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A Healthy Distance
by Carolyn Divish

Sheila cried when she heard we were moving.

From newlywed days to the arrival of children, Sheila and I spoke daily — usually by phone, but sometimes, if the day needed it, over a tall beer. With window views directly into each other’s houses, we were closer than most neighbors, literally and figuratively.

“I’ll never see you any more,” she sobbed.

“There, there,” I comforted. “We’re just moving across the street.”

My husband had pounced the moment the palatial foursquare came on the market. Twice as big with two full baths and an enormous garage, the new house meant no more scraping icy windshields or scheduling showers.

Later, my husband confessed a deeper motivation. I needed a healthy distance.

The year or so before our move, Sheila had befriended Elaina, a neighbor weathering a tumultuous divorce. After a while, I began seeing Sheila cross my yard to Elaina’s with a pair of wine glasses, skipping our daily call. Other times, Sheila rushed off the phone to greet Elaina who had shown up at her front door.

I felt squeezed out.

No longer an adolescent, I tried to insert myself, but it didn’t work. Conversations stopped when I arrived. Inside jokes couldn’t be explained. Back stories were too long to repeat. It wasn’t about me. They clicked in a way the three of us didn’t. Even so, I couldn’t avoid seeing their daily cocktail hour. Our houses were too close.

Years after the move, Sheila and I see each other less frequently, but the time feels more meaningful, because we are intentional. The extra distance requires extra effort. In our case, a “healthy distance” might only be the width of four houses — barely half a block — but it’s enough space for a healthy friendship.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My old house with Sheila’s house in the background taken just after we moved out and were placing the house up for sale.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In my writing life, I have primarily been focused on works of fiction. Lately, I’ve been gravitating towards creative nonfiction. As I excavate my own life, I am learning to be at peace with the discomfort of seeing myself as a character, especially when I don’t particularly like that person’s actions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carolyn Divish, a lifelong Hoosier (except a brief stint in Chicago), currently lives in Indianapolis on the very best block of the whole city. She’s willing to rumble to prove it (but she’s not very strong, so she hopes you won’t take her up on the street fighting thing). She earned an MFA from Butler University. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Jack and Jill, Punchnel’s, Mythic Indy anthology, and elsewhere.

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FAE 
Poem by Timothy Steele

I bring Fae flowers. When I cross the street, 
She meets and gives me lemons from her tree. 
As if competitors in a Grand Prix, 
The cars that speed past threaten to defeat 
The sharing of our gardens and our labors. 
Their automotive moral seems to be 
That hell-for-leather traffic makes good neighbors. 

Ten years a widow, standing at her gate, 
She speaks of friends, her cat’s trip to the vet, 
A grandchild’s struggle with the alphabet. 
I conversationally reciprocate 
With talk of work at school, not deep, not meaty. 
Before I leave we study and regret 
Her alley’s newest samples of graffiti.

Then back across with caution: to enjoy 
Fae’s lemons, it’s essential I survive 
Lemons that fellow-Angelenos drive. 
She’s eighty-two; at forty, I’m a boy. 
She waves goodbye to me with her bouquet. 
This place was beanfields back in ’35 
When she moved with her husband to L.A.

Photo: Maine Coon Maniac, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED