Today at about 2pm, I got home from a lovely adventure. I set my iPod to play Dessa and I turned the speakers up loud. I had energy and it was positive, and of course, I set out to do some housecleaning.
Shortly thereafter, before I even grabbed the broom, there was a knock at my door. I wasn’t expecting guests and nobody stops by unannounced in my ‘hood.
“Is D* home?” she said after looking me up and down. It wasn’t really a negative look-up-and-down, but more of a curiosity.
She was blonde and probably in her 50s. A gentleman hovered near her side with a quizzical look.
Nervously, I hugged my body to the door and said to her slowly, “I’m the new tenant – moved here last December…I understand that D* passed away.”
The woman extended her hand towards the man, who was already moving closer to her. “Did you know…”
“No ma’am, I didn’t know him, but the super told me he killed himself.”
She began to tear up and said that she was a friend of D*’s ex-girlfriend who had also just died. The ex- had also taken her own life.
This is actually the second time strangers have appeared at my apartment door since I moved from the sixth floor to the second in this building. When I had been looking to move, it was due to a painful break-up. I was aware that at least one of the three available apartments had been inhabited by a man who had committed suicide. I was content to never find out which one because I really needed to move and moving intra-building was the most cost-efficient way.
The first time folks stopped by to check on D* was in December, shortly after I moved in. I was hungover and still in my bathrobe at 1pm on a Sunday. I assumed that couple knocking on my door were religious-folk. We get a lot of that here in Queens, so I silently peered through the peephole. They continued to knock, the woman bringing her face close to the glass. “No thank you, ” I said.
“D*? Is D* there?”
I had seen D*’s name on bills and advertisements that were still being delivered to my mailbox, but I had never heard anyone say it out loud. It was a bit horrifying in a superstitious way…a way that I never thought I had ever felt. In my state, I stupidly said through the door, “He died.” Closing my eyes and putting my head to the door for a minute, I regretted it.
Even though I was dried out and messy in my robe, I opened the door to apologize. The couple had already fled.
After that, I continued to receive his mail. He got mail from the government, utility companies, Indian reservations selling cigarettes, and western clothing outfitters. That month, he also received quite a few Christmas cards. There was also some mail addressed to a woman, who I began to call, “the dead guy’s girl.”
D*, who’s name really does start with D became “the dead guy.” It became a way to refer to him internally. That’s who he was. The Wrangler jean wearing, cigarette smoking guy who had offed himself in my foyer closet. A coping mechanism, I suppose. I tend to employ them.
My Super passed all of this on during a toilet repair. He said the woman was the dead guy’s girlfriend and she found D* hanging there – right where my coats and jackets hang now.
There was a month or two where I would stare into that closet and think about it a bit. I don’t know what D* looked like, but I had an image. Eventually I marveled at how a cylindrical piece of wood could hold up a man until he took his last breath. Friends were understandably horrified when I told them a man had killed himself in my apartment. They almost always ask how, which I guess I understand. Curiosity is a strong urge.
One really never knows what has happened in an old apartment, especially in New York City. I mean, at least the former tenant hadn’t been murdered or been a murderer himself, right? How this comforts me, I don’t know. Another coping mechanism, I suppose.
Since D* still receives a lot of mail from Social Security and other government agencies, I presumed he had been depressed severely enough and long enough to get a check. I was sure some of the mail that I marked “Not at this address – Deceased” contained government support for someone who must have been that debilitated by a disease.
I held on to the Christmas cards for over a month. I considered responding to the well-meaning folks updating D* on their lives and wishing him holiday cheer. I continued to receive a large (standard for a living human?) volume of mail in the dead guy’s name. By February, it was clear that his loved ones had not notified any of his creditors or friends that he had died. I never could muster the courage to write to them. It seemed like an insurmountable task.
Sometime in mid-February, I threw the cards out. Who was I to tell them?
Just last Friday, I got a frantic call from my Super, “M*! They are here shutting off your gas. They said that Mr. D* didn’t pay and I try to tell them he not alive…”
Shit. The last time I paid my gas bill was in early February.
When I moved in December, I called the gas company to close my old account and to open the new one. After a heated 20 minute conversation, it was established that the gas company had somehow managed to close my old account, but not start my new one. All the cooking (necessary and therapeutic) I had been doing for the last 4 months had apparently been on the dead guy’s overdue account.
The gas company representative failed to understand that I would not have gotten a turn-off notice addressed to D* – that envelope, like all the others had been marked with “Not at this address – Deceased.”
“Didn’t you notice you hadn’t paid this month?”
I thought about it. Well sir, I don’t sit around by the mailbox waiting for a gas bill. I just don’t. Wearing him down, and then finally conceding that the goal was to get my gas turned back on, I agreed to fax my documents and arrange for them to come out next week. Why fight?
After the couple came by looking for D* earlier, I pushed STOP on my iPod. I had a succession of very difficult phone calls with family members to attend to. Illness, job loss, home foreclosure, bankrupcty, anger, and despair. Everything happening in a state far away.
In my state, I really want to chop things up, roast something, make a big pot of soup and hand-blend it smooth with music blaring. It would take hours and fill my home with the smell of beautiful things.
Without gas, I can’t use the stove or the oven to calm my nerves. I think about D* and the mail I continue to receive in his name. (Apparently, he is due a new shipment of smokes and his Visa bill is going to collections – according to the red stamp on the envelope.)
I push PLAY on my iPod and raise the volume. I pour myself a gin & tonic and raise it, too.