Their property backs up to ours. We've met them, but don't really know them. They aren't 'easy' neighbors, as in 'easy' to get to. There's a hill, overgrown trails, a barbed wire fence and lots of tree-covered acreage between our house and theirs. We've never socialized and our girls didn't either, although they were near the same age and played basketball together.
And yet they've been true neighbors, in that calming sense of the word... as in knowing there was someone nearby you could depend on if you needed them.
I learned this the hard way, when our dogs Chewy and Charly became locked together in a vicious battle on the back deck, soon after we moved into the house. Tom wasn't home, just me, Daniel and the Girl. We tried everything we could think of to break them apart to no avail; the new deck was being baptized in blood.
We were screaming, crying, yelling. Praying out loud.
And then my neighbor appeared, drawn by our cries. I didn't know who he was at first, just this man who emerged from the direction of the pond. An answer to our prayers. He grabbed a hoe and broke the dogs apart for us. We quickly separated them, one on either side of the house.
He came to our aid when we needed him, on a heartbreaking day for us.
Now they're the ones with broken hearts, in many more pieces than I can or want to imagine. Their daughter was murdered - the one who played basketball with mine, the one I bought cookie dough from years ago to raise money for FFA - and I'm not sure what I can do or say to help them.
It happened a week ago, maybe two already. I haven't written about it, because I couldn't find the words. Because I didn't want to think about it. When I do, I try to imagine how I would feel, what would help me if it was me and not them, but those thoughts are too hard and I push them away.
Still, they come drifting back, especially this past weekend when my Girl was off with friends on a road trip. It's such a helpless feeling when your kids grow out of your protective arms. You become more aware of all of the things that could happen... the things and people that could take them away from you forever.
But that's the way it works, and what we spend their childhood working toward: sending them off with a blessing and a prayer and a wish for a long life in this world Because even if we believe the next life is a better one, we hate to think of this one being cut short. We don't want to be separated from them.
My daughter came back home, safe and sound and exhausted in a good way. I have had more days to spend with her, to hug her, to impress her upon my heart.
The other daughter's image floats into my mind again, and I remember to be grateful, to not take these days for granted. I'm aware of too many parents who've had to bear the deaths of their children, my own included. I can't imagine the pain of that heartbreak.
What do I say to her parents? What can I say?