When my family moved to Saint Charles, I was 5 going on 6 years old. After careful research and planning, my parents had decided on a kid-friendly neighborhood within walking distance of what would become my grade school. Once we moved in, I was delighted to learn that my neighborhood was chock full of kids at or around my age to chum around with.
And chum we did. Lemonade stands, Freeze Tag, Ghost In The Graveyard, we played 'em all throughout the long hot summers. In the winter we'd move indoors playing such fascinating games as School and Craft Fair. We weren't particularly inventive, but we had a good time. These were the times I would get nostalgic for as I grew, remembering the particulars and vagaries of sun-drenched afternoons together when the most important thing on our minds was how far we could jump from the swings.
Across the street, kitty-corner to my house lived a house with three boys, all older than we were. The middle on was my brother's age and the youngest one was about 5 years older than I was. His name was Chris, and sometimes he would head over to my house and play with me when he had nothing more interesting to do.
We'd draw with chalk on the pavement, coloring from my driveway to my next door neighbors without breaking a sweat.
He, like the rest of us, were just a bunch of nice kids.
Sure, his family was a bit strange, but at that age EVERYONE'S family is weird. It's not something we ever dwelled on too much, because it just didn't matter. Playing in the sprinkler mattered very much, as did building sandcastles, but worrying about our respective families just never crossed our minds as something to concern ourselves with.
We were just a mess of kids trying to stay busy.
As I got older and my sense of judgement became more well-honed, I did begin to notice the strange dynamic in the red-ranch kitty-corner to my house. Chris's dad would spend hours upon hours painstakingly maintaining the lawn, practically cutting it with scissors rather than the lawnmower. He always waved at us, the throng of us on our bikes racing down the street to catch the elusive Ice Cream Man or pedaling furiously toward the park, because he was always outside, but he never looked really happy to be out there working on his yard.
Chris's mother was strange as well, I began to see. Since I was the only one in my house to receive phone calls, I was always the first in line to answer if anyone called. And several times a week she'd call, greeting me quickly before asking me questions about her house. Was there a car in the driveway? What color was it? Was the garage door open or closed?
To this day, even as an adult I have no real clues about what specifically she was looking for when she'd call us. It was obvious that she didn't want a certain car to be outside her home, but what still confuses me is that she would often call from her own home.
I'd have thought she could have cracked a window to see for herself, but no, she preferred my impish self to trundle outside and answer her questions.
Years passed, we all grew up and we all busied ourselves with our new lives with new school friends. The lemonade stand was relegated to the basement where it sat collecting dust as I went on dates, broke up, grew, dated, and went to college.
My first semester at college, my mother called me. I could tell immediately from her voice that something was wrong, and demanded that she spit it out.
As the story goes, the eldest boy in the red ranch house with the blindingly white shutters had gotten a girlfriend whom he lived with. This girlfriend had a young child, perhaps a baby of some young age from a previous relationship. One night, she went out--where I'm not sure. Work perhaps? Maybe out with friends?--leaving my old neighbor to watch the baby.
As babies are wont to do, it cried and cried and cried. No matter what my neighbor from the red ranch house did to soothe it, it just kept crying.
And he became frustrated by this.
And he shook the baby.
The baby died from brain injuries stemming from this incident.
My former neighbor will now spend the rest of his life in jail.
I've never gotten the story about what went on in that house, and all that I can surmise from my own experiences as a pretend adult is that this red ranch house with white shutters and a perfect lawn was sad, hard and lonely place to grow up.