A few years back, a new neighbor called. “Katie, there’s an old man leaning against my front wall, should I call the police?”
I pulled my window up and leaned out to look, just two houses over. There was Paul, a retired carpenter who’s lived on my street for thirty-five years. (My mom paid him to build me a loft bed when I was 16.)
Paul. How can she not know who Paul is? He spends every day outside, walking a few hundred yards, resting, walking, and smoking, always in pressed white carpenter pants. I want to tell this woman; Paul lived in your basement when you bought your house. He was forced to move so you could renovate, get a new tenant. And thank God, we found him a room in the apartment building in front of the firehouse.
What I said was this: “That’s Paul, leaning on your wall. Your front porch was his front porch for three decades. He lived in your basement. His wife, Emma planted those roses. I think he misses sitting on your steps, I think he misses the view.”
Soon, the couple sold and a lawyer bought. He married and had a little boy and one day on the sidewalk I said, “Do you know you live in an old May Day commune?” I wanted to tell the story about the woman the FBI chased on their roof. He was anxious to get going; not everyone wants to know this history.
Still, on this street, memory is my map.
I’ll say, “Hey they paved over Mrs. Glass’s front yard this morning—to make a parking space.”
A new neighbor looks blankly, “You mean where the condo is?”
“Right.” That’s where Mrs. Glass’s house used to be. It was the oldest house on the block. Always full of pokeweed and hollyhocks. The only way she moved away was that she fell and her family came and took her to a home.
So, yes, I walk my street among the departed and disappeared, Paul, the May Day activists and Mrs. Glass. Some days, what’s missing is more vivid than what is.
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