Involuntary Autobiographical Memory #9

We’ve talked before about Involuntary Autobiographical Memories (IAMs). I’ve told you about how these random memories surface in my mind when I’m doing something that doesn’t require my mind in any way. Then, if I don’t talk about them, or write about them, they keep recurring for a few days. It’s bizarre, and definitely a mental health question, but not all that uncommon. Though I suspect some of us are more susceptible to it, I often wonder if you have to let the memories in. Like does it happen to me more because I tend to sit in a quiet room, with Adele playing in the background, stare out the window, and just think? Or is this because I once invited the memories in and now they just flood me all the time? Does it happen to all of us and some of us just “shoo” the memories away? Sometimes the memories are bad, but mostly they are odd, with characters from my life that I would like to forget, but just seem to hang on. Okay, having said all that, today while I was switching the laundry I randomly remembered our old neighbor Frank.

When I was pregnant with Jackson, Jerimiah and I moved to Branson, Missouri. We were living on Table Rock Lake, which is about 30 minutes from Branson proper, but we were both working in Branson, and we were both going to school in Springfield (Missouri State–Go Bears!) so it made sense to not only move to “town” as it were, because it was close to our jobs, close to the only hospital in a 40-mile radius, and closer to school. Jerimiah’s parents wanted us to buy a house, but truth be told we knew we weren’t made for a life in Branson. It was a stopping point for us, so we rented an adorable little bungalow in a historic part of Downtown, a couple blocks from “The Strip” and walking distance to all our favorite restaurants, bars (not that that mattered anymore), and the aforementioned hospital. I was six months pregnant when we moved in, and the house was so small that when we passed in the hallway my belly pushed Jerimiah out of the way. It was wonderful, and adorable, and super cute. The perfect little place.

The neighborhood was older, well established, and going through a revitalization of sorts. The woman we rented from had bought the bungalow, stripped it to the studs, and renovated it. It was charming, all the way down to it’s original hardwood and super-pimp kitchen. The same was happening to a couple other houses on the street, and some houses were in disrepair, waiting to be snatched up and reno’d (this was at the peak of HGTV in our house and a couple times we thought about snatching up one of those $40,000 houses and doing the same thing, but I always talked us out of it. Remember, no forever homes quit yet.)

Across the street we had a small family, next door was Russ and his odd wife, who would sometimes ride with her head down in the car like she was a wanted person, and diagonally from us was Virgil. Virgil was a 92-year-old man living in the house he built in his 40s. It was a lovely house, and secretly, if I were to buy a house on that street, it would be Virgil’s. We took Jackson over for Halloween only weeks after he was born and Virgil invited us in. He was bent, with a cane and suspenders that had to have been from the 70s, and the biggest, brightest smile. He made us sit on his 1980-something sofa, and eat mints from his candy dish. He wouldn’t hold Jackson, but stood next to me and made faces at him and smiled. He recounted his own children, now gone, and all his grandkids and great-grandkids. We adored Virgil, and from then on always looked out for him, walked Jackson over to say hi, and talk about what was happening in the hood. He was the neighborhood’s official “Nice old man.”

Then one day, while Jackson crawled around Virgil’s deck (which was painted blue to match his house and had blue indoor/outdoor carpet on top of the wood) Virgil and I stood and talked to the mailman. It was this day that Virgil dropped the bomb. His son was coming from Washington to get him. His house was officially sold. Things were changing and although he was nervous, he was also excited to be with his kids and grandkids again. Virgil had been widowed in the 1990s and lived alone in that house since. I was sad for him, but happy at the same time. I inquired about his house and he said his son had already sold it to a friend’s dad. It was all very quick, and it hadn’t even hit the market. I smiled and nodded, I figured another Virgil would be moving in and I was good with that. Later that week we said our goodbyes to Virgil, as his son pulled up with a small U-haul. Seems he left most of his furniture to the new owner. And that was that. No more Virgil. And for a few weeks, no movement at the little blue house on the corner.

