Richard

(AUTHOR NOTE: My publisher told me I could post a chapter from the new book. There were 25 chapters to choose from, but I chose this one. Because I wanted to give you a love letter. And it seemed like the most appropriate love letter to give you would be an extremely indirect one that screams, "DO NOT FEEL SCARED—I AM JUST INTERACTING WITH YOU!!") 

                                                                            ---------------------------------

For the first few years of my life, the only people I knew how to find lived in my house.


We had a neighbor, Richard. But Richard was quiet and rarely outside for long, so I didn't know about him. 

One afternoon, though, Richard went outside.


That's how I found out about him.


I did not interact with Richard. I just saw him. He probably didn't even know. He stood in his driveway for a minute or two and then went back into his house. But I saw him. I think that was the main thing.


It was very exciting. A person lives next to us!  person!  He lives right there! And I SAW him!  When will he go outside again?  What else does he do?  Does he know about dad? Who is his friend?  Does he like whales?  Is his house the same as ours?  Which room does his grandma live in?


Desperate to catch another glimpse of him, I'd lurk near the windows all day just staring at his house.


I think I expected it go somewhere. You can't find out there's a person living right next to you and then never get any answers. Maybe if you're 100 and you know everybody, but not if you're 3. Not when it's the first stranger you know how to find. I just wanted to know more. Anything.


And this is as far as it would have been able to go if it wasn't for the dog door.


My grandma usually supervised me while my parents were at work. She'd drink screwdrivers and do the crossword, I'd run around the house and do whatever. If she hadn't seen me in a while, she'd check to make sure I still had all my fingers, but escaping wasn't a big concern. The doors were locked. Just in case, there were jingle bells on the handles. 

The dog door was the single weak point in the fortress.


The revolutionary impact the dog door had on my ability to observe Richard was second only to the discovery of Richard himself.  

I was cautious at first. 

I just wanted to get a little closer. Just a little. I'd sneak out through the dog door and go stare at his house from the edge of our driveway, hoping this would summon him. When it didn't, I'd sneak a little closer. Maybe it'll work if I stand in Richard's driveway…. or, actually, maybe I'll just go over to this little window here and see what I can see… 


I started sneaking out more frequently. I started sneaking out at night. And the fact that I was sneaking seems to suggest I might've been at least partially aware that this type of behavior should be a secret, but I don't think I'd reached that crucial developmental turning point where you're capable of recognizing how creepy you're being. 

However, on the night I found the cat door in Richard's garage, even my undeveloped, fish-level brain could sense that a boundary was about to be crossed. A tiny, instinctual trace of doubt—the wisdom of my ancestors whispering through the ages: This might be too weird of a thing to do… 


Of course, one of the main features of undeveloped, fish-level brains is poor impulse control, and before I could complete the thought, I was in Richard's living room. 


I hadn't prepared for this possibility. I'd dreamed of it, sure. But I wasn't expecting it to HAPPEN. So I just stood there for a little while and then retreated to regroup.


A concrete objective never emerged, but the missions became bolder and more frequent. I started bringing things back with me. Richard's things. 

They seemed valuable, somehow. Richard likes these things…. perhaps they contain the secret to Richard…. 


A nonsensical collection of Richard's possessions slowly accumulated at the back of my toy drawer. 

This would prove to be my downfall. 

Long before that, though, my mom noticed that I'd mysteriously disappear sometimes. She wasn't worried yet because she didn't think I knew how to get out of the house, but one day she asked me where I'd been. 

And I said: 

"Hanging out with Richard."


"Hanging out" was a misnomer—Richard had been hanging out by himself and I had been standing in his hallway just out of view—but this was concerning news for my parents. They didn't even know that I knew Richard, let alone that we'd been "hanging out." They went over and knocked on Richard's door and asked him about it, probably with thinly-veiled suspicion regarding Richard being a child predator. And Richard, who was still somehow unaware of all the hanging out we'd been doing, told them he didn't know anything about that.


I imagine things were tense for a bit. The suggestion that I'd been hanging out with Richard was disturbing for both my parents and Richard. But the clues piled up. I couldn't control myself. I took more things, bigger things. I also branched over into hiding things for Richard to find. Pretty rocks, pieces of string, letters I'd tried to write. At that age, I didn't know how to spell very many words, so the messages were fairly cryptic: the entire alphabet, followed by the word Mom and a drawing of the sun. Rampant scribbling, hundreds of tiny circles, and... is this a spider?? 

