More People in Your Neighborhood: The Guy Next Door

With the exception of Sister Rosalie, all names have been changed. 

George is not a nice person. The first several months I lived next door to him, he never said hi or acknowledged me, even if he was sitting in my yard shooting the breeze with his son and the other farm guys, his toddler grandson beating a stick against an amaranth stalk or unearthing a flattened beach ball from the sandbox under the playhouse.
I don’t remember the first time we had an actual conversation across the low chain link fence separating our yards. Maybe it was when he pulled his new yellow Camaro into the parking space behind the house where he and his siblings grew up, and I couldn’t resist teasing him. He gave it right back, joking that Henry had bought him the car and, “He didn’t get one for you? Maybe it’s because you never cook.”

I remember deciding one day that I would always say hi to George no matter what. Part of this was knowing that we will live next door to each other until one of us dies.

But another part was the challenge. I have met George again and again throughout my life. He is the mean uncle who probably yells at small children, hates his ex-wife, and reserves his affection for a pet canary or a Chihuahua named Frankie. He is the smug fifth-grade boy in the corner of my storytelling workshops who sits with his arms folded across his chest and says in response to any question about what interests him or his favorite memory, “butter.” George is the mean girl in ninth grade P.E. class who jumped a senior in the Sonic parking lot by walking up to her car, sticking her arm through the open window, and slamming said senior’s head into the steering wheel.
I am emotionally tough, maybe physically too, but not in a fist fight kind of way. Throughout my later elementary school years, I was taunted by a band of short, skinny Chicana girls who ruled Bell School where my mom was a first grade teacher. Thanks to a district boundary line drawn to include the children of a judge, a county official, and Deming’s Coca Cola magnates, who lived a block and half north of us, I attended the nice school in the white neighborhood. The Bell School girls and I met up once a week for CCD classes at Father Stanley Hall. Things came to a head the day we had mass at Saint Ann’s and Jennie Alarcón accused me of calling her a bitch. I was twelve years old, in sixth grade and, though I would go through potty mouth phases in high school and later, I was too afraid to call Jennie or any of her friends the b-word. Next to Rhonda Macias who was, unfortunately, in Jennie’s corner, I was the tallest girl in 6th grade CCD, but more than one Monday afternoon, I got into my mom’s Oldsmobile crying because one of them had pulled my hair or called me “school girl,” and Sister Rosalie, the meanest woman in Deming, didn’t seem to notice.

“You’re bigger than they are,” my dad would say. “Just hit ’em.”

Then I would cry harder. “I can’t.”

The first day of junior high, each of those girls walked one by one into my first period library science class. I wanted to sink into the floor or move to California or spontaneously combust. But something happened. At first they didn’t notice me. Perhaps I had learned to become invisible.

And then one day Rhonda said, “Hey, Michelle.”

I turned around, a nervous smile pasted on my face.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“What did you get for number six?”

I was the smart girl. I had the answers. And once they knew I had the answers, then I got to be the funny girl too. I made them laugh.

More tomorrow

Published in: on March 27, 2013 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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