Recently I heard that a neighbor woman was to be evicted from her home because the city had condemned it.  Her home is across and down the block on the corner.  I got to know her slightly about four years ago in a neighborhood association meeting.

Shortly after I met her, she had a hip operation.  As soon as she could she was out and walking up the street, first with her walker, then a cane.  You have to admire her determination, she was in her seventies.  I’d cheer her on as she got stronger every day.

This same woman, a year later was in her front yard with her little dog.  Suddenly out of nowhere another dog, larger and heavier came rushing at the lady and her dog.  The bigger dog attacked the other dog, and the woman fought the bigger dog to save her pet.  The bigger dog turned on her, mauling and biting her arm, knocking her to the ground.  A Good Samaritan driving by in his truck witnessed the altercation, parked his vehicle and jumped out armed with a knife, since he could not pull the bigger dog off the woman, he killed the big dog.

She was interviewed on the news after the incident.  She had been wearing a thick sweater, she recounts that was how she only came away with slight scrapes, cuts and bruises.  Otherwise that dog could have taken her arm off, or killed her.

The news filmed her inside her home, behind her one could see piles of tin cans of food, and piles of miscellaneous things.  She was a hoarder.  The city warned her about cleaning up the place; though the small yard was always tended.  The house wasn’t in good condition, the third floor porch began to collapse and broken windows were not repaired.

Later, I learned form another neighbor that a couple of her grandchildren had been living with her.  Her house was a large four-square with plenty of space for them all.  The granddaughter never ventured out of the room she occupied.  A grandson became a meth user, and another grandson would come and go, living off of his grandmother, then go somewhere else, and live off someone else.

This household headed in a disastrous direction.  Her once astute and sharp mind began to dull and forgetfulness slipped in more and more for her.  The meth user abused and beat his grandmother, probably for the money she got from Social Security so he could spend it on drugs.  He has been banned from many places in town because of the powerful stench of body odor, unwashed flesh mixed with his body waste; the grandchildren shared the hoarding tendencies and lack of sanitation with their grandmother.

Little by little she had utilities shut off for non-payment.  The gas meant they had space heaters in the winter.  When the water was shut off sanitation and bathing became memories, and no one inside that house seemed to mind.  The electricity being the last she held onto.

Sadly, none of us knew of the woman’s issues, for she kept her secrets hidden behind closed doors.  The city condemned her house.  She fought the condemnation for eighteen months in the courts, and lost each time.  The last Tuesday in February the city officials along with the pastor who runs the homeless food kitchen came to evict all who dwelt in that house.  The grandmother left without incident and was taken to a woman’s shelter, for she had nowhere else to go.  The granddaughter had vacated many months earlier. The meth using grandson had been arrested and put in jail for beating up his grandmother again, so he was in jail.  The other grandson came with her to get settled into the woman’s shelter.

The city boarded up the windows on the first floor.  They will contract out to have the house torn down, as there is no way it can be salvaged from years of neglect combined with three feet of garbage, human and animal waste that have rotted the walls and floors.  The house is a bio-hazard at this point.  The police expect the meth using grandson to break into the house once he is released from prison in early March.

I think about my neighbor woman’s life, and the turmoil hidden behind the four walls of her home, of her world for so many years.  I do not know if there would have been anything I could have done to have changed things for her.  She had always been a private person who did not interact with neighbors too often.  She will probably become a ward of the state now, and placed in an institution, for she is confused and does not know what is happening about her any more.  I can pray for her for that is the least I can do; for there but for the grace of God, go I.

As I think about my neighbor and gaze at her home, boarded up now, I thought of this song….


By Dory Previn

We never stop to wonder
Till a person’s gone
We never yearn to know him
Till he’s traveled on

When someone is around us
We never stop to ask
Hey, what’s behind your mirror
Hey, who’s beneath your mask

We never stop to wonder
Till a person’s gone
We never yearn to know him
Till he’s packed and traveled on

Sweet Marilyn Monroe on the silver screen
Platinum reflection in a movie magazine
Well, did you ever have a headache?
Did your mama own a gramophone?
Did you like to be an actress?
Were you scared to be alone?

We never stop to wonder
Till a person’s gone
We never yearn to know him
Till he’s traveled on

When someone is around us
We don’t know what we’re seeing
We take a Polaroid picture
To find the human being

We never stop to wonder
Till a person’s gone
We never yearn to know him
Till he’s packed and traveled on

Sweet beautiful Jesus on a painted cross
Polystyrene body with a superficial gloss
Hey, were you jealous of your father?
Were you short when you were fully grown?
Did you like to walk on water?
Were you scared to be alone?

I think perhaps tomorrow
I’ll try to make a friend to really get to know him
Instead of pretend I’ll ask him if his feet hurt
Has he burdens to be shared?

And if he doesn’t walk away
I’ll ask him if he’s scared?
And if he doesn’t walk away
If his eyes don’t turn to stone
I’ll ask him if he’s scared to be alone?


Filed under writing

4 responses to “BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

  1. Powerful thoughts and an excellent post.

  2. sad and powerful post.

  3. I always feel guilt about these kinds of situations. What I can do about then, I don’t know. You evoked a lot of emotion in the telling.

  4. S.M., What a heartbreaking story, even more so because it’s true. I sense this has weighed heavily on your heart, as you so eloquently shared with us readers. So very sad.

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