The Boy and the Girl Next Door

One year ago I stood and watched my childhood home burn to the ground.

It seems like a small thing now doesn’t it?

In the midst of world events. 

I guess. Maybe. But it wasn’t small to me, and it wasn’t small to my parents then either.

It’s the eternal cliche, but time really does help heal and fade so many tragedies.

But today I’m looking back and I’m remembering that day, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that 365 days have since passed.

I could write about a million feelings and stories that spring from that day, but the one memory I always come back to – from the day itself – is the moment I turned around. Once metaphorically and once literally, to see the boy, and the girl, next door.

I was in Liverpool in the middle of a meeting when I got a phone call from my brother telling me the news.

It’s strange news to comprehend really. You’re not sure what to feel. Immediately the only thing that matters is that everyone is safe. So that is your predominant emotion the entire day/week/month. Nothing else matters.

Except. Somehow. It does. Maybe?

Because throughout the entire hour and a half drive from Liverpool to Nicholsville other thoughts start creeping in. What are they? They seem familiar. But wait a minute. All I’m supposed to be feeling is grateful. Everyone is ok. 

But there they come again. Those thoughts. They well up in my chest and start falling out my eyes. And they are coming in the spits and spats. They are coming in between the “what will my parents do now?” question on my head. And they sneak through the logistical “what a nightmare insurance will be” questions. And also they dive right through the sense of loss I immediately feel for both of my parents and selfishly myself.  

These images and feelings and thoughts I can’t seem to name just won’t let go, even among the other 103 things whirling around my head right now. What is going on?? 

And then it hits me. Somewhere around driving through Morristown. 

Oh. I recognize them now. It’s the memories. They are pesky little memories. Particularly memories of my childhood.

And bam. All of a sudden the only thing in my head (wait, no, make that my heart) is the one mile stretch of pavement between the Palmer Road and Victoria Road and a black house that sits on a small hill. 

For the rest of the day that was all my world consisted of. Which funny enough is where the fire trucks blocked off all traffic from entering. That one mile stretch.

When you grow up in the country you have a lot of space around you. Which means that you don’t have as many neighbours as you would in town. But the neighbours you do have take on a different role. The people I grew up with were “in” my life in a way that is difficult to explain. I called their parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” even though there were no blood ties. There was a comfort there that went beyond neighboours or friendship.

But ofcourse life, and people, grow up and move on. I had long ago “moved away”. And these people on this stretch of road become fond memories but no longer really “present” in your life. 

Because that just kind of how life is.

But as my brother and I drove up to Victoria Road and hit that threshold – that one mile stretch – the waves of memories with these people came crashing back.

I drive this road all the time still to come visit my parents. Why were these flooding back so significantly now?

And then we pulled up to the house burning. And there were Mom and Dad. And I became 10 years old again. And suddenly I knew why I was feeling those memories so strongly.

Because my entire childhood was on that road, in that house. It sounds so simple, but is so true.

And so we stood there for quite a long time watching. The four of us. My Mom, Dad, brother and me.

And to anyone watching us that’s exactly what it looked like. Just the four of us.

But it wasn’t.

Not for me.

I was somehow also haunted by all of the people who touched my lives while I grew up in that house.

And as I stood there watching, all of a sudden there was a tap on my shoulder. And there she was. The girl next door. Dawne Boates. Who didn’t really live next door – but in fact a mile down the road, and whose last name is no longer Boates, but there she was, and for a moment nothing else mattered. I can’t imagine wanting to see anyone more.

She hugged me, and that hug seemed to last forever. I can’t ever explain to her what that hug meant – how much was in it.

And then she did EXACTLY what I needed. She gave us a bag of clothes (oh my god those clothes were better than gold – my feet were so cold) told us she was there for anything we needed. Hugged me again. And then she left. Left us to be alone and deal with our emotions and grief. It was one of the most respectful, most needed things that has ever happened to me. Her action in coming. Her hug. Her gift. Her respectful leaving.

In those moments I knew how much she was hurting for us – how much she wanted to help.

And the rest of the day came and went – in loss and uncertainty.

But it did so with a little gentle help from another someone else from beginning to end.

From the boy next door.

Because there he was, Tim Palmer, the entire day. Tim, who had built a home next door to his parents and across from mine. Tim, who may have spent as much of his childhood at my house as his own. There he was. The entire day doing exactly what we needed him to do. Walking that very fine line of being present but not in the forefront. Respecting our family’s time together, and never pushing. But instead ordering an entire feast for us from a local diner, giving us shelter to come and go, warming up his truck for us to sit in, lending us clothes, talking and listening, stepping up and stepping back. His presence and his actions, were everything to me.

And so there it was. Who knew that on this awful day when I morphed back into a 10 year old girl, that my two childhood friends would reappear in my life like magic? 

Ofcourse it makes perfect sense. Who could understand my loss more than these two who spent so much time in those walls with me?

The boy and the girl next door.  

There weren’t two people I wanted to see more.

And I will forever be whispering thank you for them.

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