The Tape Unravels
Giving what I can to a neighbor in need
There is a drawer in my house that contains nothing but tape. That’s it. Tape. Scotch, packing, masking, gaffer, measuring, and painters. I’ve been thinking about that drawer a lot because it’s a weird point of comfort for me, as lately I’ve started to wonder when order will return to my life. I used to just assume it would come back, kind of like that outdoor cat I informally adopted—the one that vanished sometimes, and just when I thought he was gone forever, there he’d be once more. But then there came the day when he really was gone, with nothing left but my surprisingly loving recollections of him.
Anyway, the drawer of tape is significant because five years ago, when I moved into this house, two things occurred. One, I discovered I had a bajillion rolls of tape, which was the result of a lifelong habit of buying new rolls to replace the ones I’d misplaced. So I decided to designate a drawer. A whole huge drawer in the hutch in the living room. Today I open that drawer all the time just to remind myself that even though I might not know where I put the deed to my house, or where I put the boarding passes to my flight, or when order will return to my life, at least I know the place for tape.
The other thing that occurred when I moved into this house was my friendship with my neighbor Amy, which began soon after I’d moved in and she’d left a Tupperware container of baked goods in a bag on my doorknob, along with a note that said, “Welcome, new neighbor.”
I’m usually not swayed by neighborly gestures, having been raised by an alcoholic traveling trailer salesman and a mother who made bombs for a living. We moved at least once a year, and regarding neighbors, our practice as a family was to basically glare at them from behind drawn blinds. But this Amy person, she was different. She was young and funny and snarky and brilliant.
For example, there are some people who might consider themselves good at baking—I count myself among them—and then there are others who are secret geniuses at the craft, like Amy. So when she revealed this to me, I, of course, had to exploit it, which meant she often found me on her front porch, scratching at her doorjamb, begging to be fed. From there it progressed, and Amy became the neighbor I went to when I needed things—from a bottle of olive oil to an Internet signal to just, you know, like, advice. I always thought the day would come when I’d get to repay her. We’d have years to live across from each other, during which she’d surely need something and there I’d be with it.
Then one day recently I went there as usual to reap her hospitality and we ended up as I knew we would, talking into the night. When I left I told her to sleep tight, which she evidently did for exactly one hour, at which point a man with a gun broke into her house, tied her to her bed, robbed her, and terrorized her into the dark hours of the morning. Eventually she was able to summon rescue by using her toes to type out an SOS in the form of an instant-message to her boyfriend, as she’d convinced her assailant her laptop was worthless, so rather than steal it he’d dropped it at the foot of her bed.
The police caught the suspect, Amy identified him, as of now he’s still in jail, and today hardly a moment passes when I’m not awash with relief that Amy’s ordeal didn’t end as you’d expect ordeals like this to end. But I also know, as I knew immediately when I awoke that morning to the horde of police and press vans in our yards, that Amy’s days as my neighbor are done. Gone, just when her presence had become part of the thin order I’d clung to since stuff started changing so much, like jobs and standards of living and confidence in mankind and neighborhoods that go from nice to troubled. Then the day came when I said good night to her, expecting to wave at her from my front porch the next morning, only instead to learn that order had been broken.
The other day Amy returned briefly to pack up her things, and I came to help. She had lots of flattened moving boxes she was trying to fold into shape, and suddenly it occurred to me what she needed. I waited before saying anything, because I didn’t want her to know how close I was to sobbing, but I took a few breaths and then I was, finally, at the ready. “Amy,” I said, “let me get you some tape.”
Illustration by Peter Arkle