“Just remember that you could have died tonight”

This is not how one hopes to meet the neighbor.

But there he is, glaring at me under the porch light, pistol in hand, erasing all the “howdy neighbor” dialogue I’d planned out for our first meeting. Rather, our conversation when:

“Was that you?”, he asked.

“Yeah. I went to the backyard that way so I wouldn’t trigger the light over my roommates’ window.”

“Well, just remember that you could have died tonight.”

I was living with some friends during the early autumn of 2008, the third residence for me and Fortuna in as many months, during my turbulence and terrible post-divorce summer. That night, I got back around midnight from an evening with friends and decided to go into the backyard to watch the stars, drink a beer, and smoke a cigarette (amazing what habits return when your life appears to fall apart).

Seemed like a pleasant, non-life-threating idea.

Unfortunately, the best way into the backyard triggered a very bright light fastened over the garage which shined onto the corner of the house and right into my friends’ bedroom window. They were early-to-bed types so, in the interest of not waking them, I decided to go around the other side of the house through a narrow easement between their house and that of the neighbor. I walked slowly, waving my hand to knock down spider webs, pushing aside overgrowth, detaching a neglected fence lock, and entered the back yard.

Nice stars. Calming cigarette. Tasty beer. Settled nerves. Sleepy time.

As I started back to the front of the house via the same narrow corridor between the two properties, the neighbor’s window opened slightly, a dog growled, and an angry voice shouted very loudly, “Get out of here!”

Once I returned to my skin (it took a few seconds), I cleared my throat and said weakly, “It’s alright. I live here.”

Moments later, the neighbor’s front door opens and I turn back from opening my own front door to apologize.

That’s when I see him holding a small revolver in his handheld, slightly raised, pointed at me.

Our three lines of dialogue ensue and he turns back into the house with an emphatic slamming of the door.

I stood there reliving the moment when he shouted “Get out of here!” and imaged him firing a shot into the side of my head from roughly 5 feet away. I see myself as a large red stain on my friends’ cedar-shake siding. What an absurd way to go.

This is all the more ironic because I’d just walked home, regularly look behind me, fully aware of my surroundings. But it took coming home to get a pistol pointed at my head.

I went to sleep that night knowing that the head I rested on the pillow could have been, with one simple finger contraction, splattered below the family-room window.

It was hard to fall asleep for some reason.

We went on to become amicable “howdy” neighbors after we both apologizing the next day: me for freaking him out and him for waking from accidentally falling asleep in his Lazy Boy and reacting from a half-asleep, disoriented state.

I was left really taking the cliche’ “life is precious” to heart. Live it.

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