Someone who keeps the sugar jar half full, this story will not have a happy ending for you. The best neighbor I’ve had in the country never said a word to me. He never smiled. Even though I tried for years, I never even got a wave out of the guy.
I would see him one or two times a month, always on the gravel county road that connects us and our neighbors to the larger, paved, farm to market that leads, as we say, “to town.” Two times in a month may not seem like much — people in the city might see neighbors twice in a day. But out here we are separated by great spaces. Look out the window and you get nature, no neighbors.
Thanks to my running habit I know what the people who live around me look like, from the chest up at least. I see them in their cars while I am jogging, and sometimes they stop to say hello. On this road I have discussed rainfall, temperatures, tornadoes, snakes and deer. A couple of years back there was a cougar-sized cat spotted in our area, and I heard about this during my runs. The type of cat was never confirmed — all anyone knew was that it was large and black. That was the only time in my life I could have been described as a fast runner. One suspicious snap of a stick and I was off.
It’s only the one neighbor who, in all the years he lived by us, I never once talked to. He was a big guy, hard to miss, always on a motorcycle, never with a helmet. A bike like his could create a monster cloud of caliche on a road like ours, but when I was running, he drove slow and measured. It was a considerate gesture, one might even say neighborly.
But that was as far as his friendly gestures would go. As he passed by, there was always a point where, if he had stopped his bike, he would have been close enough to hear the ting of music in my earphones, but instead of returning my friendly waves, he just drove on.
At first I kept waving because I thought surely he had just missed it. But after a while I figured out he was ignoring me, and then I approached it like a challenge: I would get him to wave if it was the last thing I did.
Except I didn’t.
No matter how many of my high school drill team fake smiles I resurrected and paired with gigantic waves sweeping from tree limbs to sky to limestone boulders, he didn’t flinch.
Then one day I saw him coming on the road and instead of getting mad or feeling slighted, I thought, Well, you be who you are going to be, and I’ll be who I am going to be. He passed me with his usual slow speed, his usual straight gaze ahead. And I went back to my usual wave, one hand raised to the shoulder, one quick, small smile. Then we both continued on our own ways.
I’ve learned a lot about living in the country from my neighbors. Some of them — those I met on the road while dodging the black cat — I now consider friends. But the person who showed me something about moving through the world was the one on the motorcycle. He respected my space and asked me to respect his. All without saying a word.
Anna Mitchael is the author of Rattlesnake Stories, the new follow-up to the Kindle Single bestseller Rooster Stories. Both are available on amazon.com.