My sister, Jane, who had been watching TV and saw the story, called to share, because she knew some of my past and the circumstances of my friend and neighbor. Moments later, the Internet gave more details.
In February of 1978, I was fortunate to find and rent a room on Cleveland Avenue, in anticipation of being a college student at the University of Delaware. It is okay to laugh, because if you know me well, you are already aware … I am allergic to reading, not especially scholastic in nature, and too busy LIVING LIFE to be stuck in a classroom. College for me was the rare combination of ingredients … It was a financial challenge, as I was completely independent of my parents.
My patience was constantly challenged, as my professors and even classmates misjudged me. At the same time, it was FUN. How does one not have fun if one lives crawling distance from Main Street … Stone Balloon … Klondike Kate’s … The Deer Park (the OLD Deer Park) … fine restaurants, New England Pizza two blocks away from Sam’s Pizza, a liquor store that was three doors east of my home and a meat market (ground beef, not easy coeds) only one minute walk west. Who really remembers the Daffy Deli? I do.
Yup. I was a frustrated student. Occasionally my frustrations were shared with friends. I make friends easily, or so I am told. As a student, every professor knew me quickly (before they knew any other students). Many classmates would comment about my classroom demeanor. All of the neighbors recognized me as “atypical” and I never knew why. Okay, maybe I knew.
And then one day a new neighbor arrived.
John Dohms was a UD professor who did not exhibit any of the characteristics you might expect. From the first day, John was smart, fun, approachable, and genuinely interesting. And interested!
For the next 20 years, John Dohms and Will Webber were neighbors on Cleveland Avenue. Overflow parking when I had a party was accommodated by John’s yard or driveway. Between us, we had every tool one would ever need to maintain a home, fix a lawnmower, work under a car, fix plumbing, and so much more. John and his lovely partner, Kim, maintained the home beautifully. They both were magicians when it came to turning dirt into a garden. Fresh vegetables were abundant and free. (The rabbits and groundhogs on Cleveland Avenue got very fat). Generous people. Kim even bought a house from me. I could not have been more lucky.
Then, in 2002, I bought a home on Barksdale Road. I moved two miles west to a neighborhood that was less saturated with students, less convenient to Main Street, and relatively quiet. (Did I mature? No, just grew older). As one expects, it is difficult to maintain close friendships when you are not close anymore. John and Kim and I would pass on the sidewalks or in traffic, unable to interact like real neighbors. I admit, it could be my fault that I lost touch with that chapter of my life.
How small is Newark? Kim was not only John’s very long-time girlfriend, Kim is also my sister Jane’s veterinarian. Well, not Jane’s vet, I mean the vet who maintains my sister’s cats.
But I digress …
In the middle of September 2012, one of my previous clients (also a UD employee) asked if John Dohms was my neighbor in my previous life. I answered, “yes” and emails were forwarded to me about John’s disappearance. Are you one of the many who received an email from me? I emailed all of my local clients, all of the local Realtors’ offices, and others who might help to find my neighbor. I reached out to Kim. I was able to meet John’s brother, Jim. I had fliers and notices that I could post throughout the parkland that was so close to where we lived. I was able to get closer to my “Cleveland Ave. roots” when Kim allowed me to fix John’s car. (His driver’s license had not been renewed, so the car sat in disrepair from neglect etc. Kim and I knew that selling a car that worked was more profitable than one that is broken). I fixed the car about the same week one of my vehicles decided to quit. Kim generously sold me John’s SUV.
Every time I drive the car, I am reminded of John and my youth and Cleveland Avenue. Every time I receive a compliment about the car, (most recently Vance Funk III just one week ago) I tell the story and my throat gets dry.
Today, for me, there is closure. Numb. Sad. Fond memories. Brutal reality. And my throat is dry one more time.