My next door neighbor is a miserable woman; I kind of like her. Her house is in pristine condition and her yard is perfectly sprinkled with matching flower beds. She drives a reliable family sedan with racing stripes down the left side past both doors. She paid a fortune for that stripe and the poor thing has seen about as many miles as one loop around a race track. She washes that car out in the driveway once a week. Once, my youngest son asked if he could help her and she let him. My older boy and his friends lost a baseball in her flower bed one afternoon last spring though, and we were paying to have the flowers replaced and a professional to come replant. What is hers is all hers, she deserves, and she holds to the highest of expectations.
She has no children. She has no spouse. We are probably very close in age though we have lived very different lives. My husband is jealous of her. Her five bedroom house has had two renovations in the five years we have lived next door and now has a Jacuzzi room and a fitness center she never uses because she prefers the high end gym on the corner of Fifth and Haydenberry. She works a consistent nine to five job as a foreclosure officer and is home every weekend. She owns a summer home down on the coast in Savannah and asks us up for the Fourth of July every year. My husband refuses to go and takes the boys out fishing but sometimes I’ll sneak up for a hard lemonade and some girl talk. I think she needs it.
Last fourth of July She told me when she was seventeen her high school sweetheart snuck out in his parents car to run away with her. He wanted to wait till graduation when his BMW was inspectable but she was in love and she was impatient, and he would have done anything to keep her. He was killed by a drunk driver at the top of her street. She said her whole town tried not to blame her but it did no good with a conscience like hers. She hid for three days she told me, not coming out of her room to eat or anything, then rode with her parents to the service in a dress she planned to wear to prom with him that was labeled in dirty whispers by his loved ones as “disrespectful” and “selfish”. She stood through a third of the sermon she said to me, listening to all the chatter, and then she walked out of the church down six streets to Main and Maple, crossed, walked three doors down to his house, dug for the key to his beamer in her bag, and then started the ignition and backed out of the everything she knew.
Since then she has been divorced twice and lost all of the friends she ever had, four women and one man. She has walked out on them all after a fight or a lie or a scene. You can tell in her baby blue eyes that she still doesn’t understand why it is so easy for people to let go of her. She tells me of a time someone hurt her as though the separation that ensued was painful but obligatory on her part and then boasts a little about how she managed a large settlement in her second divorce or about how she got a couple grand off a furniture set for using her married name at the Aaron’s on Ninth because her first husband’s second cousin works there. I chuckle a little to myself.
It took me a while to overcome my jealousy. I earn good money and work my ass off and have substantially less building and property to show for it than most women my age do. But then I remember that I have priceless roses on my birthday and mother’s day cards from hallmark. Sometimes I wish I lived alone and didn’t have a house full of needy people to take care of but as much as I am in many ways the biggest provider for my household, It takes everyone else to take care of me. I wouldn’t trade my husband for one night alone. Despite his two separate incidents of one night stands, his needy family and our constant bickering, without him I’d have to learn what I want in my coffee because I can’t walk into the Starbucks on Peach and say “can you make that with a little extra love today I’m feeling irritable, and can you seal in my flavor with cat hair and chaos?” Without my two boys I never would have paid 1000 dollars to take an adult learning algebra class to help with homework and I could have Sunday nights back to sleep instead of paint. I never would have had my house searched by drug dogs for cocaine my eldest was “holding for a friend”. But without those boys there would have been no tears when I finished my half marathon and saw them out of class early and skipping a game to stand with their father holding a sign with my name inscribed. I used to think without that family I would know nothing of mistrust, disrespect, and heartbreak. That’s true, but also without that family I’d know nothing of responsibility and loyalty, I’d know nothing of pride and appreciation.
My husband and I can barely afford our five bedroom on both of our incomes. We have the two of us, a sixteen year old hockey player mathematician, an eleven year old Picasso, My childhood best friend who needs a placed to call home when she isn’t away on business , my sister-in-law who has a pug dog and a disability check, and three cats that once were strays. We do not have a Jacuzzi or a fitness center. We don’t even have a membership to a gym. We have sneakers and a safe neighborhood though. My husband works as a writer from home and I teach a couple classes and wait table because I love it. We don’t have much time for leisure, much money for saving, or much food for sharing but we always manage and we’ve made ends meet no matter how hard it was for us for over seventeen years. When there is money to spare we trade in one of our three household vehicles for a newer used model or go on a quick vacation. Though my husband always wishes we had more of the tangibles our neighbors do, I just chuckle to myself- “Babe, if I wanted to be comfortable in life I never would have married you” I tell him again and again.
“That lady next door has so much to spend. If we just had more money this month we could take the boys…”
“it isn’t worth the price she pays babe, it isn’t worth the price she pays.”