When I was small we lived in a red and blue duplex at a busy corner on Main Street in Somerville, NJ. Once there was a horrible car crash and we let a lady use our telephone. Once a dog showed up and we got to keep him tied up to the back porch until his owner came to get him. Two girls who were older than me lived across the street. They had a huge father. A girl who was younger than me lived next door. I always climbed over the back fence to play with her, we never went through the front door. She had a doll that peed. My babysitter was named Mrs. DeMaio and she was very very old. She kept her Christmas Tree through Valentines day when she would decorate it with construction paper hearts. We bought her a scarf for her birthday once but forgot to give it to her until my mother told me it was too late to give it to her, so we kept it.
We rented. Our landlords name was Tony and he had two daughters that stole the good swings on my swing set when their father was talking to mine. The people in the unit next door were a couple named Gus and Theresa. Gus worked a Shell station down the street. He may or may not have been a veteran. He used to pick me up a lot and put me on his shoulders and chase me around in a our shared back yard. Our attics were connected and my parents used to tell me never to go on their side because it wasn't ours. Our basements probably also connected, because there was only one set of red builco doors leading down there from the outside, which were fun to run down when they were closed. Gus and Theresa watched a lot of tv. I have a distinct memory of being in there once with them and a really old woman sitting on one of the couches in the front room. I don't remember ever going upstairs, ever. I think Gus may have played some sort of big brass instrument. I remember their side of the house being really brown and yellow and orange. Our side was more grey and white and blue. When I was in kindergarten Gus had to go to the hospital. I think maybe for cancer, maybe for gum cancer? maybe for intestinal cancer? I made him a card-- I drew something that was supposed to be a puzzle. It was a structural drawing with lots of lines and letters all over it-- like the spawn of a crossword and tic-tac-toe. I think I remember my dad asking if I didn't want to draw Gus something different instead, but I can't remember what I decided. We were doing this activity on the side of the dining room table closest to the windows.
Gus died and Theresa had a baby, I don't remember in what order. I do remember that the baby cried a lot and that my parents often talked about how sad Theresa was. We moved to a house down the street and one block over, on Grant Avenue. When we moved out, some people with a water bed moved in (they let me jump on it once). We left the swing set because they had a kid and my parents said we would get a new one, but we never did. Sometime later we found out the dad was arrested because he may or may not have been part of the mafia. Our new house was near the hospital Gus had been when he was sick and where my brother Will was born. We drove past our old house on the way to my parents work. We drove past that Shell station every time we went downtown. He's the only person named Gus I've ever known.