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A Death in the Neighborhood

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

M. lived across from me on our narrow alley with his wife, two daughters, two small grandchildren and one or another of the daughters' boyfriends. He was living here when I moved in nine years ago, in the same two-storey house where his grandparents once lived. Next to this red house is a another where his parents lived, where he and his siblings were born, where his brother J. lives yet. It's a family affair.

M. was a very unpleasant man. His face in a permanent frown, almost six feet tall, obese, he was an imposing figure. In contrast, his brother J. has always been very friendly to me, especially since I performed a little favor for his mother years ago. His sister couldn't get in to leave some groceries, so I kept them for a couple of hours, until the rest of the family returned. He told me when he picked them up, "I never forget a favor done for my mother."

Earlier this year I asked J. to intervene with M. about a mattress, the second one M. had discarded in the empty lot next door. (I dragged them both to the garbage truck and paid 20 pesos each time to be rid of them.) I explained to J. that I couldn't speak with M. myself because he was always angry and coarse with me. J. confided, "He treats me the same way."

Prone to violence, I've seen M. physically attack his other brother (not J.). Raining blows and epithets on him, M. chased him out of our alley, all over a sofa that that brother was taking from his mother's house. During the altercation J. repeatedly urged M. to stop his violence, calling out again and again, "Remember your mother!" (I was struck that he didn't say, "Remember our mother.") The other brother vanquished, M. pushed the couch into his own house.

The funny thing was, I didn't dislike M. I disliked the way he treated me. And not just me, but the world, himself included. I've gotten along with a lot of difficult characters. I find something to like, some common ground. But with M. I stopped looking, stopped trying.

The empty lot served as M.'s parking lot. He kept three cars there. You could easily park nine or ten. Still he was covetous of the space I have in front of my house. Regularly, during the day M. parked his taxi, not in the lot, but in front of his house, leaving precious little space for me to squeeze by with my bicycle. Before I got my car, boyfriend number one would park and warm up his car in front of my house, for eight minutes(!), smoke fumes coming in under the door. I put an end to that.

I could imagine that M. felt territorial. I mean, I have only been living here nine years and he wandered, like his little grandchildren now wander, over these same stones, 57 years ago. I could imagine that M. is territorial, just like his two little dogs are territorial, but I imagine that his is a more blind, uglier, sadder motivation than that.

My silver Crossfox

Our alley is narrow and dead-ended. If there were another exit I would have taken it just to avoid him, but five or six times each week I have had to pass by, within a few feet of M., usually as he was washing the exterior or vacuuming the interior of his taxi. Every time I've wanted to leave in my car I've needed to consider whether, with the whole empty lot at his disposal, his car was blocking mine in.

I stopped greeting him years ago, because invariably he ignored my salutations. Still just last week I tried, again, for what turned out to be the last time, to be friendly. He was tending to his taxi. I was coming back from a bicycle ride. Just as I was about to enter my door I made some pleasant observation about his dogs, at which he turned his head and looked at me, completely without expression. Then he turned back to whatever it was he was doing.

It wasn't anything personal. It wasn't the resentment some Mexicans display towards gringos. He just didn't know how to be friendly. Over the years, many times, he would see his brother J. being friendly with me, the two of us laughing and joking together. M. didn't have it in him.

Today, after breakfast I was sitting, working in the sun allowed in through the open front door of my house. I heard someone crying just outside. I peeped out and saw that it was M.'s younger daughter being escorted into the house by her boyfriend. I thought maybe one of the dogs had been struck by a car. But when I looked again and noticed a woman sitting dejectedly in front of J.'s house I knew that it wasn't about a dog. Half an hour later there was a fifty-something man loudly sobbing against the wall of M.'s house. Between wails he blurted out, "I'm never going to speak with him again."

Yesterday afternoon the family celebrated the two year old's birthday, with the requisite bouncy house inflated in the alley. This morning M., after 57 years on earth, is dead of a heart attack, his face, no doubt, still frowning.

The idea that people come into our lives for a reason is particularly disconcerting when people like M. are your neighbor. Cutting closer to the bone in such circumstances is the belief that we see reflected around us our own internal workings. I write this, then, as a sort of peacemaking, not with M., because he is gone, but with the ways in which I am myself am frowning at life. I am sure that to some extent I too am refusing to participate in the fullness of existence, rejecting what is offered me, eschewing the ease which is right alongside me in my house at the end of this narrow alley. They say that knowing you have a problem is one half of the solution. I'd say, engaging the difficulty is the other half.

It's a terrible thing to say, but going out this afternoon, I was more at peace knowing that M. was gone, that I no longer have to suffer his bad vibes. Already the neighborhood feels less heavy; nuestra cerrada mas tranquila (our dead-end more tranquil). Adios M., adios.


Dr David has created Lokkal, a social network that is not commercially-driven (just being launched, starting here in San Miguel) as an alternative to the abuses of social media.

"Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race right up to the final moments." - Buckminster Fuller

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