Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Won't you be my neighbor?

My elderly neighbor fell this morning. I worry about Mrs. P. a lot, for many reasons. Her husband died last year, so she's alone. Tom cuts her grass and shovels her snow, for which she forces money on him. He has tried to decline it many times, but you really can't argue with this woman. Not because she's a sweet granny type, but because she will yell and curse at you and never let you near her again if you don't go along with her. I don't know what her diagnosis is, but suffice to say that she is just not quite right in the head. Many years back she 'went off her meds' according to neighborhood lore, and had to be tackled by the police and taken in. She seems pretty 'even' these days, so I'm guessing she is medicated.

Our next-door neighbor John made the mistake of using her driveway once to turn his truck around. She came flying out of the house screaming at him. Needless to say, there's no love loss there. The neighbors on one side of her, who are like family to us, are not allowed to interact with her. She has complained to the police because their plants grew onto her property and when Mr. Q had an RV parked in front of the house. They themselves are not much younger than Mrs. P. and the ambulance has come to their door many times in the years we've lived here. Tom also does grass/snow duty for them, and they spoil our kids at holidays. Mrs. Q especially has many health problems and I've lost count of her hospital stays. So I do a lot of minding my Ps and Qs (see what I did there?) and making sure that they're all okay.

Mrs. P. minds her own business, and I mind mine, so I have never really interacted with her. I watch her from a safe distance. I'm not afraid of angering her, but since Tom has a good relationship with her, and she trusts him, I don't want to risk that. Her children don't come around too often, so I want Tom to be able to check on her. We can go days or a week without seeing her at all. I can sometimes spot her in the early morning out in her yard, doing some gardening. And by gardening, I mean trimming the grass with scissors. So when I was driving A to school at 7:30 and saw her sitting on the grass with her shoes off, I didn't think all that much of it. I waved and she waved back. I did have it in my mind to check on my way back and be sure that she was okay, but based on all previous behavior, I wasn't worried.

So as I'm coming down the street I can see her still sitting in the grass, with several neighbors around her, trying to help her up. I debated going over after I parked my car, but there were already four people there, and I didn't want to tick her off by making it into a production. I watched for a while from my doorway, as they tried using a step ladder, and then a spackle bucket, to give her something to get onto. The men would hold her arms and try to help her with no success. Mr. Q was outside getting his newspaper when he saw what was going on. He had his phone and walked over to see if he could help. He had the phone up to his ear, and I could hear her yelling at him to stop trying to be nice to her and go get his own *bleep* ambulance. He's not that much less stubborn than she is, so he did call. I'm not sure if he did it to be nice or just to spite her, but they came either way. I said to myself, 'This will be good' as the EMTs got out. One was talking to her while the other was getting the stretcher out. More yelling, now about how he could put that right back because she was fine and didn't need to go anywhere. I could see frustrated hand gestures from the one guy, who was clearly trying to reason with her. About five minutes later the ambulance was gone. Shortly after that they finally got her up enough so that she could sit on the spackle bucket. I keep going back to the window to check, and last time I looked she was sitting on a chair by her front door.

I was wondering how I could wrap this up, preferably with something philosophical and profound. But I think that really, all I can say is that as nutty as we think this woman is, any one of us could be her. If you alienate enough people, and insist that you don't need anyone's help, you will eventually be alone and cursing at people in your yard. I personally HATE to ask for help, but I make myself do it sometimes. Half of that is pride and the other half is based on experiences where I simply couldn't count on people. I know I need to be better at that, because I don't want to be sitting in the wet grass fifty years from now, acting like I don't need anyone's help.

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