(6-minute read or listen to me read it HERE)
BRISTOL, PA is a nice little river town. I like to photograph it. It’s got a history and a character.
It’s got beauty and sadness and conflict and triumph and regret and ghosts, too.
It’s kind of like any place, I guess. It’s like any person, really. It’s a bit like me.
We live in a row house, right in the middle of the block. We share our northern-most wall with a family I’ll call the Crouches.
That’s not their name. The father’s name is Bart, so Sarah, Watson, and I refer to him as Barty Crouch Jr. He’s more sad than mean, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had the Dark Mark on his arm. He’s kind of hairy, so I’ve never actually seen it.
Barty and I might be around the same age, I would think. I’m finding it harder to determine how old someone is these days. His beard’s got grey in it, like mine. He’s a four-sport Philly Phan, which is virtually a requirement in this town. He also has a MAGA bumper sticker on his 2003 Ford Explorer. We’re unlikely to see eye to eye on political issues, is what I’m saying.
Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. is cordial to me, always says hello. I get the feeling she doesn’t know what to make of me, and I don’t blame her. I don’t know what to make of me either.
The Crouches don’t talk very nicely to each other. I’m not sure if he works some kind of night shift or what, but he’s not around much during the day. He is, however, frequently up at two-thirty in the morning.
I know this because our bed is up against the northern-most wall, and Barty Crouch Jr. has no concept of the fact that there is also life on the south side of his wall, even at two-thirty-four.
When I hear words like, “Well, you should stop being such a stupid bitch!” being screamed from the north wall at two-thirty-seven in the morning, I want to scream back, “SOCIAL CONTRACT!!!”
But I don’t.
Several months ago, I saw someone pull up in their car. A woman got out, came around to the passenger side, opened the door, and helped Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. out of the Honda and up onto the curb where she could get her footing. They walked slowly together up the sidewalk, up the porch stairs, and into the house.
I remember saying to Watson, “I hope she’s okay.”
Every once in a while, I would see a similar scene. Then, one day, I saw her wearing a wig. It was obvious to me because I had seen her real hair plenty of times.
“I think Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. might have cancer,” I said to Sarah.
We began to hear different noises coming from the north after that. Her treatment was making her very sick. Her hair had fallen out, and she had lost some weight.
Whenever I’d see her in passing, I’d want to ask her how her treatment was going, but I guess I thought we were somehow supposed to pretend I don’t know.
It became even more obvious she was ill when she’d go out with just a scarf on her head, abandoning the wig altogether. I didn’t know what to do.
I don’t think Barty Crouch Jr. knew what to do either. Do any of us really know what to do when we first come face to face with that kind of hardship?
Each of us on the block has our own little bit of a backyard. Each one is fenced off, of course. The Crouches have a deck as their back garden. Our sliding glass door opens to the east and when you open it and step out back, you have to go down three steps. At the Crouch’s, you just step right out onto the deck.
Yesterday, we had a beautiful spring evening. The temperature was up, and the sun, when it touched my face, made me feel like I wanted to be hopeful. I wanted to be.
At five-thirty, I was doing some dishes at the kitchen sink in front of the window which I had open, and I started to smell some smoke. It was coming from the Crouch’s deck. Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. was starting a fire in their metal fire pit.
I walked over to get a closer look through the sliding glass door, and as I made my way from sink to door, I heard the music playing. It had probably been playing all along, but she must have turned it up at the chorus so she could sing along because that’s what she did. For one beautiful moment, Mrs. Barty Crouch Jr. and Elvis were coming to me LIVE from Madison Square Garden, 1972!
BOTH: We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
HER: (suspicious minds)
BOTH: And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds
I just stood there and listened to her sing and watched her straighten up the deck while the fire warmed her body and The King warmed her soul.
And her hair is back.
She must have just gotten out of the shower because it was still wet. She was letting it dry in the sun by the fire.
It was a wonderful moment.
I’m hopeful, again.