The hawk appeared human as it stared down at me. It came to rest on the rooftop over my driveway, and was so close that we could have had a conversation. I swear it was old Joe.
I turned my head for a moment, and looked across the street to where my neighbor used to live. It didn’t make sense for the seventy-eight year old man to end it all the way he did.
Caged in spiraling thoughts, a lifetime of depression had become the closest thing he knew as his flock. Old Joe rarely left his house within eyeshot of mine, but we talked on those rare occasions when he felt good enough to meet me outside. He made it clear that there had always been something missing in his life through our banter. I looked at it as only the ramblings of an old man.
I learned that he was one of three triplets who had the same melancholy predisposition…each one becoming reclusive in their own way. One drank himself to death, while Joe and the surviving brother went on to share parallel, but separate lives. They never traveled beyond their nearest pharmacies. Though the two brothers lived about twenty minutes apart, they hadn’t seen one another for more than thirty years.
Joe married, but his wife preferred the casinos to helping him take care of their seven young children. It forced him to work nights just to keep a roof over their heads. The kids became successful enough, but I learned from one of his sons that they all blamed their dad for all their difficulties growing up.
“We raised ourselves,” the son said, not even mentioning the mother’s abandoning them, and Joe back in the day.
The comment came while Joe was out front with me…ironically talking about the past. One of Joe’s sons just happened by for the sole purpose of borrowing money, and decided to jump into the talk. The “old man,“ as his son called him, stood right there in front of me, and dug through his wallet, while trying to pretend that the “raised ourselves” comment had not cut him to the marrow.
Watching Joe’s discomfort, and embarrassment, I bit my tongue, but finally mentioned how hard it must have been to raise his brood alone for so many years. Joe just laughed it off, as if it was okay to be just a money tree. He had a sad comfort in being the family joke, and knew it was the price that had to be paid just to get one of them to visit.
Joe said he fished on occasion, and piddled around the house after retirement, but withered into isolation once the kids were established, and making it on their own. Depression took over, starting with his mind…then to his insides. Midnight runs in his rarely-driven car were to go only to the local drugstore. His only needs there were to pick up antidepressants for his social anxiety, and liquid protein shakes for what became an inability to stomach solid food.
I learned from our talks that Joe became entrapped by a fear that foreigners were taking over the country. Conspiracy theorists helped sooth his late-night battles with insomnia, and their rhetoric convinced him that the world was “going to hell,” but they could have cared less to find that his world was confined to a house, a few suburban blocks, and late-night voices on talk radio. He knew nothing of a brighter life beyond our immediate neighborhood.
I returned my attention to the hawk. It was just a day after my neighbor’s death, and I was having trouble shaking away my grief as I stood there looking at the majestic bird. It stayed as if it knew me well enough to want to comfort me through my loss, but then began bobbing its head up and down. “Things are better” now.
With a ruffling display, it took flight until I finally lost sight of him in the sun.
In that moment I knew…Joe was heading to a better place.
I gazed up one last time, and waved goodbye to an old friend.