Sunday, November 9, 2008

13 Bits of Info About My Mystery Neighbors

Some of this is stuff I've observed, and some is rumor. I have never blogged about the Mystery People, because it's hard to figure out how to construct a narrative about them. But a list, I can do. The scene is, the Mystery People are kind of our next-door neighbors--our lots adjoin, and from our driveway, we can look through the trees and see their house, but they face a different street, so we don't them all the time like we do Mindy and Conspiracy Guy. Lately they've been on my mind more because their daughters have started showing up to play with Laura. So, things as I learned them, and events in my dealings with them, in chronological order:

1) Shortly after we moved here in 2006, Matt was doing yard work, and he went around the corner to introduce himself and ask about some plantings along the property line. Matt says that through the window by the door, he could see a man sitting inside, ignoring his doorbell ringing. Just sitting there.

2) The exact same thing happened again some weeks later. Yard work, Matt ringing, dude not answering the door.

3) By this time I was acquainted with Normal Neighbor, and in telling me about the neighborhood, she told me that a man lived there alone. She said his name was Bill, and that in days gone by, she and her husband had been friends with Bill and his wife. Like, they did things together socially. Then the wife left him, because--AND HERE'S THE RUMOR PART--Bill had put the moves on a foreign exchange student who was living with them. Again, this is what Normal Neighbor says. She says she heard--we're at two degrees of rumor now--that this young teenage girl ran out of the house in the middle of the night, went to some people she knew down the street, and said that Bill would not leave her alone and was scaring her. Normal Neighbor heard this from the people who had befriended the girl. Bill and his wife had no children. I have never heard of a childless couple having a foreign exchange student and it seemed weird to me. Also, Normal Neighbor said that Bill now goes by William.

4) Frenemy Neighbor confirmed that there had indeed been a foreign student living with Bill and wife. FN said she was quite young--no more than 15--and that she had babysat Frenemy Neighbor's daughter. FN's only other contribution to the story was that she had been on friendly terms with Bill and wife, and then all communication ceased. FN didn't even know the wife was gone.

5) I had still never laid eyes on this guy, but the house always seemed as quiet as a tomb, and kind of unkempt outside. Not messy, just not cared for. My only thought about the guy was, is he really some kind of a creep, and should I be worried?

6) Then, a year ago in the spring, a woman moved in with him and brought her two little girls. The youngest is Laura's age, and the oldest is in 5th grade now. She also brought her mother, who moved into an apartment in the basement. I first noticed the little girls out riding their bikes. They were friendly and slightly ragamuffin-ish.

7) That spring the neighborhood held its neighborhood-wide garage sale, and I walked around a little chatting with people and browsing. I went up the hill through our side yard and Bill's backyard to meet the new lady of the house, Julie. He introduced himself as William. I stood on their driveway and said hello, and told them where I lived, and I bought a baby's bath chair from them. They were weird. It's hard to say why. They acted pleasant, but it seems like it was an effort. Maybe that they were really giving people the hard sell on their junk. Or, it was the hard sell for a neighborhood garage sale. Like, I paused to look at a framed picture of some ducks or something. Bill said, "Even if you don't like the ducks, that's a good frame." I said something polite, and he said, "I promise you that's a two-hundred dollar frame." Only he said it with an air of disgust that I didn't recognize the quality of his merchandise. Okay dude. That is the only dialogue, except one, that I've had with them.

8) One night the cul-de-sac filled up with ambulances and police cars. Julie's mother, who lived in the basement, had died. Julie and Bill were married by this point, and the family left town for a couple of weeks. Normal Neighbor and I wrote condolence cards and left them in their mailbox.

9) After the girls' grandmother died, Bill and Julie got a foreign exchange student--a girl. She rode the bus to high school with Normal Neighbor's son, but I rarely saw her outside. She seemed to care for the little girls a lot, almost like an au pair. I speculated to Matt that Bill and Julie had gotten a foreign exchange student so they could have a nanny. Normal Neighbor was like, "Does Julie know about the FIRST foreign exchange student?"

