My Neighbor Across the Street
The neighbor across the street from me is big.
His size was hard to ignore; religiously shirtless, his belly hanging inches out and over his shorts, and always barefoot, no matter the temperature.
We thought poorly of these neighbors, with visions of them living on welfare, LG &E paid for by the city, heat cranked up to 80 degrees during the winter months. And we shouldn't be (entirely) blamed for making those assumptions since big boy was always half naked, even in the dead of winter. He nor his house-mate, who happened to be his mother, worked or owned a car. Food was delivered to the home weekly. Sometimes we would speculate whether or not these were some kind of feed-the-hungry volunteers or family members delivering groceries to this duo.
We knocked on their door for Halloween last year, my son was two. We were greeted only by the barking of their four or five dogs, no one answered the door. Oh well, we weren't surprised.
A couple of weeks later, out of the blue, the lady, big boy's mom, who was also quite large beckoned me to her door. I walked over to be pleasantly greeted by her. She gave me two adorable, large, cloth leaf bags, one for Halloween, with a ghost and pumpkin on it and the other with a Thanksgiving turkey on it. I was touched. The woman went on to say how much she and her son loved watching my son and me through their front window. She sited specific instances of play like, when all three of us, my husband, son and I, would ride his motorcycle just up and down our little dead end street. I was humbled and embarrassed.
My husband and I had experienced a negative perception of these neighbors based only what we had occasionally witnessed from across the street. Several months, maybe even a year after this one and only interaction I had with the mother, or son, the mother died. I vaguely recall seeing an ambulance there and then heard from someone on our block the mother had passed. I felt badly about the woman's son; now he was all alone with 4 or 5 dogs... dogs which didn't see much of the light of day (this was yet another reason we had a negative perception of these neighbors).
After the mother passed away the son slowly became more sociable. He would wave when he took the garbage out and even began walking to a nearby store oppose to just having groceries delivered to his home.He also lost weight.
There were a couple of mishaps along the way.
Once he broke his ankle and was on crutches for weeks, perhaps months.
And another time he allowed a no-good cousin and the cousin's no-good girlfriend to live with him. They actually lived in his garage because they couldn't stand the smell of the house, apparently the 4 or 5 dogs big boy owns aren't house broken, likely because they were never taught to go potty outside.
This no good couple would often leave with an empty shopping cart and return to the house with the shopping cart full of odds and ends.
They were missing teeth and clearly had experienced a rough life.
Once I was outside, next door to big boy's house, with my other neighbor's two dogs; I am those neighbor's dog walker and let their dogs out almost daily while they work. Anyhow, the troublesome couple was in the backyard of big boy's house when the young male counterpart started up a highly-energized conversation with me.
"You see this watch? You see this watch? I found it. Can you believe I found it? It's a Rolex, look at it, look at it... and this ring my fiance has, I found it. Look at it. Can you believe it?"
He went on and on and offered to do any house chores I may need help with, saying he and his girlfriend were very hard workers. -Just listening to this dude wore me out. He was more wired than a lab monkey. They were hard workers though. I saw them doing mad yard work for one of my neighbors that had pity on them once.
The male counterpart of the troublesome couple knocked on my door a few times, asking for money to get a prescription filled once, which I didn't give him, and another two times asking for water... the garage in which they lived didn't have running water. Later I discovered they had regularly asked other neighbors for water too.
After several weeks of our entire block being on edge with the troublesome couple living in big boy's garage, big boy had enough when he discovered this no-good couple was stealing his deceased mother's heirlooms.
He kicked them out.
Poor big boy, he told his next door neighbors, my dog walking customers, that he only wanted to give this dynamic duo a chance. He was wise enough to realize rather quickly though they were no good. Unfortunately it wasn't soon enough for them to not cost him a job at Kroger grocery store. Once I saw big boy out walking as I walked my dogs and commented, "Congrats on your job. I saw you wearing a Kroger uniform the other day."
"Awe I already lost the job. My cousin that was living with me called my boss and told a bunch of lies on me so I'd lose the job; he was mad I kicked him and his girlfriend out."
-Now ain't that a bitch.
And Time Goes On
Once, as we walked our dogs, I saw big boy and inquired about his sickly dog.
