The Next Door Neighbor’s 8 Year old Girl Just Broke My Heart
by Aaron Rodgers
I’m a 24-year-old post-grad guy living in a small house in a low/middle-income neighborhood. It’s just me, I do well enough that my pop was glad to help put in to get a house and not an apartment because in my spare time I love tooling around on old cars, something we’ve done together since I was a kid. He was all too happy to have me carry it on.
So I work your typical 8 to 4-5 schedule, and quite often I’m in the garage after work fixing up this old mustang I’ve been on for the last two years or so. (A completely un-restored ’65 mustang that my dad got me for graduation, to take on now that I’m out in the world, that was a special moment).
So often, I have the garage door open, and its to the front so pretty much everyone can see what I’m doing, people stop by, chat, say hello, its great, I always love to chat it up, especially older folks that are happy to see a young guy getting his hands dirty working hard on a classic.
So about a year ago during the summer, the neighbors mom asked if I could look after their little girl Rachel, a quiet little girl who always seemed well-behaved. I didn’t mind, but I said I’m really committed to working on this car, if you feel good enough to let her over here while I’m working on the car, not a problem.
Turns out they’re going through a divorce, the dad works the 3rd shift, the mom’s got a part-time gig, evening hours just aren’t good for em. Ok, so this starts, and it goes fine. She’s quiet, usually reading books or watching the TV I brought out so she would be around me. I always made sure to be courteous, firm and try dad humor now and then. Well, she starts to come out of her shell after a while and it was a joy.
I still remember when she first asked about why I was working on the car:
“Why are you working on that car when you have one that’s newer and works?”
“Well, this car is about 45 years older than the other one, its a classic. She’ll be much prettier when I’m done with her. I’ve sat in the garage helping my pop since I was younger than you! I always wanted to be like him and so I’d sit and learn and eventually he let me help.”
“Oh. Whenever I see dad he’s always sleeping.”
“Well, he’s working hard to provide for you, he’s working a tough job.”
She just kind of was quiet after that. But after two or three months, she started being cheerful when she came over, always asking questions about what I was doing specifically. This part and that, why it needed to be done, what made it work. I was glad to impart knowledge, I think everyone likes teaching a bit, especially something you’re passionate about.
I started teaching her about tools, how to recognize which ones you need, what they can do on a car or around the house. She started to light up, I got the sense that besides school.. she didn’t have much of a parental figure. Or anyone to teach her anything about life, or anything.
One time my dad visited in his ’66 GT convertible, and I took her for a ride in it.
I’ll always remember how she smiled, saying, “Is this what yours is going to be like?”
“Should be, but mines a coupé so it won’t be quite as nice.”
“Nooo, yours will be much better! Cause we’ve been doing it!”
My chin started to wobble and I just smiled and said you’re right, it will be.
She’d really started to grow on me, I mean, it would be impossible not to let her into your heart. A bright eyed smart little girl that just soaks up everything you teach her, wants to learn, and looks up to you like that.
It made me sad, because the times I saw her parents interact they were always snide or yelling at each other, when they were around that is. This spring I started noticing the mother leaving without a uniform, sometimes dressed to go out. I came to the conclusion she quit or wasn’t working, but still taking advantage of me babysitting. Which I didn’t mind in the slightest.
Sometimes Rachel would be quiet more when she came over, but I always waited until she would open up. She’d let out tidbits like, “Mommy woke me up late at night, she was acting funny.” Or, “She came home with someone that wasn’t daddy” or the like. It would pierce my heart, but I didn’t know what to do except keep being a safe harbor for her of sorts. She started hugging me more often, squeezing me as hard as she could. I’d always get a lump in my throat.
She’s just wormed her way into my heart, how when I take a break and sit down, she’ll climb all over me until I give her the proper attention, every now and then when she does some mannerism or phrase she picked up from me.. even just when I ask her to hand me a tool and she picks the proper one no problem.
We had some of the best times I can remember, just tinkering under my car, her with a raggedy old sweater of mine on with safety glasses so old dirt wouldn’t fall in her eyes, watching me work, asking away. One time she nicked herself on the edge of the radiator support and I picked her up and went to bandage it up.
I told her, “Most girls your age would cry if they got that little cut.”
She said brightly, “Now my hands are gonna get all beat up like yours!”
I didn’t even know what to say so I burst out laughing (plus another lump in the throat) and hugged her and said, “You’re the best little girl in the world you know that?”
Then a few weeks ago, her mom came over and said they were going to get a divorce, and if I could still keep watching her during the week. I told her I was sorry and absolutely, she’s a delight to have around.
Yesterday she was morose, and quiet unlike she had been in a long time. Turns out her parents will be separating and they’ll have to move soon. She started crying and hugged me, asking if it meant she won’t be able to come over anymore.
I started tearing up a bit and choked out, I don’t know Rachel, I don’t know. I hope you can. I love you, you know that? You’re the smartest, cutest, best little girl in the world and I love you.”
She just cried all the harder and said I love you too.
She even asked if she could stay with me. Again I said I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s in the cards.
When she left yesterday I just sat down with a bottle of jack and started crying. I just can’t take it. That sweet beautiful little girl that wants to be just like me, giggles when she gets grease on her and tosses on my old dirty sweater when she comes over cause she wants to help. I just want to take her up in my arms and take away that pain. She doesn’t deserve to have a rough childhood growing up with a non-existent father or a poor mother. Damn I just can’t deal with it. It  tears my heart apart.
We have no doubt that Rachel will remember Aaron forever. He did something for her that nobody else did, and she will never forget that. When she’s grown, and maybe has children of her own, she’ll tell them stories about Aaron, her lovely, kind neighbor.