10) Fast forward to this past summer. Julie had a baby boy in May. I knew she was pregnant because I see the two little girls everyday on the way home from the bus stop. They told me their mom was expecting, and they told me about the baby when he arrived. One day I was at the pool, and Julie came in with the baby in a carseat carrier, and sat down two deckchairs over. She put the baby seat on the ground next to her and sat reading. I was getting ready to leave, and I approached her and said hi. She didn't really look up from her book. I said how cute the baby was, and I said, "You probably don't remember, but I'm your next-door neighbor." She looked straight at me then, and the look on her face was one of pure suspicion. I don't know what else to call it but that. I started to make goodbye noises then, and she semi-recovered herself enough to mumble something. I don't know what.

11) I went home and told Matt, "I think those people are weird." And he said, "Oh yeah, weird." Then he told me that Julie won't speak or make eye contact with anyone when they are all doing the bus stop drop-off in the morning.

12) There is an actual au pair living there now, a young Asian girl. She takes care of the baby boy while Bill and Julie work. She came there while the baby was a new newborn, because the girls commented that she wasn't allowed to be alone with the baby until he was 3 months old. I see her sometimes, checking the mail, when I'm walking to the bus stop.

13) The girls seem kind of unparented. They look a little unkempt. The littlest one never has a jacket. And she seems needy. For a while, she was latched onto Normal Neighbor and her daughter, and I think she might be about to attach herself to us. She's shown up to play every day for the last four days, announcing, "My stepdad says I can stay for an hour," and last night at about 6:30, she and her big sister came to the door and asked if they could sleep over. I said it wasn't a good night, but that we could plan something. I find it strange that one of their parents wouldn't come down, knock on the door with them, and say, "Hi, the girls want to play with Laura, so let's have a moment of facetime as parents because that is how we do in the civilized world. Thanks neighbor!"

I just wonder what is going on in that house. To me, they're the Mystery People, but I don't know if there really is some mystery, or just some kind of dysfunction, or what exactly. Just a vibe I get. Sometimes I over-analyze things. But I tend to put a lot of stock in my instincts, you know? Especially where my own children are concerned. And it may be that our lives are about to intersect with the Mystery People more and more through those girls. I hope I can be hospitable to them--they may need a friend. But I'm not letting Laura go over there. Reading this, what's your take? They worry me.

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Amy said...

Dude. That DOES sound weird. I think you're right in not letting Laura go over there...not that they're evil or anything, but you just don't know them. Sure sounds like they have some issues goin' on. It's good that you're being friendly though, you never know if the mom might need some help.

Beck, you seriously have some very interesting neighbors!

clear screen said...

First off -- this whole thing seems like some kind of slightly eerie Raymond Carver story: Lonely divorced man in suburbia without a real biography except for rumor. Until the end, when it becomes a case for Oprah. I think you should attempt one parent face-to-face with the mom. And if she isn't having the whole mom-thing, then what? The kids can play at your house, but Laura can't go over there? But seriously, I was reading that post kind of like it was a ghost story!

Bren said...

You know, I've given the benefit of the doubt to people, and assumed that things are really somewhat normal, even they may seem a little wacky from the outside.

And instead have learned that things even worse than I imagined were going on. Depends on how you feel about these girls being in your home (especially overnight!), but there's nothing wrong in not being overly hospitable, or, on the other hand, demanding a little civilized normal exchange of information if you are going to welcome their kids into your home. Seriously. You have my permission to make them at least *act* normal or close your home to them altogether. It's okay.

Laura go over THERE? no. way.

By the way, I give you the "undercover mom blog" award! Or would, if it existed. Good reading!

Hootie said...

Perhaps this is like the movie "The Others," where you assume you are the normal ones, but you are in fact the weirdos.

Why DON'T you have a sick relative living in the basement? Why DO you feel a compulsion to answer the door EVERY TIME someone wants to ring the bell? Why NOT invite a teenager from overseas to come care for your children while wearing a skimpy maid's outfit?