It was a Sunday morning. I remember because Jerimiah and I were both at home. It was just after I had quit my job to stay home with Jackson full-time, so we finally had our weekends back, though sometimes Jerimiah would pick up a bartending shift on Saturday to make ends meet. But we were all in bed together, a cranky, teething Jackson between us, Jerimiah was snoring loudly, and I was preoccupied by an unusual noise outside. I slowly got up as to not wake anyone, and walked over to the large windows in our incredibly small bedroom, and peeked out. I was met with a sight. An old, large camper was parked between our house and the empty one next door that was being renovated. There was an alley that separated our houses, and the camper was blocking the alley. I was just sitting there, idling. It’s loud muffler roaring, and something was banging. The door to the camper was open, but I couldn’t see anyone. There was an extension cord coming from the inside, and it was running alongside the camper, then out of my view. I kept looking down the alley toward Mary’s house, the family whose backyard backed up to ours. They used the alley quite a bit, and I wondered if this camper somehow belonged to them.

Jerimiah woke up and asked what was happening and I explained the situation. A camper? An extension cord? He had questions. He crept out of bed to join me at the windows and we watched, for what was so long that at one point he went to the bathroom and started the coffee, and came back. At some point Jackson woke up, and we all went into the living room to get a better view. Bentley our overweight chocolate lab was asleep in the dark living room. When we opened the blinds Bentley lost her shit, wanted to know what the hell that camper was doing, wanted us to take her outside. I obliged, because this camper had piqued my curiosity. Jerimiah and Jackson had already moved on to breakfast, but I was hooked. I leashed up Bentley, threw some flip-flops on, and we headed out the front door. Be careful, Jerimiah told me, holding a bouncing Jackson and pulling pancake mix out. I nodded.

Outside Bentley calmed down, when there wasn’t an apparent human with the camper. She sniffed around the edge of our yard. I was too nervous to walk into the alley. Then suddenly a man jumped out of the camper and yelled something toward us. Bentley flipped out, and I pulled her closer to me, which was always harder than it seemed since she was usually using 110 pounds. He started toward us. Bentley was hackled up, and at this point Jerimiah had noticed. He put Jackson in his walker in the living room and walked out onto the porch.

The man was stumbling, obviously drunk, and very loud. Maybe to talk over the camper’s noises, but Bentley did not like him, and as he walked toward us I was a little scared too. He stopped short of our yard, Bentley barking and nipping toward him. “Is that a damn bear?!” He yelled, pointing at Bentley. Rude, we both thought. I mean, she was a sturdy girl, but a bear? Come on, man. I managed a smile, Jerimiah asked if the man needed anything.

Nope, he just wanted to introduce himself. He was Frank, our new neighbor. He pointed toward Virgil’s house. I was agitated at this point, and asked why his camper was here (motioning toward the alleyway), then he started saying something about this being America and he could park his RV whenever he pleased. That was just the beginning.

It didn’t take long to see that Frank was suffering from mental illness. I tried to be as nice as I could, but when I finally broke down and called the police on him he lost it. One day Jackson and I came home from the park. We had walked, him in his stroller, and I turned the corner to head up our street and immediately noticed that same extension cord from the RV. But this time it was coming from the screen door of Frank’s house. It crossed the street and was plugged into an outdoor outlet at Russ’ house, our neighbor. I was furious. At this point we had several run-ins with Frank, including him day drinking and walking up and down the street screaming about the military and President Obama (he was a conspiracy theorist and one heck of a racist). So I called the police.

It was a nice day and my windows were open so I heard the entire incident. They came over, asked him why the extension cord appeared to be plugged into the neighbor’s house, and explained at length why this was dangerous and also illegal. He spat at them, cursed them, and was very close to being arrested, when he finally unplugged the cord and went inside. The police left. All night he stood on his porch and yelled at our house. I was at my wits end.

We only lived at that house for a few more months, it was all too much. I called the police on him a couple more times, and once he did get arrested. The day we moved he had hoisted a very large sign in his front yard to announce his bid for Mayor. I just shook my head. He seemed to be the epitome of a man let down by the system. It turns out Frank was a Veteran, like Russ had been, but he suffered from PTSD and a myriad of other health problems, and was unable to get the care he needed at the VA. It was sad, and scary, and I wish there had been a better way for me to have handled the situation back then. But I was young and green, and this was my first go round with someone like Frank.

