Bernard and Me

I like every Thursday. Every other Thursday it’s either a pay week or time to recycle. I get paid very little as an adjunct instructor at a community college, so recycling is like paying back to an entity much larger than me. Money is money, but it feels humbling and rewarding to know that my refuse might actually do the world a little bit of good down the line.
Even when it’s a little nippy outside, I like putting out the recyclables. Garbage is garbage. I try to create as little of it as possible, but in the Western world, I am as guilty a consumer as anyone else.
It’s getting nippy, brisk. “Downright cold” as Mom would say. I know I’m going back inside to a warm house to watch all of the weak East Coast NBA teams, drink a little box wine Chardonnay and smoke the last of my American Spirit all natural cigs. I can stand the cold for a minute. This Thursday is good and next Thursday I get paid.
Thanksgiving falls on Thursday. Intuitively I should know that, but I can’t remember how many days there are in a particular month. I just know that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday some time deep in the month of November. Beyond those vague points of reference, I’m improvising.
After this past Thanksgiving dinner I took a break from my family to walk around in the back yard. God, I hadn’t lived here for so long that every time I walked in the yard it was like an adventure or a return to some life-changing event from the past. Learning to ride a bike, seeing my neighbor slaughter a chicken. Watching from inside the safety of our rickety fence, knife fights, dog fights, boyfriend/girlfriend fights. Watching the blazing fire engines rip down the street to rescue somebody else. I was always grateful that it was somebody else and I would be sure to pray for them.
A ton of memories, good times and bruises. Boxing under the dogwood tree with untrained losers. That’s where Dad had set up the big punching bag and the speed bag to teach my brother and me how to defend ourselves and burn off some energy. The chains are still there, just rusted. Folks could peer into the yard and watch Dad and his two boys going at it. Sparring, jabbing, my brother and I slipping in the mud so that we could avoid a hard punch. Dogs and cats running around, free to slip through the holes in our fence and over time come back as proud new parents of a new breed. Once they crossed that line they were banished from the house. The dogs and cats would be fed and wherever they decided to settle on the estate was fine. They just weren’t allowed in the house any more.
Our house sits on the corner and the yard is situated between two neighbors. One to the East and the other to the North. We share a new chain link fence with both of them. But our neighbors from the East can look directly into our yard as we can into theirs. We’re friendly towards one another. Asking permission to cut down branches that straddle both properties, hobnobbing about the most basic and least intrusive stuff you can so as not to get into anyone else’s business. The neighbors to the North are fine. Bernard is the only person who lives there now. His father, a city cop, died a long time ago and his Mom recently fought a tough battle with cancer and lost. Bernard’s siblings live nearby, but they have their own separate lives and don’t care much about their childhood home or Bernard. With Bernard, it is strictly “hi” and “see ya” with an occasional inquiry about some elder or sibling who hasn’t been seen in a good while. Distance is maintained on both sides, and that’s fine with both sides.
A non-pay Thursday, but there is recycling coming up after this Thanksgiving and that is a good thing.
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I look out of my window a lot. My bedroom window faces North. This used to be my sisters’ bedroom. Three girls in a room, one bunk, yet one was always in the same bed with another because they were sharing secrets. Afraid of the thunder. Warmth.
I’m looking for my Northern neighbor Bernard, one of the kids in the family across the fence that I knew the least. The “hi” & “see ya” neighbor. I want to see if he’s found the wood or the cardboard boxes that I left him to put into his wood-burning stove. Did I take over a meal to him today? Does he eat ham? Thanksgiving is over, but people still need to eat. Did I make the right decision in asking Social Services to come check on him?
One of his older brothers has just arrived. He left the car running. Is he going to bring him food or take him away? Where would “away” be for a middle-aged man that can’t take care of himself? I’m not sure that I can take care of myself although presumably I’m here to take care of my retired Mom. She doesn’t drive; Dad has long been deceased. I needed to leave New York. Home wasn’t the first stop I had in mind, but I needed to leave New York. I didn’t drive there except for a few times to move a car that one of my friends had rented. Just moving it to the other side of the street so that the meter maids didn’t score an easy one. Not driving anywhere. The older brother has just left. Alone. He’s going somewhere. Maybe away.
Bernard, my neighbor to the North, is out chopping wood with the hatchet I lent him. I bought a hatchet at a yard sale from someone around the corner. A “neighbor” that I had never met. Bernard has to swing with all of his might because the hatchet has a short handle. I wonder if that’s wood that I found by the graveyard and threw in my trunk or if he was industrious enough to scavenge for himself. Either way, he’ll be warm tonight. In that middle distance between Thanksgiving and Christmas where coldness starts to establish itself. Long before the official commencement of winter gets here, it will be cold.