Last week, as Rick went outside to grab the mail and a package off of our front porch, I looked again across the street at another front porch. The rug on it was folded over, and I could see the FedEx envelope still lying against the front door. It had been there for four days.
"Rick, it's still there. I don't get it. Why hasn't Sue Ellen gotten it? She's all over everything else over there. She's out on her porch every day. How can she not see it? She knows the son. Why doesn't she at least take it in?"
"I don't know, Nance. The yard guys should be over there soon. Look at the bushes. Maybe they'll see it and call. Or give it to Sue Ellen."
"But, Rick! I hate this. I hate... the whole thing."
My husband looked at me with an all-too-familiar mix of sympathy and amusement. "I know you do. But there's nothing we can do. There's just nothing."
It was always the same when we talked about Tish, our absent across-the-street neighbor. Frustration, anger, sorrow, and a little fear wrested any real control from me. I had no intellectual or rational reserves to bring to the discussion; all I had was raw emotion. I barely knew her. I never even called her by her first name! And it's been...at least two, maybe three years since I last saw her.
You met her in 2009 when I wrote this post. Tish had left her home, but kept driving over for long visits inside. I wondered what she did in there. Did she look at old photos of her and Barrington in their youth? Did she make a light meal in her kitchen, which looked out over her green yard with its clutches of daylilies? Or, did she perhaps simply lie in the bed they once shared for decades and take a nap, holding his robe or maybe one of his fine, tailored shirts? I never, ever knew.
Part of the mystery was solved one day when Rick and I saw her at the drugstore. We were so stunned that we almost didn't say hello. I found myself so overcome that I could barely speak. We greeted her warmly and told her we missed her living in our neighborhood very much.
"Oh, aren't you lovely for saying so!" Tish said, smiling. "Well, you know I'm out at Wells Glen now. Yes, it's so nice! I still have my car, of course, so a lot of the others who don't, often ask me to pick up a few things for them when they hear I'm going out. Now I don't want you to worry. I won't be selling the house. Not until I die!"
We said something appropriate, and then Tish said she had to run. People at Wells Glen were expecting their things, so she had to get going. We exchanged warm goodbyes, and we went our separate ways.
Several mysteries were solved in that one chance meeting about two years ago. Tish was fine and still driving. She was living in one of the local elder communities which offered varied levels of assistance, from small cottages for independent living to Alzheimer units with full hospital staffing. And her house would remain her house until the day she died. Perhaps it was just too big for her with too many steps. Many of the homes in our neighborhood are colonials with laundry facilities in the basement and bathrooms upstairs.
It wasn't long after that when I noticed that Tish's big silver Buick no longer came to her home. Many months later, her son paid a few visits to the house. Sue Ellen next door hurried over each time. The conversations were brief. On one visit, he took from his car a roll of silver duct tape. Quickly, he taped Tish's mailbox shut.
One morning about six weeks ago, I called Rick at work. I felt stupid for doing it, but if I didn't tell someone, I felt as if I couldn't breathe anymore. He picked up right away, of course. "Rick, I'm sorry to call you at work, and I feel ridiculous for doing it. But a moving van just pulled up into Tish's driveway. Oh, Rick. It's a moving van."
There was nothing I could do. There was just nothing. Nothing except refuse to watch a funereal and gauche public procession of all of Tish and Barrington Cash's worldly goods go out the front door of their house. I went out to the kitchen, swept and mopped the floor, and then moved on to do other things in the back of the house, crying a little and trying to understand exactly why.
Was I crying because I remembered what Tish said about when she'd sell her house? Was I crying because I was angry? Was I crying out of frustration? And if it was that, was I frustrated because I had no answers, or was it because I couldn't do anything? I just didn't know, and it made me feel worse.
Rick and I kept a sort of awful vigil, looking for her obituary. Tish was a prominent lady; it would be in the town paper as well as probably the Cleveland Plain Dealer. We would want to send something. It never appeared. And now, this FedEx envelope. But there was nothing I could do.
Until the one morning I backed out of my driveway and up into Tish's. Calm and resolute, I got out of my car and walked up onto her porch. I took the FedEx envelope, which was addressed to her and marked URGENT, and got back into my car. Within a few minutes I was at Wells Glen.
The complex is quite large, and it looks like a nice hotel. I found the main entrance, parked, and sat for a moment in order to compose myself for what I was likely to hear. When I felt calm, I walked in through the front doors.
The woman at the front desk saw me approaching and smiled kindly. "May I help you?" she asked.
"Yes. Tish Cash used to live across the street from me. This FedEx envelope was left on her doorstep several days ago--"
Here, the woman interrupted me. "Awww," she said, in the way that someone says it right before they say the words that's too bad. "I'll see that her son gets it."
I was quite taken aback. What did that mean? "Thank you very much," I said. The woman looked at me pityingly. She put the envelope on her desk and looked back at me, clearly considering the matter ended. "I'm sorry," I said, "but, Tish...she is still a resident here, isn't she?"
The woman looked at the nurse next to her, then back at me. Her face dissolved again into the same sorrow-tinged, pitying look. "Yes," she said quietly, "she's still here."
I nodded and walked back out to my car. There was nothing else I could do.