The truth of the matter is, we’ve had other odd neighbors. Other people who have made us scratch our head, call the police, and even try to befriend to just understand them more. But Frank was beyond my help. And to this day I think of him. Wonder if he’s okay. And wish him comfort.

I think of Virgil too. And that little blue house on the corner. I think of the early days. I cherish a lot of memories from that house, those streets, but Frank. Ah, sometimes there are things we’d like to forget, but just can’t. I guess there’s a reason.

Wishing you rest today, Frank. Wherever you are.

M.

Bonus Post

I don’t usually post twice in one day, but I decided to make an exception today for fun. We’ve been walking our neighborhood every day in an effort to just get outdoors. We wave at those we pass, but keep our distance. We have noticed that the foot traffic has picked up, which is nice, and some people are hanging lights and signs in their windows. A couple of days ago a house hung up all sorts of flags in their trees. It was pretty cool to look at and it gave me an idea. The next day I drew my “Flags of Quarantine.” It’s just a little something to make you smile. Here: Smile please.

Then today, feeling artsy again, and inspired by Jackson drawing “Virtual Learning Bingo!” for creativity day in school, I drew an adult version as well.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this bonus post and our very amateur artwork!

Stay safe out there!

M.

Randy’s Back, Back Again

Y’all know Randy, right? Oh, sure you do. He’s my neighbor. The backyard kind. The kind I share a fence with. Okay, if you don’t know Randy there are some things to tell you, like I’m not sure his name is Randy. I don’t actually know what his name is, I have never Wilson-ed him from my backyard, mainly because it’s a privacy fence, and also because Randy always has a leaf blower and a set of headphones on. Also because who does that? I mean really. The other thing to know about Randy is that he’s a little creepy.

For instance, the first time I encountered Randy he was standing in his backyard looking up at a tree. He stood there for a very, very long time. So long that I got uncomfortable watching him. Like, who’s-the-creeper-now kinda thing, right? Still, I kept watch, wondering what was so interesting in that tree. I was just getting out of the shower when I first saw him from my bathroom window. I was naked, going on with my just-got-out-of-the-shower stuff, when I spotted him. The only things I could come up with was that he had a rough day at the office, his shoes were too tight, he’d stepped on a Lego, or maybe, just maybe he was an ornithologist. Either way, I shook my head and went on about my day.

The next day when I stepped out of the shower he was there again. Same stance. Same tree. No birds, from my view anyway. Weird. I asked Jerimiah if he had met, or talked to, or even caught a glimpse of Randy in his natural habitat. He said he had not. I made him run upstairs to see him standing there in his backyard, but he was gone. Weird.

The next day, you guessed it. Randy’s back at shower time, watching the empty tree. Hmm.

Next day. Same. Same. Sensing a pattern here? I was. Jerimiah meanwhile, never saw Randy. Not once. He was starting to think I had imagined Randy, which if I’m being honest isn’t too far off. I was starting to wonder myself, until that one day when Jerimiah and I hopped in the shower together and bOoM! Randy was standing there, looking at the tree. Remember when I said creepy?

So what is Randy’s deal? Listen, I don’t know. But I did go buy curtains for our bathroom window. I even walked out into our backyard when Jerimiah was in the shower to see if Randy could see anything through the glass, and honestly there is a glare. But, and here is the big but, as soon as the summer came Randy disappeared. No more trips into the backyard. Occasionally I would see him sitting in his screened back porch with what appeared to be binoculars, but he never ventured out. Then today, bOoM! Randy is back. Same backyard, same tree with no birds, same leaf blower. Honestly I was starting to worry about Randy, so I’m glad he’s back. But now I take shorter showers, just in case.

M.

Make a Grid

Mrs. Kim, my lovely neighbor across the way, was very intrigued by the fact that I was power washing my driveway today. So much so that she would sneak glances at me out of her garage window when she thought I wasn’t looking, once every hour or so. Three Mrs. Kim glances later I could tell that her intrigue had turned to concern and it started to infiltrate my psyche. I hadn’t intended to power wash my driveway for three hours today, it just sort of happened, like a lot of things do in my life.

