Ten years during the eighties they were our neighbors, Tom, Anna and Jim, They lived in the house next to ours on Westford Road north of Baltimore. My wife and I plus our three children (then two when Michael passed) in our four bedroom two and half bath plus garage split level home in one of the nicer areas of Lutherville.
I was still a working man while Tom and Anna were retired. Tom had previously had colon cancer but survived with a colostomy.
They were perfect neighbors. Quiet, respectful, took care of their home. Tom and I would talk across the split rails separating our yards. He too was of Italian extraction and we had a lot in common.
Tom and Anna’s one problem was their son, Jim.
Jim was well into his thirties and as Tom explained, he had a “nervous breakdown” as a teen and never fully recovered. I think he was afraid to utter the word “schizophrenia.” Jim had been “hospitalized” for a while but Tom and Anna could not bear the thought of their teen son living his life in an “institution”. They did what every loving parent does. They took him home.
We understood each other. We had our Michael at home with us. We too had been told to place him in an institution. We would have none of it. We knew the burden and the sorrow. But we had our two daughters as comfort. Jim was an only child.
In any case Jim lived at home, was very good natured but clearly unable to live on his own. He walked with an odd gait and, as Tom would relate, do exactly what he was told. If Tom told Jim not to open the door Jim would not open the door. Not for police. Not for an ambulance. Not for firemen.
Tom and Anna deeply loved their son and did nothing but worry about what was going to happen to him when they were gone. We still had Michael at the time so we could sympathize with their plight.
Tom and Jim were always together. Doing yard work, going shopping, going on occasional short trips, going to Mass together. Jim clearly loved his dad and when I saw them together Jim would give me a big shout-out; “Hi Mr. Frank!!”
Hi Jim. How are you?
“I fine Mr. Frank!! Have a nice day!”
You too Jim.
Tom had become a savvy investor since Jim became ill, trying his best to accumulate some money to leave for the care of his son. We talked investment strategies over the fence and shared tips on specific stocks. Tom was good at it and made more than a few bucks.
A decade went by – I was now around fifty and Tom was in his early seventies. Tom got sick again. This time there was no miracle cure.
Tom passed leaving Anna and Jim. Anna had a sister in Pennsylvania but otherwise had no family. She was alone.
All the neighbors did what we could to ease her burden. Jim was inconsolable. His father whom he loved dearly was his only friend. He felt totally alone in the world and worried now about his mom. He would burst into tears thinking about his dad.
So one day I’m sitting in my office and the phone rings. It’s my wife.
She never calls me at the office unless it’s an emergency.
“Jim hanged himself from the dining room fan”
Anna had run to the store and found him when she came home.
I cried. The tears streamed down my face as I held the phone.
”Jesus………oh sweet Jesus”.