My former neighbor’s weeds were knee-high.
I can’t even describe to you how much my neighbor, the psychotic old woman who harassed us for seven years, valued a tidy lawn. She used to stim back and forth over the same patch of grass for an hour with her mower, complaining, cursing, calling us names for not doing the same. She had the stuffiest flowers in planters all over her yard all the while she despised us for having a vegetable garden. I’ve written pages and pages about how bad the abuse got. She’s either dead or in the last stages of hospice now, and we’re free. I’ve been watching those weeds grow in her planter, and I’m afraid I’ve been watching them with vindictive satisfaction.
I finished my own gardening and checked on the sunflowers. They are growing by leaps and bounds. I can’t wait until they open. I went back in to cool off in the air conditioning, but I hadn’t been there more than a minute before there was a knock at the front door.
It was my other neighbor, Jimmy from three houses down, the hero who fixed my car for a tenth of what it would’ve cost me in a real mechanic’s shop. He was holding a red gasoline can.
“Can I give you a few dollars and you bring me a little gas?” he asked.
“I’ll just take you to get it,” I said, and ran to get my keys.
The car ran beautifully, like skating on the purest ice. It ran smoothly before but not like this. Thanks to Jimmy, it feels brand new. Every so often there’d be the tiniest break in the smoothness, a bump I barely felt because I’m used to the borrowed car which was a convulsing, vibrating disaster. Jimmy said “that’s the motor mounts. The torque strap I put in is acting as a motor mount right now, but as soon as you can afford ’em, I’ll order new mounts and put them in. The most important ones are the two dog bone mounts for the motor, but I usually put in the transmission mount at the same time.”
I said I’d seen them on Amazon for eighty dollars and two day shipping, and he said he could get them for sixty on Ebay if we could pay him. He didn’t have a penny to spare just now or he’d go ahead and order them and let us pay him back. I promised to get him the money soon as we had it.
We chatted about cars all the way out to Kroger, and then when he found that the Kroger pumps were down for a few minutes we chatted all the way out to Speedway. We chatted about the repairs he’d done. He told me I was lucky the car had stopped running when it did, or I’d have been liable to fritz out the whole computer, a very pricey fix. “It could be the other guy was drunk,” he said, referring to the mess the Lost Girl’s family had made of my car. “Maybe he just didn’t know what he was doing.”
I said I’d never know exactly what they did, how much was incompetence and how much was deliberately cheating me, how much the Lost Girl really knew and how much they duped her too. I was just trying not to think about it because it upset me so much. “When the car stopped running again… she claimed her uncle said I needed a new output sensor.”
“I’m not even sure what an output sensor is,” said Jimmy. And then he talked about every kind of sensor that the Lost Girl might have meant. Cars have more sensors than I can conceive of. Humans have five senses and cars have a dozen at least.
Speedway is high up the hill, on the side of the unassuming Steubenville street known as Sunset Boulevard. After we filled the can with gas, I drove back down through the humble Appalachian neighborhood known as Hollywood Addition so that I wouldn’t have to make a left turn. As we cruised through Hollywood Addition, he talked even more. He explained that the old jeep he used to drive was in his old uncle’s name but his uncle had let him drive it. His uncle had gotten a terrible form of cancer and died within weeks of his diagnosis. Since the car wasn’t legally his, it became one of the things in his uncle’s estate, and he lost it. That was why he didn’t have a car now. Now that his partner had lost her job at the market, they were terribly tight on money and he didn’t know where he’d get another car. If he could just get a junk car for a few hundred someday, he was sure he could rebuild it from parts as he’d rebuilt my car. He’d almost gotten most of a totaled Nissan for five hundred dollars, but he’d have needed another five hundred just to transport it back to his house so he could make it run.
I thought of that dented black Jeep with the cinder blocks behind the tires and the colorful Pokemon stickers on the back. It had been in front of his house for more than a year, and one day it wasn’t anymore.
I wished, for the hundredth or the thousandth time, that I was rich. I usually wish that for selfish reasons. Just then, I wished it so that I could surprise Jimmy with a shiny new jeep. But of course, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even afford to buy the gas for his red gas can.
I dropped him off at his place, and went back to mine.
He filled his lawnmower with the gas he’d gotten, and got to work.
I listened to his mower going up and down the block: mowing for the rental house next to him and for the neighbor on the other side. They pay him for that– the mowing and the backyard car repairs and odd jobs around the neighborhood are his family’s only income just at the moment. I don’t know how they keep soul and body together.
After he finished with his paying customers, I listened to him mow our yard. He always does that when he’s doing his rounds. We can’t afford to pay him every time, but he still does it without being asked. He knows we’re as poor as he is and don’t have our own mower. Then I listened to him mow our menacing neighbor’s yard. She used to pay him to do that, the last year that she was alive, after she got too ill to mow the lawn herself. Now nobody pays him, because nobody lives in that house anymore. But he still mows it.
When I came out to water my garden, I found that he’d taken a moment to pull the weeds from her planter as well.
I thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the question of who is really your neighbor.
This isn’t a good or a just world, but there are good and just people in it.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy