The little house across the street from us stands empty and forlorn.
Being so recently vacated, the red and white For Rent sign has not yet been staked into the lawn. The window blinds need to be replaced and the roof shingles need some attention, but other than that, it’s a cute bit of a home complete with standard issue lawn and driveway.
Until last week, the occupants were a young couple with two children. The boy looked to be a rambunctious two year old and the girl a first or second grader. I often saw her with her backpack, heading off to school in the morning about the time I’d leave for work. I’d see him tearing breakneck down the sidewalk on his trike or spinning and tumbling on the lawn.
The kids’ parents were poor. I only stopped to talk to the man once; he told me they used to live here in town, then moved away. Things didn’t work out, so now they were back to give it another shot in our hot, remote desert outpost.
He bussed tables at a chain restaurant at the other end of town. She was a cashier at a local store. I mentioned that I never saw a car in their driveway. He told me that they didn’t have one at the moment. They used to have a car, he related, but it broke down and his brother, who was supposed to fix it, sold it instead.
There was usually a shopping cart around, sometimes two, often overturned in the driveway or on the lawn. We would see the woman pushing it down the street, sometimes with a kid in it. She had to walk half a mile to work; he walked more than a mile each way.
They played music at high volume, usually rap. If one of the kids left the front door open, the thumping bass would blare into the street, loud enough to be felt in our bedroom.
The couple fought a lot. They would scream obscenities at each other, sometimes over the music, then start yelling the same ugly words at their little boy and girl.
I don’t remember the names of the man and the woman, although he told me once. I’m not particularly good with names. Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Or maybe I just didn’t care.
Last weekend, a U-Haul van appeared across the street, its garish orange blaring out little known facts about a Canadian province, blocking our view of the little house. Two men were carrying out belongings and loading the truck. Then the vehicle left and the house stood empty.
On Friday, my wife had walked across the street with half a box of fruit-flavored ice pops for the kids. The kids and the mom both thanked her profusely. The kids were hanging around on the front porch while the woman talked with the interviewers who had come by to complete their investigation.
The father was nowhere to be found. Our next door neighbors informed us that he had been arrested following allegations that he had molested the little girl. He was in jail.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been paying attention; looks like none of us did. I was shocked and saddened to hear what had happened to this couple’s daughter. And yet, I pray for this man. I can’t remember his name, but God knows it very well.
I pray that the mother and her children will be able to pick up their pieces once again, bound together by a love that exceeds all adversity. Wherever they’ve gone, I hope they have a better life than they did when they lived across the street from us and we rarely said so much as hello.
Whatever. Nothing we could have said or done would have prevented the tragedy that occurred, right? We couldn’t have possibly have made so much as a dent in their enormous problems. Right? It was better that we didn’t get involved. A caring word from us couldn’t have made the slightest difference. Uh, um, er, right? Right?
I recall the time my wife was away for a week. Arriving home after work, I thought about taking the family across the street out for tacos so I could get to know them better and save the woman from the need to cook, for one night anyway. But they weren’t outside and I felt uncomfortable about walking up to their house, ringing the bell and impertinently injecting myself into their lives. They might think I was offering them charity and be insulted. So I never did go over there.
“Don’t be a stranger,” I told the man on the single occasion that we stood in the street, between our respective rental houses, chatting. “I won’t,” he replied. But he never crossed the street and rang our doorbell either. So strangers we remained.
The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9