The spider was supposed to be Richard. I hadn't figured out how many arms and legs people are supposed to have yet, so I just put a whole bunch on there and hoped it was enough. I didn't want him to feel offended because I shortchanged him on legs. 


It must've come off like being haunted by a defective but well-meaning ghost. 


The connection should have been obvious. But, when faced with a mystery like, "Where did my remote control go? Why is there a piece of paper with a child's handwriting on it hiding in the VCR? And how do these rocks keep getting in here?" almost no rational adult would jump to the conclusion "because a child has been sneaking in through my cat door and leaving these for me to discover." Not even with clues. I don't know what theory Richard came up with to explain it, but it almost certainly wasn't that one. 


Similarly, when faced with a mystery like "why does our child keep disappearing? And why has our child been "hanging out" with our 40-year-old neighbor?" almost no rational adult would jump to the conclusion: "because our child has become obsessed with our 40-year-old neighbor, and 'hanging out' is a loose term to describe the activity of spying."


The thing that finally blew my cover was stealing Richard's cat.

Stealing it wasn't the original plan. The opportunity presented itself, I seized it. 


It was a strong animal. Getting it into the drawer was difficult. I didn't have a plan for what to do with it, but I knew I had something valuable, and I think the thought process was that I should save it for later. For when I figured out how to capitalize on the probably unlimited potential of this. 


It lived in the drawer for a while. I don't know how long. Hours, probably.


And now it is time for a quick fact about cats: cats aren't good secrets, because, under extreme duress, they have the ability to make a sound like:

YAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAOAO

My parents eventually realized the sound was coming from inside the house and located the source of it.


They weren't expecting to find quite so many of Richard's things.


I don't know if they put the pieces together immediately, or processed them individually as they came up—"first of all, there's a cat in this drawer; How about that. Next up: there appear to be a considerable number of objects under the cat. This one is a shoe. This one is a piece of bread. This one is a credit card bill. Huh…it's addressed to 'Richard The Neighbor….'"—inching closer to the truth with every clue until the ultimate answer to "What does 'hanging out with Richard' mean?" was revealed. 

There was more than enough evidence to answer the question. 


That's got to be a strange moment for a parent. There's this omnipresent fear of predators and monsters, and you just… you never quite expect to find out the monster is your kid.

They confronted me after a strategy meeting about how the fuck to handle this. That's not something the books prepare you for. There's no chapter on what to do if you suspect your child is a predator. There's no Hallmark card for "Sorry we accused you of being a molester; we didn't realize our kid was sneaking into your house and stealing your spoons and animals and watching you while you sleep. We're really, really sorry."


That primal instinct I'd felt in Richard's garage flickered back online a little bit. Looking at the objects, and the freaked out cat, and my parents' confused faces, I realized that yeah, maybe this had been a weird thing to do....


I felt like I should explain why I had done this, but I didn't know either.

So we all just stood there, feeling weird about ourselves and each other.


The cat was stoked to be free, though. 


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
UPDATE: You guys have been asking about what happened after the story ended—did my parents apologize to Richard? What did they say? What happened with the cat? 

I don't know exactly what my parents said in their apology, but I did my own apology later. Afterward, Richard gave me a stuffed rabbit as a peace offering. I named the rabbit "Bigwig," and it was my favorite toy for a very long time (the pink rabbit that shows up in this post and a couple other places in the book is an homage to Bigwig). 

I'm still trying to find actual Bigwig (I do still have him), but in the meantime, here is a picture of me, my sister, and Bigwig (I believe that's Richard's house in the background): 


This was probably a year or two after the incident described in the story. And, as you can see, Bigwig was already showing signs of extreme wear and tear. I truly loved him. He went everywhere with me. 

While searching for photos of Bigwig, I also found this: 


I didn't draw the cat correctly (in my memory, it's an adult cat), but my mom's caption leads me to believe that this was, in fact, the cat I stole from Richard. 

Anyway, Richard was (and probably still is) a very kind man. If he somehow reads this and realizes it's him, I hope it makes him feel beautiful. I feel like this gets it across a little better than my early attempts, at least.   



256 comments:

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kittenknit said...

When I was 3, I used to go next door and play my neighbor's piano.

Are you really alive? Have you been okay?

