The neighbor moved out of the bungalow next door not long after we moved onto Jean Street in Tampa, just before the bubble burst. She showed up on our porch in tears saying her mother was dying out West, and something felt wrong about the house, something she couldn't explain. Not long after the renters moved in, they were signing divorce papers and selling off their furniture. I went over to buy a dresser. This woman, too, was crying. She said I wouldn't believe it, but in the bathroom one day she had seen something dark hovering just behind her husband. That's when things began to change.
When they were gone, the place sat empty, and Florida did what Florida does. Vines ran up the stockade fence and repelled from the oaks. Clumps of bamboo spread and rocketed upward. Algae covered the swimming pool and the water turned black. The deck began to rot and the green window canopies grew mold. The little pink house turned a shade darker.
At first, my wife and I were dismayed. Our early-century Seminole Heights bungalow had been lovingly restored, and we paid through the nose. Now, market kaput, we found ourselves parked indefinitely beside an eyesore. Worse was when the clouds of mosquitoes began to rise from the pool. I threw pesticide dunkers over the fence and rang code enforcement.
But as nature consumed the property, as the canopy grew to block out the sun, we began to think of it differently. We were suddenly falling asleep to a chorus of frogs and cicadas and watching opossums trot down the fence-line. When two slats fell off the fence separating our yards, the space became a portal to a wild and mysterious place, albeit on a city lot. We'd take our daughters next door to catch tadpoles in the pool and play hide-and-seek in the almost overnight jungle. The eyesore became an escape from city life, real Florida right next door. And for a few years it was ours.
A month ago, someone planted a For Sale sign out front, and a group of paint-splattered men showed up in a construction van. The men painted and put on a new roof and built a deck over the pool and turned on the electricity. Flood lights underlit our disappearing refuge.
I'm sure my property is worth more now, and I'm hoping a nice family moves in and makes a home. But I haven't heard the frogs since the chain saws. I go to sleep now with nostalgia, and a better understanding of how pliable existence is here, and how full of life a place void of humans can be.