You are sick. And you scare me almost as much as that man you helped put in the White House. I'll bet you sing karaoke late at night. KARAOKE. For shame.

Camp Papa said...

I support your instincts a hundred percent! Letting Laura set one foot in their house in completely out of the question. Overnights at your house without a positive mom-to-mom conversational vibe wouldn't be sensible. I'd even be leery of letting the girls inside. You can't tell how the parents might react to imagined play incidents. I think outdoor play and interaction is the route to take. (This is more that you really wanted from me, I know, but I am the most interested grandfather reading this blog.)

Jane said...

My take: mostly I just feel sorry for those little girls. Idk, maybe I'm over-imagining, but it seems like at best they've got kind of unengaged parents, and at worst they've got a stepdad with some serious problems.

I hope through their friendship with Laura they'll be able to get some idea of how a normal family acts. As long as it's at YOUR house, not THEIRS.

Sara said...

I'd say you're going to have to corner that woman, either in person or on the phone, to try to get a good reading on her. What have you got to lose at this point?
I've been the sympathetic neighbor & ended up a babysitter. I've lost sleep worrying about the miserable looking little girl from down the street. I've confronted parents in Walmart for not having a coat on their baby in below freezing temperatures. (I was nice about it, and it did no good. She was under 2, no pants, & they were buying themselves clothes. Grrr)
I really hope your neighbor is simply backward and shy, and not the makings of a creepy Lifetime Movie.

Jane said...

P.S. Do you in fact live on the set of Desperate Housewives? If so, I can assure you that there is a perfectly rational, albeit convoluted, explanation for everything that has gone on. And when it is revealed, you will almost, but not quite, be able to like these people.

Keely said...

Nuh uh. No way would I let my kid go over to the house of someone who can't even be arsed to say hello properly. I'd probably let the girls over if I could get some kind of dialogue or information out of the woman, but not a sleepover if she continues to be weird.

I was seriously reading that expecting some big scary revelation at the end. You have the most effed up neighbours.

David said...

Agreed: don't send Laura over there, and force Julie to have an honest-to-god exchange with you next time you see her. Sending their kids over to invite themselves for a sleepover?!

This was the woman who was pleasant as could be to be as she was pulling out of her driveway and I was walking by with Hank, right? And then, when Michael joined us, and Hank extended his free hand to him to continue our happy stroll around the cul-de-sac, she panicked and started calling out "Becky? Becky!" You came to the door and waved and she muttered "Just wanted to make sure everything was ok... I don't know these guys at all" and sped off after flashing us a look of disgust. She seemed like a bona fide loon. Or at least a jerk.

Becky said...

Oh Jeebus, that was a *different* jerky neighbor, David. I'd forgotten about that. That woman has yet to be shared with my bloggy friends, but her day is coming. You've never laid eyes on the Mystery People--they're the house up the hill from us.

And Jane, I think if I were living on the set of Desperate Housewives, the people would be better looking? Hootie, I think yours is the most intriguing scenario, actually. My family and I are ghosts, which would explain why dude never came to the door, because Matt wasn't really knocking. SPOOKY!

And thanks for weighing in, y'all. I do think I will have to force a little facetime with the mom. Like Sara said, what have I got to lose? If it goes badly, at least I can blog about it, right?

Veronica said...

Um, yeah, weird. I'm all for marking other folks' weirdness for them (I'm not entirely convinced that this works, because if they get it would they be so weird? But whatever). What if you went over there and knocked on the door (though we know that this may not work) and re-introduced yourself, and said something like "your daughters have been coming over to play, and telling me that you have given them permission but I just wanted to double-check with you since we haven't discussed these play dates" or something like that. Would this cause them to recognize that parents set up play dates in the real world?

Hootie, I LOVE your "The Others" scenario, and I totally think that Becky and family are ghosts.

And, to second (well, really, eleventh) everyone else's comments, please never ever ever let Laura go over to their house.

Cassie said...

Freakin' creepy, man.

la critika said...


The bit about the exchange students seems so odd. Two of them?