"These vets are all liars. I called some vets and they won't put the dog to sleep for me because I don't have enough money. I just have to wait until my check comes at the end of the month and I can pay the whole amount but they won't do it without all the money," he said in his Mike-Tyson-range-voice.
They say hindsight is 20/20 but I'll never know why, at that moment, I didn't ask more questions or simply- offer to help my neighbor with his dog.
I foster dogs. I volunteer at shelters. I donate to non-profits. I am privy to people with mental health issues.
Why didn't I ask him if I could see the dog?
Why didn't I ask if I could help?
My brain didn't process how bad off the dog could have been perhaps.I was busy enjoying the nice afternoon with my family and our pets and maybe subconsciously didn't want to 'put myself out there' right at that moment so I said, "That's a shame. That's so frustrating right? You'll just have to wait on your check to come in then or, take her to Metro maybe, they euthanize for free."
"I don't have a way to get her there," he replied, as we walked away from each other, big boy walking back towards his house, our block, and my family and I walking away from our house, our block.
Shortly after that conversation we went to Mexico for a wonderful, all-inclusive vacation.
Upon returning I heard some sad but not surprising news- my neighbor/friend, my dog walking customer, had taken big boy and his dog to have her put to sleep.
Big Boy had knocked on her door, offering gas money for a ride to put the dog down.
She was stunned upon seeing Big Boy's dog.
"I will never be able to get that image out of my head. The dog had a tumor so large, covering so much of its face that it could barely breathe. It was skin and bones and couldn't eat since God knows when. The stench of the dog was nauseating to the point we had to ride with the windows down in my truck, even though it was cool outside."
I immediately felt like a grand piece of shit.
Why hadn't I done more, anything?
Why hadn't I asked to see his dog?I recalled Big Boy asking me one day if I had a shovel he could borrow. -Listening to my neighbor's story I couldn't help but wonder if he didn't need a shovel because he figured the dog would die any minute and he'd need a shovel to bury her.
Only a couple of weeks following the euthanasia of his one dog, big boy seemingly disappeared, and this time, my neighbor and I were on alert and ready to act.
Days passed without big boy picking up his mail. The other dogs were inside the home. We knocked on his door, smelling the stench of piss and poop, no answer, ever.
We called Animal Control and even the police.
Animal Control came, viewed the dogs through the window and decided they weren't in imminent danger. The officer, someone with whom I worked years ago, at Metro Animal Services, said they'd be back the following day to leave a notice on the door and get a warrant to go in if big boy still wasn't home.
The next day we noticed someone had taken the mail in at Big Boy's home. Was it Big Boy?
As I walked my son and father out the front door of our home that Thursday afternoon, Bella, one of our dogs, ran out the door.
Typically she doesn't run out and when she does she stays calmly and obediently in our front yard.
This day she darted across our dead end street to big boy's fenced yard. His 4 dogs were all out in the yard!
I paced over to the fence to retrieve Bella, my Dad and son close behind me.
Then big boy himself appeared at the fence, with a dozen or more wires attached to his head, the wires hanging down his back and chest. It reminded me of Iron Man.
"Are you o.k.?" I asked as I scooped up Bella and nervously walked away.
Again, why didn't I stand there long enough for him to offer me a complete answer?
I don't know why.
"What was all that?" I asked my dad.
"I don't know Jess," my dad replied, also rather stunned.
Shortly thereafter Animal Control arrived.
The officer and I spoke for several minutes, catching up and spoke some about big boy.
"Does the guy not have a car?" he inquired.
"No. He doesn't work. I honestly think he'll be grateful for you checking on him and his pets," I said.
Then I crossed the street, got in my car to go walk my regular dog walking customers.
A few days later as I played with my 3 year old son out front, he crossed the street. There on the sidewalk, right in front of big boy's house, was a single, sea-green-colored marble.
Author's note: I suppose the moral of this story is, try to be nice and reach out, even when it's awkward and uncomfortable. Next time I see Big Boy, I'll ask him his name.
--Dios Todo Poderoso, ayúdame ser una persona mejor con cada día, cada momento que pasa. Ayúdame tener la fuerza para ser buena gente. Llena mi alma con amor que no acaba nunca, porque con el amor abudante, todo es posible siempre. -Uno no cansa con el amor presente. Amen.