CTLively said...

Allie
I love your work- it is brilliant and true. Thank you for discussing issues like mental health and for sharing your very real and human experiences with us.
I heard your NPR interview on 9/22 and I am so sorry about the death of your sister. You were with her In her time if need. I loved how you mentioned the importance of being kind to yourself. It’s so important. I send my gratitude to you for sharing your art and wisdom with us and I look forward to reading more of your work

Laura Burkehart said...

Got this today and finished it already. Thanks for this bright light during this shit hole year. You don't need our pleas to stay visible in the world or our permission to go back to the place you feel safest. But I hope you know how many people—strangers—genuinely enjoy, appreciate and care about you.

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Anonymous said...

ohhhhhhh my goddddddd bless this day something good finally happened in 2020

Sarah Bird said...

Just ordered mine from my local bookstore! :) Can't wait! <3 It'll go next to your 1st book.

Astrid said...

I'm so happy you're back. Sad to hear what you've been through - and are still going through, but you're still here, and your work is still superb (had to read it in one sitting, couldn't put it down). Thank you. 💜

Reziac said...

This is why when the announcement came, I ran right over and pre-ordered the book. Besides, the old book is lonely. (It needs a stuffed Alot to keep it company.)

Also, good thing this was posted, because I had since forgotten I'd pre-ordered the book. I will be surprised again when it arrives. The more I like something, the less I remember of it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Allie, how I missed you. Hope things are going super with you right now.

Love from Brazil!

Cynthia said...

When I was a kid we lived next to none other than GEORGE LUCAS in Marin County.. before he was famous. He was kind of a weird man, always quiet and not entertaining a bunch of toddlers, but his wife Marsha was nice. They had a gum ball machine In their house. Which was too amazing for us. George also liked to eat Mr Goodbars and there were always some in his fridge.. Marsha would give us gum balls , but not Mr Goodbars. Anyway, we figured out how to get into their house through the dog door and my brother sister and I got busted breaking in trying to jimmy gum balls out of the machine.

lapuce said...

Thank you so much for posting again! The way people stare at me when I'm laughing out loud in public is totally worth it.

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Unknown said...

I found this blog on the side of a toilet paper thing in a bathroom

ACakim said...

OMG! Missed your work and just got my book, best thing ever happened to me in 2020. Chapter "Richard" SOOOO FUNNY, thanks for your stories Allie. Please don't disappear too long and keep writing.

Festooned With Hussies said...

I was literally crying on and off all morning (because the world) and I saw you were back and now I can’t stop smiling. I mean, I *can*

Festooned With Hussies said...

(And most likely will) stop smiling at some point (brvause aforementioned “world”), but my day has a lot more sparkle now and your new book is arriving tomorrow, so MORE SPARKLE

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful. It reminds me of when i wanted to run away to my teachers house and i thought surely she lived next door to the school. I went to the school and kind of wandered around on the sidewalk in front of those houses expecting her to see me and come outside, i was too timid to knock on doors. Until my mom, who was aware i was running away and just followed me up the block, got tired of watching me do this and said it was time to go home.

Dave said...

Hi, Allie.

Another random internet stranger here. I was startled in a happy way when you suddenly posted again after so long. I still re-read your first book fairly often, whenever I'm in the right mood for it. Just finished your new book and wanted to thank you, again, for making being weird feel a little less weird. I'm glad you survived everything that happened and were able to write about it all. I hope things get better for you, in whatever ways work for you.

--Dave, also weird and uncomfortable a lot of the time

Anonymous said...

so good

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So'ham said...

This is quite possibly the most important thing I have read in 2020. Thank you.

Kerri said...

Got your book in read last night and am now finished. So happy to have read it but sad that I am now done. I love your work. I will read everything you write. You are truly original and brilliant and you bring so much joy and perspective to readers like me - thank you.

Kerri said...

*and read it

mima said...

I am so happy you are back! Have to go now and make a plan to get my hands on your book (living in Serbia, it's a bit hard).

Lois said...

Hello...a friend of a friend shared this with "friend"!! Omgoodness, this is exactly what we needed!!!!

Unknown said...

Allie! I'm so happy you're in this world. Thanks for sharing what's in your head so that those of us with similar, ridiculous, manic brains and weird lives can laugh, breathe and take another step forward. Plus, your drawings are so fxxking spot on.

