I know my neighbors now a little bit better than before.
I bike to parks with my daughter. The way she squats down with such ease to inspect a stone or insect on the ground, the grace of her body, always startles me as much as the keenness of her eye: a spider treading leg upon leg across the dusty path, a drop of black-speckled red limning a strand of long, yellow parted grass. People do not say hello here. Still, there are birds crying out with strange calls—I never listened to them before. Seabirds, crows, and ones darting and slender for which I do not have a name, but I’m looking at them now, my neighbors.
Ell brings home a tomato plant. Mary lived in my house before I did, and maybe died in it: it’s upon her line I hang the washed diapers to dry. On the other side of the fence, which I can see when I sit at the top of my stairs to drink a cup of wine with Aku on her facing steps, I see the neighbors’ squash plants blooming, my neighbor with the friendly dog and the pigtails sitting at the picnic table and drinking a cup of tea. We don’t know each other’s names, but we say hello now and stop to chat from our respective yards or when we pass each other on the street. On the other side of the other fence, a firefighter from the station next door throws me a big-hearted wave and jokingly asks me to join him on his run. Laura talks to me from her front steps: The baby came early, but he’s okay, they named him after a river. On a windy day, a letter to mail gets snatched out of my hand and a man goes chasing it for me down the street. The cashier calls me honey when she gives me my change. I give my dad a hug, wearing a mask, turning my face away from him.
These are the most terrible days I have lived through, disaster following on the heels of disaster, short bursts of emergency punctuating the long one at a pace that leaves me breathless. In the shock, in the fear of it, some things take on a new clarity: I am paying attention.
Rhea in the park: “I’m scared too. But I got you. I know you got me.” Her two-year-old wanders over to the garden, separated from the park by a wire fence; from the other side of the fence, a woman hands him down an enormous sunflower, whose face is bigger than his. In the evenings, children take turns on the swing the neighbor tied up for them; sometimes, I see grownups too, tipping their legs into the sky, laughing.
Will everything be alright, like I tell my daughter when she’s crying? I don’t know. I don’t believe in much right now. I don’t believe in much more than the beauty, grace, and kindness of my neighbors.