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.