On Dying: Our Marjorie

My neighbor of fifteen years is dying in a hospice from pancreatic cancer. Something she didn’t want to share with anyone so I’m just finding out this week in her final days and hours. I understand her not wanting everyone to know I am just as private when it comes to my own personal tragedies but I would like to have been able to tell her what a wonderful neighbor she has been all these years. I would like to be able to tell her that I will miss her, I mean really miss her. Maybe she didn’t want to see the heartbreak in my eyes or feel my tears slip down from my face to her hands as I try to convey my feeling for her. I have told her on more than one occasion how much I appreciated her but right now I don’t feel as if it is enough.

My family and I moved into our predominately white Italian neighborhood fifteen years ago. I knew very little about Rhode Island and less about Providence or its neighborhoods. Our realtor took us to homes in Cranston, Providence, Johnston and finally our home in North Providence.We visited the house I was to buy on a cool October night driving down from Boston where we lived. My dream was to find us something in southern MA but the home prices were way too high for me a divorced single mother of three. A co-worker who commuted from Rhode Island suggested I take a look over the border in his neighborhood so every weekend we would drive out and just scope the neighborhoods as best we could without a guide. I liked the quietness and small town feel of Rhode Island so contacted an real estate agency. My realtor took us to homes in Cranston, Providence, Johnston and finally the home in North Providence. As soon as we walked in the door we all loved it. It just felt like home to all of us.

On moving day my cousin joked that my neighbors were probably peeking out their windows at this little black family moving in and saying there goes the neighborhood. I laughed but it hit me at that moment that other than my co-worker telling me North Providence was a great place to raise kids I hadn’t much thought about whether it was a great place for black kids. It never crossed my mind there were no other black families on the street or in the neighborhood I could see. My guard went up a bit from that moment not knowing what to expect and my mind prepped for anything bad. What I got however, were the best neighbors and the the absolute best neighbor in Marjorie or Ms. Marjorie as I instructed my kids to call her.

I no longer remember how or when Marjorie introduced herself to me or my family but she has been a rock for me since I moved here. All of my neighbors have been kind but especially her. She and my other neighbor Jackie looked out for my kids and home when I was working from 6:30am to about 6:00pm I was commuting to and from Boston for work. That first year I dragged my youngest with me to his school in Boston. My middle schoolers were latch key kids but for good or bad it was the way it was and we were happy in our home and they were safe with both neighbors checking in on them or spying as they would say.

Marjorie loved my youngest son from the very beginning. He was six when we moved in and although she was good to all three of my children we all joked about how Jabriel was her favorite. She would make him the best cookies and drop them off-
“Here you go I baked these for sweetie.” she would say and I would smile and say thank you knowing I was going to devour half. He could not appreciate the goodness of fresh home baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies he thought Oreos were treats for Gods sake. The cookies she made were the real treats and they were the best.

We talked often both of us being  PBS fans, political junkies, and social commentators. We talked about our failed marriages, why I wasn’t dating, my kids, her daughter, our jobs, her retirement, and her depression. She was thoughtful and meticulous. I admired her life story and her struggle to be independent. Our lives mirrored to some extents and I understood her but there were things I didn’t understand and will never know about her.

I was mad at her last year when her tree fell in my yard, a big one, and she didn’t say anything about it. Legally it is my responsibility to get rid of it but she never acknowledged it only calling our other neighbor who told her there was nothing she needed to do I just inherited a tree. I was angry with the both of them.  As angry as I was with her I felt like she didn’t want to say anything because to get it cut was expensive and she was retired on a fixed income for whatever reason she didn’t know what to say if she couldn’t help so I chose not to make it a big deal and my dad cut the tree for me. That was the only time I was ever mad at her and I’m happy I chose our friendship over a fallen tree. How could I be mad at the person who fixed my kids dinner while I was in Dallas, Texas for a work event? Or who brought my trash bins in every Wednesday morning, or who gave cards to all of my children for every milestone and wrote to my son while he was away at bootcamp- he never got the cookies she sent but I’m 100% certain some Navy officer knows how much love went into each delicious bite. She had done too much and continued to be too much of a nice person for me to make a tree a thing between us.

Now she is somewhere slowly slipping away into her light and I hope she knows I will miss her and how heartbroken I am that she will no longer be our next door neighbor. I hope there is an afterlife because I know a wonderful one awaits her because she is one of the most deserving.

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