A Woman’s Gaze up the Street

I just got a glimpse of her as I drove slowly by on that December evening in 2010. The glance was enough, however, to reveal a treasure chest full of memories I thought were long lost.

She stood at the end of the long driveway gazing up the street. Her mouth slightly opened, concern in her eyes, the stiffness in her figure revealing so much of her past. Age had taken its toll on Jill and her once curly brown hair and changed to curly silver. The very fact that she was even standing there told me so very much. In fact her mere presence awoke in me a fascination that has driven me to write this little story on in the hopes that I can then lay it to rest. You, just like another passerby on that street, may find this situation perfectly normal and not note-worthy, but perhaps you will be surprised.

It was not just any old street and the person in question was no stranger to me. The street was the street of my childhood. The street that I rode my bike up and down countless times. The street with the carob and the eucalyptus trees. The street with the mysterious old, dark houses set back from the road. It was a green street with trees towering above, with freshly mowed lawns or with ice plant taking over and creeping onto the street. It was the street which is as familiar to me as the back of my hand. Every house is etched into my memory. If you asked I could draw a perfect three-dimensional rendition of the street, with perfect lines showing each curve and every hill.

The house the woman stood in front of was also more than familiar to me. The driveway was not very long but steep. Right off the road it took a steep dive down to the garage. The front area lining the driveway was completely covered with dark green ivy, no grass. The house had a dark shingled roof like just about every house on the street. The dark wooden siding, however, and the fact that the house was set a few feet below street level, gave it a kind of unwelcoming, eery feeling. The residents were old friends of my family and I knew the interior well.

Jill was standing at the end of the steep driveway, gazing up the street with a concerned look on her face. Why was she staring up the street? And why in the world would I even know the answer to that question? I had not seen or spoken to her in at least 20 years and I only by chance was driving by.

She was standing out there looking for her mother and she was worried about her mother because she was late from her evening walk. I know for a fact that she was on a walk because I had spoken with her about 5 minutes previously. We spoke with her for about 10 minutes. We held her up.

So we are getting closer in unraveling this mystery. You now know, as I’ve known all along, that Jill was looking up the street, because her mother was at least 10 minutes late on her evening walk. She was worried because her mother is never late. Her mother walks up the street each evening for a walk and 6 p.m. and returns at 6:45 p.m. and she has been doing the same thing for the past 35 years. This I also know for a fact because as a child I lived up the street and would regularly see her walking past my house and a little while later returning in the opposite direction.

So we all now know that Jill was getting worried because her mother was late. What we, or better said you, still don’t know is why would she be concerned if her mother was only 10 minutes late. In addition the question remains as to why she was standing at the curb at all. I am not getting philosophical here. I mean that why would 55 year old Jill be at her mother’s home with nothing better to do than get worried when she is 10 minutes late. One more fact I need to bring in here is that this street lies in probably the safest neighbourhood in all of Southern California. In the 18 years living on that street the only crime I ever heard of was when someone jumped our back fence and stole a tool box out of my dad’s garage.

Perhaps I should ask it this way. If your mother were taking a walk, the same walk she has been taking for 35 years, and she was 10 minutes late and you were 55 would you be worried? I think about 99% of you would say no. So why was Jill?
Did you perhaps consider that Jill must be living with her parents? Well she was. Is that a bit strange? Let’s just say unusual and add it to the mosaic being created here.

The next stone in the mosaic is the fact that I did not stop the car as I saw the concerned stare on her face. I even new Jill but I didn’t stop. She was the first daughter of two. She was adopted. Jill was what some would call slow. Actually she never seemed all that slow to me. She had a slight lisp and she spoke kind of funny. I guess you would call it developmentally disabled.

My sister was best friends with her sister. She was a real cutie, hmm. I had a pretty serious crush on her when I was about 12. She was at our house one day and we were all watching TV together, all kinda squished up on the couch. Somehow I was lying there and for some reason she just lied on top of me. It was a magical feeling that accompanied me for through those tough years of puberty.

That actually has nothing to do with the story except, perhaps, to illustrate the fact that I have know Jill, her sister and her parents for basically ever. So why didn’t we stop? It was getting late and we wanted to see the ocean before it got dark. I was visiting my childhood town it was the only chance I had to see the beach and to catch the sunset. But we didn’t stop and we should have. She was worried, she was an old friend of the family.

I think the answer lies somewhere deep inside me and probably you. It’s a certain fear, anxiety, strange feeling we have around people who are different, people who are sick, people who are suffering. When we see someone ill or grieving or sad we want to avoid them because we fear its contagious. Pretty crazy.

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