We sat around the bonfire, my neighbors and me, socially distancing on a cool Saturday night. There were some missing, for one reason or another, and others I hadn’t seen in a while. I came with Barkley as he seems to have become my accessory as of late, or a love to hold onto.
I sat around, staring into the hypnotic flames, while the wind blew smoke my way, then changed directions with each light breeze. Conversations floated around about television shows, ancestors, kids, dogs, any and all things friends talk about with the ease and comfort twenty-five years. I was quiet. I knew I was. I was not feeling like my usual self. I had been battling a sinus headache -thank you very much allergies – and feeling a pit in my stomach grow from the minute Barkley and I walked across the street toward the fire.
I love my neighbors. With every part of me, I love them. Many friends and family marvel in the uniqueness of our bond. Our kids grew up on a block where they were protected and cared for. The ladies held wine clubs, I mean, book clubs. We celebrated the holidays with a traveling hors d’oeuvre party, whre each household presented food, drink and led us in a carol. And we had block parties, one big celebration of being neighbors and friends. The events eventually stopped as the kids got older and move out on their own. But we, the couples, remained close. We, the couples, still met outside on driveways on warm nights, or inside for the Super Bowl during the bitter cold
Then, one of us unexpectedly died, and it stunned us all. He was the one everyone liked, truly liked. The one who was kind and giving and even though he had he quiet ways, he took the time to talk to neighbors when he one of them neighbor weeding or as he drove or jumped into help when he needed to. Then, he died. Then, Peter died, and the block changed, at least for me.
Yesterday, as I sat around the bonfire, the second such fire since COVID, and the conversation swirled around the firefly embers, an emptiness grew inside of me, draining away all the restrain I had in me to hold it together. It was going to be another evening with neighbors, but without Peter. I ached for him, to be a couple again.
All my neighbors are couples. We were couple friends. While friendships developed independently, there was always a recognition of the spouse. We could ‘t see one without asking about the other. Every conversation weaved back to the partner of the other in small and big ways. It did because we were intermingled. It did because part of our identification was the other. And it did because our friendships formed and grew and attached as couples.
Sure, over the years, there were a few divorces and some moved, replaced by another couple. As a single person now myself, I kind of understand why they didn’t stay, they couldn’t stay. I’m sure, in part, it had to do with selling the house to split the finances, but I also think there is a pain in remembering what once was, in those better days.
It’s a pain I felt so strongly last night, I left with an abrupt, “I am going to leave now”, after only forty minutes. It’s a pain I struggled to hold in until I crossed the street and the ugly cry of sobs began. It’s the pain I tried to release through twenty minutes in the emptiness of the house where we became part of the neighbors, a cry that scared the hell out of Barkley. It’s the pain I don’t know how to compartmentalize yet, and fear I will always hold on to when I am with my beloved neighbors. And it’s the pain where I texted my sister-friends so I could reach out to someone in the midst of it all before it became too much, and still, it became all too much.
I love my neighbors. I love them the way you love the people who have formed you and gave you more than you ever expected. While I have lived in the pit of this dark hell, my neighbors were among those holding flashlights above me, helping find a way up. There are no words to describe how blessed and loved I feel for the past we shared, and the present they have supported. And I know, my present and my future with the neighbors will not include Peter. And, sometimes, that makes it a bit too painful to sit around a bonfire.