We chose the house we're renting in a day. Literally, a day. This sounds crazy to most people, but most people don't live the nomadic life of medical trainees. We came to Charleston for a few days, spent most of the time on the beach, and then scheduled a line-up of rental houses to look at the day before we left town. I think we looked at three or four altogether, but the truth is that I knew this was going to be our house from the moment I saw it on Craiglist.
We live in a neighborhood that has been changing over the last five years, from what was more of a working class, primarily African-American enclave to a more middle class, ethnically diverse neighborhood. Most of the homes are simple brick rectangles, single-story, built in the fifties with slight variations to the front so that they don't look exactly alike. Three bedrooms, one or two baths, backyards divided by chainlink borders except for a few folks who've put up privacy fences. Some of us have nicer gardens than others. Some of us have toys scattered about. No one gets too excited if you let your grass grow too long in the weeks of summer where it seems to shoot up inches in a single day. There isn't a homeowners association with rules and passive-aggressive warnings and people all up in your business. It's nice. Nothing fancy, but nice.
Our neighbors immediately to the right are an older couple who've probably lived in this neighborhood as long as I've been alive. He runs a carpeting business, she works at the local health food store. The week we moved in, she came over to say hello and to ask if she could use our clothesline, commenting that she was "old school" about drying them outside. I liked her immediately and told her to use the line whenever she wanted to.
About a year and a half ago, I saw her husband pull a small trailer into their backyard, and later noticed another older gentleman staying there. I assumed he was a visiting relative and didn't think much of it. He had a sweet hook-up in their backyard, too, with a pipe rigged to their home sewer line and an outlet for electricity.
We would see him off and on when we were out in the backyard, playing in the kiddie pool or blowing bubbles. He always waved and hollered hello before climbing back into his trailer. He never bothered us. Summer turned to fall, and I started to get the sense that he was planning to stay awhile.
Raking leaves one day, we finally had a longer chat. He told me he was Henrietta's sister, one of seventeen kids raised nearby on Johns Island. I told him that we were newcomers to Charleston, brought here by my husband's work.
Then I let curiosity get the best of me. "What brought you to live in West Ashley?" I asked.
"Well," he said, taking a deep breath. "I got into a little trouble down on Johns Island. Henrietta was nice enough to let me come here and cool off a bit."
He didn't offer any details about the kind of trouble, though previous glimpses of a flask that seemed to be tucked into his pocket or waistband made me suspect that alcohol might have been a contributor.
"Well, you don't seem to be causing any problems around here!" I replied, perhaps a bit too cheerfully, in an attempt to distract from his confession.
That was that. He continued to live quietly in the trailer and bought a little moped to get around town. We'd see him, scooting up to the grocery, and wave hello. He became one of the characters in the neighborhood. As far as I know, no one ever complained.
Recently I ran into Henrietta while she was at work, and we chatted a bit. I commented that I liked seeing her brother out and about on his scooter, and she said that he thought he was really hot stuff riding around on it. She explained that he had moved in as a last resort. That when he called all those months ago, he was about as down and out as one can be, and told her that he was going to go live under the bridge. Despite a long history of substance abuse, he said he was ready for change. She offered her yard. She said he'd really cleaned up his act since moving in.
Just the other day, I saw her husband pull the trailer out of the backyard. I was sad to see him go.
I wonder when I'll hear the end of the story.