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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Nightmare Next Door

Jan 17th, 2012
by F. Grey Parker

I didn't have time to read much over the last day and a half. Unlike last year, I didn't have time to publish anything about MLK Day. I slept through the South Carolina GOP debate. Our world was turned upside down over the last 2 days.

At a little before Midnight on Sunday evening, my doorbell rang. I got out of bed, grumbling mildly, expecting to see a friend who occasionally drops by at that hour. Instead, standing in front of me, there was a policeman.

"When was the last time you saw your next door neighbor?" he asked hurriedly.

"Which one?" I replied while rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

"The girl. Her co-workers called us 'cause she never showed up for work."

"I dunno... Friday? Maybe?"

At this point, I heard a voice from around the corner of our house. "The front door's unlocked." The policeman lost all interest in me and muttered a thanks as he disappeared, heading towards the other side of the duplex we have shared since last year with another couple.

I closed the door, headed to our front window and pulled the curtain aside. There were already four or five squad cars present. For a small town such as ours, this is a lot. I was alarmed and curious. After putting on my coat and shoes, I went outside.

Although my eyes were still adjusting to the darkness, I recognized the voice of one of my neighbor's parents. "Can you take Waldo in your house?" she sobbed.

I said yes, although I don't precisely remember how I phrased it. Waldo is our neighbor's dog. A huge pit-mastiff blend with the heart of a puppy. Wrangling Waldo was more difficult than usual. He was going in a million directions at once. Although my cats were not pleased, I managed to get Waldo into the house and set him up with some blankets, food and water in our laundry room. I told him, "it's okay, boy," and closed the door.

I was wrong. It was not okay.

Venturing back out into the cold, it became clear that our neighbor, a real neighbor, caring and good to have next door, was dead.

I spent the early morning hours answering detective's questions and fumbling, ineptly, as I tried to comfort the mother of the victim's boyfriend. She was hyperventilating and kept asking the police what had happened. They said little but told much.

"Where's your son? Does he own any weapons? Does he hunt?"

"He's out of town. He called me and asked me to come over because she hasn't answered her phone since yesterday."

"Well, we're going to need to talk to him."

A paramedic van raced up without sirens and was met by one of the officers. After a brief discussion, they moved their vehicle down to the end of the street. They never even got out.

It started to sink in; At some point over the weekend, our next door neighbor had been murdered. To be precise, she had been shot to death. That I didn't hear anything through the simple, shared wall that separated our lives is as frightening as anything else.

The police took down all of my contact information and thanked me for helping with "the victim's pet." The family members left. The coroner arrived. I went back inside my home.

I called my girlfriend. Like a lot of post-recession Americans, she works the late shift at a lousy job. I told her what was going on and that we were going to have the dog while law enforcement investigated the scene.

Waldo had been in the house with the body for over a day. I think the creature is horribly traumatized. He wouldn't stop crying. It's a strange, small cry for such a big dog. I didn't know how long we would have him although the police assured us that someone would be picking him up later in the morning or early afternoon. So, I grabbed the first book I saw from my desk and went into the laundry room.

As soon as Waldo saw me, he calmed down a little. I sat on the floor, on the makeshift bed, and started to read. Waldo would cry whenever I was quiet for too long so I read aloud.

It was Norman Mailer. I was reading Norman Mailer to the dog of a murder victim.

This went on for hours. Finally, a policeman brought the victim's family over to pick Waldo up. I offered a pathetic, "I'm so sorry," and watched as they walked away. I closed the door and, for the first time, went to lie down.

I just wanted it all not be happening. I wanted to know that I would see her walking up the driveway again and say, "Hi, Grey," with her big, beaming smile.

We really liked them.

They are, or were, just about the sweetest couple I have met in years. Smart kids, in their twenties, with decent jobs and lives pregnant with possibility. We weren't tremendously close. But, we were friends. We barbecued together during the Summer months and engaged in the kind of regular, innocuous conversations that make modern American life seem a little less isolated and inward driven. The kinds of conversations that make real neighbors.

My girlfriend and I had made a habit of giving thanks, often, because they were "so much better they are than the last neighbors." Indeed, the previous tenants had been a caricature of a spectacle of the basest stereotype of red-neck vulgarity.

As a matter of course, none this makes any sense. The press has been around, on and off, since yesterday morning. News of our neighbor's murder hit the late morning editions with the usual, clinical detachment every story like this receives. A "person of interest" was being sought." It was an "isolated event." The "community has no reason to be afraid."


There is still a police cruiser stationed in our driveway. Waiting for something. Across this town and who knows how much further, hearts are broken. Lives are devastated. Plans are ended. Joy is displaced by agony. There is also the possibility that the boyfriend might be responsible.

And now I wonder if I ever let her know that she actually added some meaning to my life. She did.

Rest in Peace, Jackie. We will miss you.


  1. Deborah Shaw-StaleyJanuary 17, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    So sad and scary

  2. So sad and yet so beautifully written. Thank you.