Borders

I hate it that everyone in this town has tall wooden fences and I’d prefer not to have one, but if I didn’t, I’d have nothing to look at but the outside of a bunch of fences. So I have an extra tall fence. Eight feet of wood and a retaining wall that is three feet in some spots. Fucking fortress, it is.

Back in September and October I took on the great fence restoration project. For eight weeks, rain or shine, I was out there in my hobo clothes and hat getting that thing up to HOA standards:

One side done, now for the other on Twitpic

That’s the outside of the fence that runs along the side of my yard, the stretch my neighbors see. The side that is the most important today. The part of that big job I can’t stop thinking about for the last two days.

I don’t like these wooden fences for several reasons. They section off each yard and make the lots seem smaller than they actually are. They’re built for privacy, but since most people around here have two story houses, there’s always neighbor’s windows overlooking a yard. The fence then provides a visual framing for your neighbor’s viewing pleasure.

Like living in a fishbowl.

Even worse than that, it discourages friendship and contact with neighbors.

So while I was out there working on the perimeter of the fence (the outside of the fishbowl), I met a lot of my neighbors I’d never seen before. They’d drive by in the access alley on their way to their rear drive-up garages. Many would roll down the window to tell me I was doing a great job, to ask questions about how I was doing it, or stop and ask if I’d seen their lost dog. Neighbor talk that I’m not used to since there is hardly ever a occasion to see them in our self-exiled worlds.

After a while I had to ignore these people. I wanted to get this big job done before the winter set in, so I had my music and kept my earphones on most of the time.

Dan, the man whose garage lined up perfectly with that view of the fence in the photo above was always in his garage. I never could figure out what he was doing in there. It looked like he might be rearranging things, but nothing ever changed. Every day that garage looked just as messy as the day before.

I didn’t wonder if he was unemployed or if he might not feel comfortable inside his home with his family, or if he was lonely as fuck.

I didn’t jump to conclusions that he might be in there so he could stare at the ass crack hanging out my hobo jeans. No, I never caught him leering at me, but I still felt self-conscious about the way I was dressed, and how craptastic I look in a hat. I was also up a ladder most of the time and most likely grunting to reach tight spots.

I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have him there right over my shoulder in case I fell off that ladder. It never crossed my mind. What I thought back then was why won’t this guy just go away so I can stain my fence in peace?

I didn’t know until a couple of days ago that those were Dan’s last days. A month or two after the fence thing, he committed suicide.

How or why, I don’t know, but just before Christmas I was in the backyard and heard a shotgun go off in the neighborhood. I came inside and told everyone, but they thought maybe it was firecrackers since it was so close to Christmas and New Years. I know what a shotgun blast sounds like, though. So I sat in the backyard and waited for the sirens. All I heard was silence.

I’m convinced I heard Dan kill himself. Probably did it while no one else was home, thus the lack of sirens. In that garage.

It sucks that I didn’t know about my neighbor’s death until a month after the fact. It sucks that I didn’t talk to him more when I had the chance, while I was out there, of all things, working on a man-made border designed to keep people out.

I hate fences.

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23 thoughts on “Borders

  1. In retrospect I wonder if he was sorting his things to give away to people, you know how they do that, give their things away before they kill themselves?

    I wish things were more open around here where people can feel free to visit each other while sitting in the backyards. I don’t know if that guy had a problem with that, it’s just a thought. People usually drive up to their garage, press a button for the door, drive in, shut the door. You never see anyone around here.

    I walk my dogs around here every day. Never see anyone. It’s like a ghost neighborhood.

  2. Oh my goodness. Oh my. Oh myohmyohmy.

    I’m so happy that you’ve put it in this perspective, The quiet of neighborhoods, the isolation, the anonymity.

    Our neighbor that died during Katrina was a recluse — a hoarder. He was strange, but nice. We tried to make nice with him but we were pretty darn busy that first year and he was pretty darn strange.

