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The Neighborhood

By , Brookfield, WI
I sit under my tree and watch. I’ve been watching for years. No one cares.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Joey is outside. I can tell without looking that he’s kicking a soccer ball against a closed garage door. He’s been kicking things against that garage door for years. His parents don’t care. Mine would kill me if I kicked things against any part of the house.

In a few minutes, I know, Mr. Gopal will come out to mow his lawn. The Gopals are an Indian couple that has lived across the street from us for forever. I mean it. Even the neighborhood council or whatever can’t remember Liberty Highlands without the Gopals. They’re the most boring neighbors. They don’t talk to anyone, don’t have parties, don’t come to the block cookouts in the summertime. I don’t know what they do or if they have kids or pets. I like to imagine what their lives are like. Maybe Mr. Gopal works for the CIA. Or maybe he collects rare tropical fish and his living room is walled by floor-to-ceiling tanks. But I know the reality is probably something a whole lot duller. I mean, even when Bangladesh beat India in the Cricket World Cup, and Dad put up the Bangladeshi flag near our mailbox, the Gopals were indifferent. Mr. Gopal just mows the lawn and rakes leaves, and his wife waters the flowers. She has the neatest garden on our street, but Mr. Gopal’s wife always has a pinched, sour look on her face. I always think being around her sweet flowers should loosen her up.

With a shriek, two little blond kids burst out of the big house on the corner. Their family is new and young. Only moved in last year. They have a Great Dane who has had six puppies, four girls and two boys. I know this because the little blond kids are very chatty and will talk the ears off anyone within a ten-foot radius.

Down the street is Terry Black’s house. Someone else lives there now, but to me it will always be Terry Black's house. He moved to Seattle. Everyone loved him. He was British and had brown eyes and was a gentleman to girls even when we were little and Joey and Adam went through their “girls are yucky” phase and wouldn’t let me play soccer. He was always up for a squirt gun fight or capture-the-flag. His big sister taught us all the swear words she knew – and she knew a lot.

A few streets over is Annie Ender’s old house. She moved, too. I practically lived at her house over the summer, since we were the only girls in the neighborhood who went to the independent private school rather than Hillside like Joey and Adam and Terry and everyone else. I remember the new mailbox the Enders got when the old one was smashed by a pumpkin on Halloween. The new one had geese and ducks on it. That’s what we’d tell the bus driver at the beginning of every school year – “Look for the house with the mailbox with ducks on it.” I remember I’d always bring some pocket change in case the ice cream truck came by. I’d get a Choco Taco. Best in the world, those Choco Tacos. Somehow it tasted better if I was sitting on a hot plastic slide wearing cutoff shorts and with splinters in my bare feet. I’m sure you know what I mean.

Now an elderly Chinese couple lives in Annie’s house, and today a new family’s moving into Terry’s place. Looks like a girl my age and two younger boys. Me, always watching from underneath my tree, I thought I noticed everything. But somehow…right now…I feel like I’ve missed something. Is it possible to look at something so hard you forget what it’s supposed to be?

Thump. Thump. CRASH. I close my eyes but don’t move.

Footsteps coming up to my tree. Without looking I know they’re size seven Nike soccer cleats. A rolling ball hits my leg. “Whatcha starin’ at?”

“The past, present, and future.” A little melodrama suits me at the moment. And no one can say I lied.

Joey knows me enough to take it in stride. “Wanna play some soccer?”

I wrench my gaze away from the past, from the patchwork of people and stories that have made up my life here. I look up into the eyes of one piece of that past. Part of my past, but still right here in my present. Here for the future.

Yeah, maybe I did miss something.

“Let’s play.”





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