Mark T. Tomczak said...

This post, and the book, are the high points of 2020.

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jewelergeorgia said...

Love your new book Allie! So grateful for you and your talents, you help me feel normal and OK! Cried right there with you too, loss sucks and sucks and sucks and sucks some more. Your talents are a gift to us all and help us where there is usually so much silence.
Love to you

noctuatacita said...

Allie! Book looks good! Glad you're okay! <3<3<3

avianraptor said...

I almost shit my pants when I clicked the link and there was a new post!!!! So glad you're back Allie, the internet isn't the same without you <3

Anonymous said...

Super thrilled to have a new book from you! Enjoying it now.

DrQuiltPath said...

You're back! I have loved your comics for 9h so long. You've brought tear, hyena laughter and sideaches to me. Thank you. Off to the parp!

OvergrownHobbit said...

Dear Hyperbole-and-a-half Publisher,

SOLD!

Very truly yours,

Mrs. I Just Bought The Book

Anonymous said...

I just had oral surgery. I ripped the stitches in my mouth from laughing so hard. I am drooling blood and wheezing laughing.

Anonymous said...

Allie, thank GOD I am not the only person who stowed a cat in a drawer. Full disclosure: Another dead giveaway is that they poop!

Annie said...

I ordered this book the very moment I learned about it so I could get it on the very day it was released. Thank you, Allie! FINALLY a bright spot in 2020! So many hilarious stories. I most love "Losing" because I find it so very relatable, being presently engulfed in an existential crisis and also having had a cancer scare and a sibling commit suicide. And you experienced this all in one year?! Respect.

The most perfect sentence ever for 2020: "Sometimes all you can really do is keep moving and hope you end up somewhere that makes sense."

Sam said...

Our copy came yesterday. And its amazing. Thank you Allie.

Sam said...

It is, that is. Although the book may also have its own amazing. I haven't asked it yet.

Tinymckittens said...

I needed this today. I ordered the book within 6 minutes of finding out it existed, which, I hope you know, is probably rate first time in my entire life I didn’t think before purchasing and I didn’t comparison shop. I wish you could fax me the book while I wait to get it.

Mel said...

So nice to hear from you again after such a long time. I am halfway through the book and still adore your writing style. You really have a way of capturing feelings that are often difficult to explain. Thank you for illustrating things so perfectly. I hope your future brings you a lot of happiness and peace.

K-cup said...

I am so thrilled to know you are surviving! And finally getting your second book has been the best part of 2020, hands down. Love, love, love!!

Giu Alonso said...

I actually curled my toes with excitement foor reading something new from you! This made me cry laughing -- as your stuff usually do. Thank you so much and I hope you are doing great!

korinthia said...

Just got your new book in the mail today! What an amazing preview this post was.

Thank you for making me laugh.

Adam said...

Time to BOOK

Rachel said...

Oh man reading this felt like coming home. And as someone who's felt like a homeless drifter her whole life (likely due to having lived 6 places before my 3rd birthday), thats a big friggen deal.

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Grace Pegafin said...

Now I’m wondering how many of us have had 3 year olds sneak into our homes and just...never never be spotted 🤔

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Alia Atreides said...

I am so happy you are doing well Allie. I found your work while I was figuring myself out, around the time when your first book came out. Your reflections on mental illness helped me walk toward mine. I can safely say that your reflections on the matter helped me become a healthier person. Now, I am a healthcare provider and often refer my young patients struggling with depression to your work, to help them gain some vocabulary and recognize they're not alone in fighting the dragon if depression.

Your work means so much to me! I am so happy you are alive and well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the great times Allie! Been following from the beginning and you've brought us so much joy. You're stories are relatable and make us feel like we are not alone. My faves are the early Tumblr posts but your work has grown into something so much more. Your fans are proud of you! - Kate

Anonymous said...

I didn't proofread my comment before sending it and now I hate myself. - Kate

BiscuitCultist said...

I'm so glad to see that you're still alive. I was honestly really worried when you just vanished but I totally get not wanting to deal with the internet BS. Looking forward to the book!!

Anonymous said...

I came back to this blog because I had to give someone grief for saying "alot" and decided to link to that post. Imagine my excitement to see a new post! Gonna buy a new book, and hope that you keep posting here!

Anonymous said...

I laughed so hard I was sobbing and my dog has very concerned about me. Thank you.

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