by Chris Hibbard
They watched us move in, the neighbors did.
They were sitting on their front porch as we unloaded the one-ton U-Haul trailer, awkwardly lugging our many boxes, each marked with clear packing tape. They saw us struggle to squeeze sofas and mattresses through the narrow front door, with most other furniture disassembled into their loosest components.
They watched us putter around, fixing up the house when autumn wafted in on a breeze, painting the siding and cleaning out the eaves.
They watched as the boys and I shoveled snow for months, only to soon set the sprinkler on the lawn. With half smiles and lights behind their eyes they watched that same sprinkler as the boys leapt over it, their energetic actions punctuated by gleeful screams and raucous laughter.
As they watched, they witnessed the boys grow older, their backs straightening, shoulders broadening, playing countless games of catch, pass and hide-and-go-seek in the front yard.
While they were relaxing on the porch they watched us – my wife and I – sitting on the porch of our own, washing down chicken and corn on the cob with white wine, telling tales and laughing with friends and relatives.
They were watching when the boys brought girls home from school, when they snuck out late after curfew to steal secret kisses in backseats.
They watched them marry, these boys of ours, to those girls they kissed in private. And when the newlyweds returned from tropical honeymoons, these neighbors watched them leave; packing up their own meager possessions into pick-up trucks and too-small sedan trunks.
They watched and watched, and when they saw us leave for a night, for a holiday, for a business trip, they watched this house in ways that we ourselves hadn’t watched it in years.
They watched us turn grey and bent and stooped, watched us fight and makeup, watched us deteriorate with time. And then they watched us leave for good. Only with this inevitability did their watching change.
Now, they watched the grass grow tall around the house, browning in spots; as the gutters fell and faded shingles curled during summer scorchers.
They watched the local teens messing about, up-to-no-good in our deserted garage, not coming out when irritated mothers repeatedly called them to the dinner table.
But all along, never once did they catch themselves in the act of watching until they watched our children return, to empty the house and sell the house, planting a white realtor’s sign where the poplar had once sunk its roots.
Before they turned away, having seen enough, they watched the sun go down. They walked into the street, their eyes following the retreating taillights of their neighbors’ toddlers. With this, they watched the past fade to future; only to wave goodbye and wave it off; before returning to their present.
~ by Chris Hibbard on November 20, 2008.