My neighbor is dying, and I never knew him

Peggy spoke to our neighbor, Deborah, today while both were walking their dogs. Deborah said that her husband, John, is dying of prostate cancer. When Peggy told me the news, I got on my bike and went looking for Deborah—who was still walking her dog. I gave her our phone number and said we would be honored to be called upon day or night.

I didn’t even know John had been sick despite having been his neighbor for sixteen years. I last spoke to him last August. On that day, he had driven 250 miles (round trip), and climbed the 10,358’ South Sister. Our conversation lasted maybe three minutes, yet it was the most we ever talked.

Of our nearby neighbors, John and Deborah are the ones we know least and, despite his being my age and most of the others being much older, he will most likely be the first to die. As I sit here picturing him in his bed no more than eighty feet away, I must confess that my main worry is whether Deborah will move, and the house become a rental…. I consider it very strange to pass nearly two decades of my life next door to someone whose face I can only vaguely recall. His hair is light-colored, but whether blond, or sandy-brown, or prematurely gray, I can’t say. And his eyes—green? blue? hazel?—I have no idea. I didn’t even know he had a daughter until Deborah mentioned it. Nor did I know that she and John have been together six years. I would have guessed two, three at most.

Today was hot, and the heat has made me sleepy, and I have no more to say.