the attendant drama that goes with such a big move. We bought a modest building in a comfortable working-class neighborhood and settled in for the work of updating, upkeeping and making home.
Next door, a couple with their two children served as ambassadors for the neighborhood. He knew everyone and everything and if he didn't he bragged on as if he did anyway. She was sweet and mild and easy to laugh. Their children, both beautiful, were lively and precocious. We became fast friends.
And through them, we became friends with everyone on the block. There was a couple down the street with two young boys, a family of five with kids of every age, and a single guy living with his elderly parents. There was an unmarried gal living in their place and a couple with two older children to the north. Everybody knew my neighbors and so we got to know all of them.
We were unlikely matches, all of us, crossing economic, language, cultural and religious barriers to enjoy a backyard barbecue or hang out in front while the kids played. But we were comfortable with each other, like warm sweaters, and we all enjoyed the time we spent together. When I became pregnant with the twins just a year and a half after I had Lucy, the whole block joined me in being excited and nervous. It was a wonderful time.
Time marches on, as they say, and of course, things change. We'd had a longer term plan in mind when we bought the building, but the twins altered our math a little and we soon found ourselves bursting at the seams. Mostly by accident, we found a house nearby and were the first to leave the block. We kept the building as an investment (hah!) which kept our ties to the neighborhood strong and our friendships continued even after we moved.
Sadly, the young man who lived with his parents had to say goodbye to his father, who passed away after a brief illness. Tony sold the building and helped the mother find a nearby apartment. The young man moved off to a far away suburb to escape his sadness. (It didn't much work, from what I can tell.)
Another family - faced with the prospect of having to place their sons in less-than-desireable public high schools, decided to move closer to a private school. Tony sold their building and helped them buy another place. The neighborhood got markedly quieter after that.
The large family that had been renting several doors down decided it was time for them, too, to go. The older children to the north of me went off to high school and then college. Their parents, who always kept to themselves anyway, retreated further.
And so the only ones left were our original next door neighbors. Steady, dependable, always willing to lend a hand, this family had always been there to openly receive newcomers and to wave goodbye as family after family left.
And now it is their turn. The father, our friend, has become ill with, mostly, self-inflicted ails. It's terribly sad. The son, now college-age, returned after a year away at school to help out at home. The daughter, a few years older than my Lucy, is just now coming into her own, but it's a slow walk. And the mother, our quick-to-smile friend, is carrying on despite the hardness of the situation. Tony's selling the building and we're going to help them find a new place, hopefully close by.
The thing is - this is not the way I thought all these lives would carry out - with death and loss and injury. I can look at it all and find the incredible good - the two gorgeous boys who moved away with their parents are every bit of wonderful and good and smart; the widow who moved into her own place has found new life with friends and family members and a granddaughter who lights her life; we have gone on to live a magic-induced dream of a life with beautiful babies, and a warm home and lots to celebrate. And I know my friend will find peace and happiness in her new life with the children, away from this place where I think many sad memories reside.
So I can look at all that and be happy for what has and will come.
But I have a sentimental desire to return to those September eves when we'd all be out in front, kids laughing, moms chatting, dads mowing - when none of us had lost a parent or watched a loved one wither. I always think, if I could just go back and hug those moments of my life a little tighter, it would make me feel better.
But I can't. I know. And I wonder what lies ahead, given what has gone. It is, indeed, a long and winding road.