We got home from our two-week trip to Baton Rouge on Friday afternoon. You can read about some of it here https://missygoodnight.com/2019/06/13/deep-deep-south/ though I have to be honest, I have a lot more to say on the trip, just need some time. Anyway, we drove home the eight hours on Friday, then had a good night’s rest in our own bed, then woke up the next day and drove the four hours to Charlotte to say goodbye to our friends Morgan, Beth, and Dave. You see, Morgan, Beth, and Dave packed up and moved to Rhode Island for no reason except to make me sad. Well, Dave got a new job teaching at URI, but that is besides the point. Me. Sad. Important part. We didn’t get back from Charlotte until four am, which means we slept until noon on Sunday, which means we finally got around to getting some of the things done we needed to get done before the week started at nine pm last night. Which was just in time to watch Ralph Wrecks the Internet because Ralph wrecks the internet.

Sigh. That is all to say that we have been busy, busy (and I’ve been a little sad) and today was the first day back in real life and real life looked like this. We woke up sorta late. I had to drive J to work about 30 minutes away (with Jackson and the damn dog) in Atlanta traffic, and then rush home to get ready for my therapy session at 10:00 am. Why did I have to drive J to work? That is a great question and one that I intend to share with you this week if all the components of my life start working again.

So then I go to therapy and cry. I always cry. We don’t even need to talk about like, you know, real shit. We can just talk about the weather and where to get good food (like we did today) and I cry. I really like my therapist. I think she is great in fact. She has a really calming presence, which is probably good for a therapist. She is also wicked funny. She is the kinda lady I wish I had met at Publix in the fruit aisle, and we had bumped carts and I had said, Ope, scuse me, I’ve been drinking! Haha, just kidding I’m not drunk. And she would have said, Me neither, but wanna go get drunk? And then we would be best friends. Except we can’t be friends cause she’s my therapist. Bummer. Anyway, I cried a little and she assured me the world wasn’t ending and I felt better, but also like I needed to do something drastic. I was afraid I would get day drunk and cut my own bangs, so instead I decided to let Jackson wash my car.

Washing my car is something he always asks me to do and I always tell him no because of the hassle of finding the power washer, finding the hose, dragging it all out, then him getting all crazy wet, then other excuse, other excuse, other excuse. Today I thought I’d just let him go to town and get as wet as he wanted. So I let him. He was way excited then (in true Jackson fashion) he washed my car for about five minutes then went back inside. He did offer to clean up the power washer but I was all, nah leave it out I might clean something. And there we are. Three hours later I felt accomplished even though I accomplished the one thing not anywhere near my to-do list today. Not even close.

It is important to note here that I enjoy power washing. I know it sounds weird as shit. But I go to a very zen-like place when I power wash. I sort of process stuff better when I am doing something that I don’t have to think about. I think that is true for a lot of people, probably. Others might crochet, or tinker with cars or electronics, or color or paint. I power wash. I like to take a big surface (like a driveway that is pretty dirty) and split it up into sections, then tackle one section at a time while my mind sort of wanders. I process things I have been putting off, I have conversions with myself, I think about things to write, all while I work my way through the grid I created. It probably has something to do with feeling little accomplishments while you are working. It is like writing a novel and finishing a chapter, or quilting and getting one square done. It’s always easier to take large tasks and break them into smaller ones to tackle. Then you are not so overwhelmed. And I do often get overwhelmed. It’s not unlike when you use your at-home electrolysis kit and you mark on your legs and work small sections. Except with power washing you don’t need to worry about turning the level up too high and getting zapped so hard that you have a series of light seizures.

So, why am I telling you all this? Why do I tell you all anything, Jesus Karen lay off me. I guess because we are in this together you guys. And I know I have been absent, I was a little blue last week. I was overwhelmed. But I think I am back. And I think I have a ton of shit to tell you guys, so let’s get to it!

Happy Monday!

M.