    And we felt guilty that when we left we didn’t go and check on him. Granted, we left a day earlier than most folks, when neighbors were still out on porches laughing at us for packing up so much. But still.

    But a suicide. Wow. Maybe this could be a signal for a big neighborhood social? A neighborhood watch? A system of checking in and up on each other? They’ll be some noisy ninnys to be sure, but maybe that’s okay sometimes? Maybe it’s important, too?

    • Holly, so terrible about your neighbor during Katrina. Maybe he would not have left his home even if you tried to help him. I volunteered in a makeshift hospital for Katrina victims toward the tail end of the rescue phase. Every single patient they brought in that night was a recluse. This was about a week after the storm, so they’d been though some rough days. The only reason they came to the hospital was because they had gotten very sick and someone happened to find them.

  3. The powerful importance of community is something that comes up a lot in my family. How hard it is to build, maintain, how many ways in which contemporary Western culture fights its creation even as it brings thousands of people into a different kind of “together” through the ethereal nature of the internet…

    My mother has always had beautiful gardens and has never been willing to put up fences anywhere on her part of the property. On one side, the neighbour agreed and our gardens met and blended in a rather beautiful way… There was sometimes calling over from balconies to say hi or share a joke but we were never close. Still. We knew each other’s comings and goings and that matters… I’m babbling… This was such a powerful piece…

    It is also an incredibly honest portrayal of that boundary between a very human need for privacy and peace and the power and importance of connection if not to necessarily to save us but to help keep us from getting quite as lost as we would without each other…

    Thank you for sharing this, Kitty.

    • Hi Sulya,
      I love the visual of your mom and the neighbor’s gardens growing into each other.

      In our old neighborhood, we lived in a cul-de-sac and it seemed to be the place where every kid in the neighborhood came to play. I’m really glad we had that house when the kids were younger.

  4. every one of us have a story to tell about life and things, but all we can hope is a happy ending.Hope this guy had some happy things and stuff in his life.

    But Kitty be carefull, in India we had a thing like, if a person dies before his turn [like commmiting suicide], then he wont be allowed to Heaven or Hell, he[atma/soul] will still be around there somewhere. šŸ™‚ just kidding

    regards,
    kumar.

    • Kumar,
      Every time I talked to the guy he had the brightest smile, really friendly. I’d have never guessed things were going to end up this way for him.
      His wife and children have already moved out, gone to another state. Hope it is near some family members.

  5. Kitty,

    We have large distances between homes in my rural home. This wonderful piece reiterated what I’ve always thought when people tell me they’d be scared to live so far out, no neighbors to help–I always think that the distances between people is emotional not physical. We build our own fences.

  6. Oh, what a powerful story.

    Growing up our yard blended into our neighbours, and kids tramped along between them. It was rather lovely. I wish there was more of that where I am now.

    • Thank you Quadelle.
      While growing up the only divisions I can remember were hedges. Oh boy were those fun, we used to make camps inside those things.

  7. Thanks so much Schmutzie, what an honor. And what a great site you have over there, I just discovered it a couple of weeks ago.
    Thank you thank you thank you.

  8. Hi Vapid Blonde, I keep thinking that one of us, either Dan or I might have had a chance to change things if we’d taken advantage of the fact that I was outside of my fortress and he was right there with the door open. For weeks. And it has never been like that at any other time.

    I tend to think that people who live in this neighborhood have everything they need. I’m so wrong about that.

    • Those thoughts are always the hardest…the what if’s. But I also think that if he wasn’t set on it, he would have reached out some how, sometimes there is nothing that could have been done I guess.

  9. Oh, Kitty, what a shock. And what a sad story.

    My neighborhood doesn’t have fences, but we might as well. We live in a rural, wooded area, and the houses are far apart. I have lived here 10 years and wouldn’t know most of my neighbors if I bumped into them at the store. We appreciate having our space and our privacy, but I find myself wishing that we were part of a community.

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