Our neighbor, Stu, died last Friday. He lived about four houses away from us on the other side of the block. I didn't know him all that well, we saw each other now and then and always visited at summer block parties.
I knew his wife, Clara, a bit better. She and I always seem to run into each other at the local grocery store. It happens so often that we joke that we should stop meeting like this. She and I will stop briefly in the aisle and catch up, doing that annoying thing, that cluttering up the aisle while people are milling around us. Clara has been telling me for the last year that Stu, newly retired, has been driving her nuts. The last time I saw her, she told me that she had been bugging him about tilling her soil in her back yard so that she could get her garden in.
He is such a slow poke! I swear that every time I come home from work, he is sitting in that lazy boy watching Jeopardy! I told him that if he wasn't at least going to earn his keep by doing laundry, he could get his tush outside and get my soil tilled...
Friday, that is where Stu died. Their back yard is very secluded with a high wooden fence and she came home from her nursing job to find him dead in the back yard, half of her garden tilled.
I imagine that she will torment herself for a long time about bitching about getting that garden in....
This is what I knew about Stu:
He was a republican. He told me so at every block party. He was a big Huckabee supporter, if I recall correctly.
He was an architect and just retired last year.
He was ten years older than his wife and they have one son. His daughter in law died when the twin towers came down and his son came and lived with them for several months until he was able to pick up the pieces of his life again. He couldn't stand to move back to New York, so took a job in Texas instead. When I heard that his daughter in law died, I brought a pineapple upside down cake over to his house, balancing two year old Liv on one hip. When no one answered my knock on the door, I went to go around to their back yard to leave it on their porch and found him sitting by himself in the back yard at their picnic table, staring at nothing. I set the cake down carefully and asked him if I could join him. He nodded and when he looked up at me, I saw his face streaked with tears and almost lost it. Liv pointed at him and said, "Sad. Man is sad."
Yes, he told her. The man is very sad.
We sat for a short while and I rubbed his hand a few times, gently. I told him I was so very sorry and he thanked me. Then he said, "I am so glad I am a republican, because democrats would just be wishy washy about catching those bastards. Republicans will find them and punish them..."
I didn't say anything, just nodded. He didn't need me to argue with him that day.
Stu was a heavy smoker. He was the one who was always standing off to the side of parties, unable to go more than an hour without a cigarette. His wife would sigh and say, "Those things are going to kill you, Stu..."
She will probably feel guilty for saying that too now.
Once, at a neighborhood barbeque, he told a joke that started out, "Two fags were sitting in a bar...." and then he trailed off when he saw me start to get up to leave. I don't think he was really a bigot, though....just sort of uneducated and like many people, not aware that we queers are everywhere. He must have known that I was a lesbian, though, because he stopped himself and blushed...looked away and then got up to grab another beer.
That is all I really know about Stu. I know that Clara said that he didn't like being retired and that he often had insomnia now. I know that he kept their Lincoln town car as clean as a whistle.
But, I will miss Stu. It bothers me to know that he died so close to me and I didn't sense it, I feel as if I should have sensed it or something, like a disturbance in the force...
When I told Liv he had died, she said, "Once when I was doing cartwheels in the front yard with Sven, Stu was driving by and he rolled down his window and told me good job.
We are going to the wake tonight and the funeral tomorrow, so I will see Clara and his son. Bing is coming home early from school today to bake a loaf of poppyseed almond bread. That is what we do here on the prairie, we load up the kitchens of the survivors with food that they probably won't eat.
But, I dunno....you want to do something and food feels basic, feels right.
Goodbye, Stu. I know that you and your wife went to the Catholic church up the street. I hope that your suffering was minimal and that heaven is just what you hoped for.
You seemed like a nice man. I'm sorry that you didn't get to enjoy more of your retirement. As deaths go...I rather hope that I die like you did, in a freshly tilled garden on a beautiful Spring day. I hope you got a chance to look up at the sky and say goodbye to your life.
I know that Clara will miss coming home and hearing the theme from Jeopardy!
Because, yeah...it is those little things that make your throat close up with pain, not the big ones.
See you on the flip side, Stu.....