The Dark Window

Yesterday our next door neighbors moved.  Not far — just about six blocks away, but still, they moved.  And this makes me sad.  Sigh.  Wah.  Sigh.

The move for them is a fantastic thing.  I get that and am so happy for them.  There is a great school just a few doors down from their new home and no morning drop-off commute is a Godsend with little ones.  There is a house instead of an apartment building.  There is the ability to stay in the same neighborhood, which we all love.  Such good things.

But here I am, still sad.  It’s so selfish and I completely own that.

When you live in Chicago, you get to know a lot about your neighbors, whether you want to or not.  There is the “Bird Lady” across the way that shouts at anyone who barbecues in the summer — the smoke is not good for her feathered babies.  There is the scrap dealer across the alley who precariously stacks the back of his pickup with found metallic treasures.  There are the little kids who help their Dad wash his cab in the warm months.  He keeps a very clean cab.

The gal that lived next door to us was quiet and kept her curtains closed all the time.  She was probably sick of seeing us.  We have sliding patio doors in our dining room that lead to our deck and just opposite the large picture window of the neighboring dining room.  We never got around to getting window treatments as we didn’t see the point.  We love the light and to see the plants on our deck.  Her curtains and windows were closed at all times.  She was very pleasant whenever I ran into her in the alley, but a quick hello and wave was as far as we got.

When she moved, I was not sad.  I didn’t know her.

Soon after, spring arrived on the heels of a long Chicago winter.  Windows and patio doors were opened to air out the remnants of the shuttered months.  We noticed lights across the way and speculated that someone would move next door soon.  Sure enough they did.  Our new neighbors.

They looked nice.  We knew this because, like us, they opted out of window coverings.  There were children, there was laughter, there was mom and dad.  A lot like us.

Soon, with the warm months and the open windows, we heard and spied more and more of one another.  They spoke French.  Oui, il est vrai.  If you’re like me and grew up in the Midwest and never lived anywhere else, the French language is romantic and exotic and beautiful, even when it only involves admonishing a toddler.  I joked with my husband that the neighbors were so French they were from France.  Ooh la la.

The ice broke one early summer day when I was out on the deck and the lady opened her dining room window to say hello.  We introduced ourselves and shared the happy coincidence that we had sons close in age.  I noticed she was pregnant.  Hooray!  She admired my window boxes. We were friendly.

Soon after, we spotted one another at the local mall and chatted while our boys played.  She was nice and sweet.  I liked her.

Before you knew it, we were friends.  Everybody liked everybody else.  How often does that happen?  They were a happy, boisterous family, full of life and love.  We would wave to one another from our respective dining rooms, the missing curtains nurturing our budding friendship.  They welcomed a new baby.  Our boys celebrated at one another’s birthday parties.  They joined our family for new American customs like Thanksgiving dinners and Halloween trick-or-treating.

It was lovely.

There is a comfort to knowing and trusting your neighbors.  She taught me how to roast a chicken properly and our husbands enjoyed Maloort together.  If there was some sort of emergency or need, we watched one another’s kids with short notice and it was nothing to ask or be asked.  I would pick up a gallon of milk for her or she would loan me an egg.  Easy.  They were curious about Donna and didn’t shy away from our sadness.  They cheered us on through our adoption and listened when we had doubts or concerns.

How lucky we’ve been.

They moved yesterday and the windows are dark.  Their parking spot is empty.  I miss them already and feel, I think, disproportionately sad at their leaving, especially considering it would take me ten minutes to walk to their new home.

Gone is the sharing of the early morning hustle and bustle, getting our kids out of the house on time for school.  Even when I didn’t see them, I saw their lights and felt the solidarity of raising kids together.  I will miss the spontaneous summer evenings spent sipping something cool on their patio while our kids played nearby, laughing happily and always finding mischief.

We have witnessed and supported one another in our day-to-day lives of raising kids in loving homes these past two years.

It turns out, that is quite intimate.

Oui, how lucky we’ve been, vraiment.  

Ignore the apple in plastic bag so prominently displayed on our deck table.  That is one of our numerous Polar Vortex science experiments.
Ignore the apple in plastic bag so prominently displayed on our deck table. That is one of our numerous Polar Vortex science experiments.

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