Sunday, July 09, 2006

The hard work of being neighborly

I peered into the mailbox all squinty-eyed and disbelieving.

It was empty.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, 12 pounds of flyers, bills and catalogues were not waiting to be schlepped inside and immediately recycled. The mystery of the missing mail was solved, however, when I trudged into the house and noticed the insistent, blinking light of the answering machine.

Turns out, oddly enough, our mail had been inadvertently deposited clear across town at the home of the only other resident we know. A sure sign, I think, that there must be a higher power because everything about her is serendipitous, especially since I knew this woman long before either of us called our town "home."

We met just after college. She was my age but was already a single mom, dating the friend of a friend. I was struggling to find out who I was and where I belonged. I had no time to chat, regrettably, since maturity had not yet been forced upon me.

When we met again last summer at a farmers' market and learned we shared a ZIP code and toddlers one year apart, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Since I regularly walked past her house each day on my two-mile morning constitutional, I was thrilled at the invitation to stop by. It wasn’t the kind of offer one extends lightly out of politeness. It was with genuine hope of being neighborly.

I reciprocated with equal enthusiasm, hoping since we live on the street with the playground our visits would be mutual.

In my head, though, I knew I'm not the type who just "pops by." In my head, you see, I am the eternal imposition; the person who feels awkward in their own skin and assumes they are destined to break your best China if you ask me in for tea.

A year has gone by. I’ve stopped taking my walks, in part because I can’t seem to muster out of bed at a reasonable hour to do so, and the anxiety of never taking her up on her offer haunts me.

"I'm not sure how it happened," laughs the voice on the machine, "But it appears the mail carrier has left a sizable portion of your mail at our house today. I was wondering when would be a good time for me to bring it over?"

My jaw drops open. Of course, I haven't cleaned the house since I don't know when and the dogs are shedding whole litters of puppies. As my husband putters around in the kitchen, he wonders aloud if we all wouldn't be better off if I just went to her house and collected it. He laughs, suggesting my friend might have collected the mail from our box just to have an excuse to have a get-together.

"That's not funny," I fret, as I frantically try to replace the belt on the vacuum cleaner while simultaneously tending to Ittybit's demand for help with her potty -- she needs to practice her 'Poo' song, she explains.

Twenty minutes, four disasters (including the unintentional deletion of her phone number while trying to replay the message) and one successful elimination later, and I am finally able to ring her up.

Turns out she'd already dropped it off in our mailbox.

'Aw! Shoot,' I think as I hang up the phone, 'perhaps tomorrow I'll get up early and go for a walk.'


MommaK said...

As a rule, my house is always clean when no one comes by and filthy when they stop over unannounced.

And I need to get back to my morning walks too. Ugh...

Trish said...

I've been there too. Encountered people who wanted to get together with me and who I, despite wanting to get to know them, never did make the move to make it happen.
I see the mail thing as serendipitous too.
I can so relate to this post!

gingajoy said...

I've learned to not sweat it in terms of having the house clea, or everything in order when friends with kids drop round, because a) they live in just the same way and b) if they *were* to judge me, then at least i know they are not my kind of person (but latter is rarely the case.

seriously--make the move, invite her for a playdate, and be pretty sure that she knows that life with a toddler means you get lax about following stuff up. maybe be open about the guiltfest you've endured--it would only make me like you more!

Go oooon!

Forty_Two said...

Isn't removing mail from someone alse's box some sort of federal offense, possibly covered under the Patriot Act?