Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Eulogy for Apartment #3

Today, as I was leaving for work, a funny smell hit me as I walked out the door. A rot of some sort. I pinched my face and went about my morning.

They moved in down the hall about two months ago. Like a summer storm, their fights were shrouded shouts that exploded and then went away.

What I like about living here is that people don’t get in your business. We coexist. Don’t get me wrong, the people who live here will say Hi to each other once in a while but the language and skin barriers keep any real connection from occurring. Let me see, there are some white punks on dope who live downstairs, right across from the Mexican family whose dad is always hanging out fixing cars and drinking beer on the weekends. He is friendly enough to me, and that is good because he is the kind of guy who knows everyone on the street and watches who comes and goes. The woman who lives across from me is five months pregnant, a single black mom to be. She works at a bank and is pleasant enough. The guys on the other side are workers. They get drunk on Fridays, blare their mariachi music and howl songs of sorrow into the night. We get on just fine. I have only seen the tenants at the end of the hall once or twice. I said Hi and it wasn’t returned. I didn’t feel slighted or anything. You can’t make people be friendly if they don’t want to be.

A couple weeks ago, on the eve of a work night, the shouts down the hall erupted into screams and shrieks. They were stomping on the floor and pounding on the walls. The fight spilled down the stairs into the foyer. Soft solid thuds of flesh being impacted by fists echoed upwards. I pretended to sleep.

For a while I thought about calling 911 but I didn’t want to take responsibility. Who really wants to get involved in a complete stranger’s business? I wasn’t the only person in the building. I knew everyone else who lives here had to be listening.

Laying there huddled in a ball, a flickering flame sputtered in my stomach. I tried to put it out but couldn’t so I let it burn away. Pain is a funny thing, it never lets you forget. I remembered where this particular brand and flavor came from. When I was a boy my parents would go after each other on Sunday nights. They would start up after dinner, generally critiquing the performance of the Saturday team they coached. A mistake would be rubbed into the wounds of defeat and success would be savored like a full swig from the victory cup. They would siege into hotter points of contention, be it religion or in-laws, then culminate the confrontation by arguing about money.

As brothers, we subconsciously learned our cue when to clear the table and make ourselves scarce before the sparks could ignite. When the civility ceased and the fists would fly, we would be huddled together in someone’s room pretending to be reading a book or playing a game. In reality all we were trying to do was block out the tempest raging out of control.

I moved here for a reason. This spot is the symbiosis of my self-imposed exile. Bruised and battered by rejection, I have pushed away almost everyone and everything. My little day-to-day problems are projected so large that I never have to acknowledge the monster who lurks behind the screen. My schedule is so full of tasks and activities I never have time to be contemplative, let alone self-critical. When I do manage to ensnare a captive into my corral, I can’t help but to bind them with my failed expectations to a personalized whipping post. Once immobilized, I unleash upon them such a consuming flame of blame there is no fuel left over to light a fire under my own butt. Late at night, in bed, alone, wanting from the depth of my soul for something to hold and love, I retract and recoil saying a mantra “I am not avoiding the problem, I am not denying the problem, I am not the problem…”

So she is locked out, screaming at the top of her lungs for help. There is nothing more profound or disturbing to me than the song of sorrow in a woman’s voice. She is buzzing all the apartments to get back inside. He is standing behind the door shouting some incoherent command.

I am torn. Do I get involved or do I pretend it is not there. If I let her in I am involved in this mess. If I do not I am an accomplice to this crime. Deep down I hope that like most other storms this one will rage, then blow away. If I hold tight and shut my eyes, maybe just maybe this whole scene will pass.

She eventually ran off down the street yowling into the night. He followed her a minute or two later. The ensuing silence gently covered the building and lulled me to sleep. When I woke up that morning I realized that nobody had bothered to call the police. I guess we were all waiting for someone else to.

The next day I saw one of the punks on dope. With knowing glances we nodded then both looked away. As I fiddled with the front lock I said “So, did you want to let her in?” He replied “It isn’t my business and I’m not about to get involved.” There was an uncomfortable hesitation before we entered the foyer. He looked at me and said “That’s really a chicken shit copout, ain’t it?” I smiled and replied “At least you aren’t alone.”

That night I wrote a letter to the property management company hoping they could do something, but knowing deep down they were powerless in the situation at hand. The most I could do from that point was to live my life accordingly.

Oh yeah, I was telling you about today. When I came home from work there was an ambulance and a couple police cars in front of the building. Lights flashed, gawkers gawked and the yellow tape defined boundaries. I walked up the stairs and saw a host of health officials going about the task of hauling a zipped black bag onto a gurney.

I locked my bike a little closer to my apartment so I would be out of their way. A police officer came over to question me. It turns out that she had been there for at least four days. The circumstances of her departure were cloudy. The television was the only one who bore witness yet could not reflect upon the crime. I was rendered useless in elaborating upon the sublime. He let me go and I went inside to eat. My apathy overcame appetite, so I just sat in the dark to think.

-Justin 10/11/96
Oakland, CA

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