The crunch of gravel under his tires.
The clinking-gurgling-car-winding-down noises once he kills the ignition.
The heel-toe, heel-toe, of exhausted steps — just one set — up to the house.
The jingling of keys while he fumbles in the dark for the door.
The usually-barely-audible-but-suddenly-deafening whirr of microscopic fans in household electronics.
Bryan stayed home sick Tuesday while I was here at work. We were talking on the phone, when suddenly the dogs (ohbtw, we got another one) started barking like crazy and I heard sirens. He said, "I have to go."
The two of us are, by 20 years or so, the youngest residents on the eastern end of our long block. Most others are in various stages of retirement, or have crazy 12-hour/3-day schedules. And Bry was home, battling a cold.
So I was the only one not around when the fire trucks and ambulances came for Bonnie, our next-door neighbor who, days after we moved in, brought over a tray of brownies. Then a little while after that, Girl Scout cookies (she's been a troop leader for almost 30 years, you know). Then just last week she and I spent an hour talking through the fence about camping, baseball and my hated (HATED) maple seedlings.
Don't worry: Bonnie's fine, or will be soon. Apparently, she had some kind of scary episode related to her diabetes (and probably not helped by the heat, now that I think about it), and was taken to a hospital. According to Bry, the crazily-scheduled-chemical-plant-worker-neighbors along our other fence drove Bonnie's husband, Jim, to the hospital.
I got home around 7, and Jim's car was gone. When I walked the dogs sometime well after midnight, it was back in its spot in front of their house. A desk lamp was on in the living room, but the house was otherwise dark.
With startling immediacy and emotion, that scene brought me back to October 2004. My husband of five weeks was in a coma after a car accident that killed his three friends. I knew he was in great hands at the hospital — not that there's a whole lot you can do for someone in a coma, most of the time, other than wait. His sister, whom I adore to this day, had flown in from Connecticut. His mom and aunt, too. After the first day or two, time spent at the hospital was actually not so painful — tons of friends brought food, the nurses and doctors were exceptionally brilliant and kind, and his corner ICU room had a killer view of the Salt Lake Valley and southern Wasatch Front. And a former coworker was running the 24-hour Starbucks in the hospital lobby — there were substantial discounts. Honestly, time at the hospital was OK.
Then I'd go home.
I only lost it one time, around 2 a.m. while waiting for the light at Foothill Drive and Sunnyside. That was the only time I wondered why... And the tough-girl side of me is inclined to chalk up that instance to sleep deprivation, nothing more.
But going home night after late night — alone — was truly awful. I hadn't reflected on it much over the years, not until I saw the little lamp glowing next door. The silence was the worst. The incidental noises and rustlings that I'd not noticed through two years of daily life with M — they were gone. It was like stepping into a place where time had stopped. M wasn't at work. He wasn't traveling. There would be no greeting, welcoming, door-opening. Not for a while, anyway.
Like Bonnie, M is pretty much fine these days. We talk a couple of times a month; he just got a full-time job (essentially, one identical to the one he had planned to start a week after the accident). He's dated a few people, but mostly hangs out with
But walking in the door to silence... I think that fundamentally altered me, on some microcellular-subconscious-something level.
So I couldn't help but feel for my neighbor, Jim, knowing that he came home — alone — Tuesday night. I guess I'm a little worried about the guy: She has always seemed to be the sturdy one, the one who deals with people well. Oh, he and Bonnie aren't frail or anything, and they have lots of family and friends that will help with anything they need. But I couldn't ignore my visceral reaction to the scene. And it has stuck with me for days.
So I ask those reading this to keep Jim (and Bonnie too, I suppose, though I'm less worried about her) in their thoughts or prayers or good vibes sent into the ether as teeth are brushed in the morning. Because I really want him to be fine.