Sunday, September 30, 2012
What We Talk About When We Talk About Knowing Someone
My family and I have lived in our house--at 328 N. L_____----for 25 years. For that same amount of time, or maybe longer, a family named the Southwicks have lived in the same town at 328 S. L_______, and for all these years, we have gotten some of their mail, and they have gotten some of ours.
Over the years, we built on this experience. One time, the Southwicks got a bouquet of flowers that was intended for my daughter and brought it to us. One time, we got a big, beautiful holiday package that was intended for them and took it right over. Sometimes we got something for them that looked like junk mail, but we would call to make sure before we recycled it. Sometimes we ordered a cab and it would show up at their house. Our phone calls to each other about these things would be brief, but always friendly. We'd laugh as we identified ourselves to each other as "your reverse mirror image" or "polar opposite" or whatever other names we came up with.
One time, I saw a story in the local paper about them, that their daughter had died while on a business trip to China, and they could not find out how she had died. It was an unimaginably difficult situation, and I wrote them a sympathy note. A few years later, they started a foundation in support of the arts in their daughter's name, and I made a donation. Judy Southwick, for that was the name of the woman in the house, wrote me a personal note thanking me. A few years ago, Judy wrote me a note telling me that she had read my novel and that she enjoyed it very much. Throughout it all, the mail continued to flow to the wrong houses.
About a week ago, we returned from vacation and we were going through all the mail and newspapers that had accumulated, and I saw Judy's obituary in our local paper. She died of cancer while we were away, and the memorial service had already occurred. It's an odd thing, to simultaneously know someone and not. If someone said to me, "Do you know the Southwicks?" I am not entirely sure what the short answer would be.