Realization came slowly, like it sometimes does, like it had for him, I found out later. At the front door, on the sidewalk that connects our two apartments, with a frozen puddle in the late winter that hadn’t been cracked, not a footprint did I see – I noticed that first. Working later in the day and taking the bus this winter, I just hadn’t gone that way as much, so I didn’t know for how long, but the next day it all melted away.
Then one day a few weeks ago, maybe 3, I was off to a walk in clinic to check my lower back, get a note for a couple days I took off, and it was morning, had a bus to catch and out of the corner of my eye as I was walking by I saw the sign on the door for not smoking due to oxygen – I knew that sign, had seen that on our door when mom came home for the last time.
Then I started to see his daughters, coming in, going out, coming in, going out, one of them at least once a day. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t go over, I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what to do, my shyness, my reserve, I felt unsure.
I first met him that first week after I moved here, after I’d come home after Tim’s death, and this was me starting over, and there he was not a couple days after I moved in introducing himself, saying to not hesitate to drop in, any time if I needed anything, he was tall and lanky with shaggy gray hair to the tip of his neck, slicked back at the sides, sea blue eyes from a weathered face and a beautiful sunshiny Irish lilt. And in those days, weeks, that whole first year there were times when he was the only friendly face I saw, in that lonely time of starting over, and I’d say howdy neighbour, and smile, some days, weeks, months, he was the only one who saw me smile.
He was always positive, always, a hiho and on his way he would go, leaving me with that smile on my face, sitting on my stoop, feeling much better than I had moments before.
People such as him are rare gifts, bringing little pockets of joy on a drizzly mind, refreshing.
Irish would dance and paw the air, moaning in ecstasy if he came over to give her a pat, a belly rub, lapping it up.
The first time she tried to hump his leg, I told him “we call that Irish hugs”, which is what it is in a nutshell, her way of passive-aggressively expounding on her immense joy at any, well, most, humans, any human, as she loves humans, well, again, loves most.
And oh yes, she loved my neighbour Denis. Frankly, everyone did, he was a fixture in the building and has been here longer than any of us.
He retired the year after I arrived, and spent most summers down at the lake in his trailer, so I would have the whole area to myself all summer long.
I should have knocked, I should have tried, I should have, but I didn’t want to pry, didn’t want to see him turn away, didn’t want to impose, to ask his daughters what was up.
Having our front doors as close as they are, I wanted privacy, and so I extend that to assume others do as well, and I know he was private, and I know he appreciated that.
It was only at the last that I spoke to his daughters, when they came over to ask if he could share my wifi, we had spoke of it last summer but nothing came of it, so I had forgotten. So I gave her the codes, my phone#, of course, of course, and so he had something to do with himself.
But I still didn’t know why, felt shy to ask.
Late last week though I met his daughter out on the sidewalk, tears running down her face, and I knew what I had known in my heart all along, and so what she told me was not surprising, but it was surprising, and it was the two of us locked in a hug crying together.
She said he was dying and wouldn’t probably make it the night. Yet he did, he made it to the next, and died in hospital this last Saturday.
A mutual good friend, after I had told her the news left a note in his door the next day, to call us to let us know. His daughter told me it was cancer, they had only known for 3 weeks, gone from his lungs to his brain, just like with mom, a mercifully short and emotionally brutal death.
Why didn’t I think of leaving a note? Well, introvert that I am, never crossed my mind.
So I went outside just now, looked over at the tidying they had done outside, stacking his chairs just so, the planters, and tears came to my eyes. I saw his daughters car in the parking lot, and the door open just before I went to work yesterday, saw she was cleaning out his stuff.
It won’t be the same this year, no meeting him out on my stoop, Irish dancing to greet him, and that Irish lilt, of joy and how happy he was to meet another day; no, not the same at all.
Strangely, mystically, a month before Tim died there was a double rainbow and I photographed it and actually sent it in to TV London, and they showed it on the evening news – I had family and friends message me afterwards on Facebook that they had seen it – that was when I was still up at Irish Lake, in 2012.
Well, and guess what I saw last month, a month to the day.
Day off today, this sunshiny day, bought incense at the place down the way, Heaven Scent, and popped in to the grocery store to buy something for lunch, and some roses, the little sticker on the wrapper calls “Ocean Mikado”, to brighten my day.
After a walk at the coves, later this afternoon I’ll sit on my stoop, and watch the day go by, and remember my first friend who brightened all those lonely first days, and remembered joy.