Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Visual Inspiration: home, interrupted

About a month ago, our condo building manager texted me to say that the building handyman smelled something odd near our unit, so they were going to go in and see if anything was wrong.  Then came a text that our unit was fine, they would be checking the neighbor's unit.  A chill came over me--I realized that I had neither seen nor heard our neighbor for a month.  I hadn't heard her barking dog, the jingle of her house keys at 5am when she usually left for work, nothing.  Guy had seen her a while back, loading her cat and dog into her worse-for-wear Jetta, the cat yowling from the passenger seat and the 70-lb dog stubbornly refusing to climb in.  I knew she'd been having money problems and health problems lately.  What if something horrible had happened next door...and I was now among the legions of couldn't-be-bothered neighbors who never noticed that a fellow human being had died--or killed herself--next door?

Turns out that our neighbor had gotten a new job on the east coast and had moved out over a month before. I was slightly relieved that there would be no stories of the Capitol Hill condo owner whose pets had been chewing her face off and drinking from the toilet and a leaky kitchen sink to survive, nor would I be interviewed on camera to describe how quiet and nice the deceased had been.  To be fair, she'd always kept to herself, and that was what many of us who live in urban places want--to live our lives uninterrupted by the questioning and prying eyes and rumors spread by busybodies that sometimes permeate suburban and rural life.  And also to be fair, our units are on the side of the building with the trash chute, so if there had been any odor from her place, I would have written it off as fumes from the chute across the hall.

It turns out that the neighbor's financial woes had become too much, and she abandoned her condo to foreclosure.  When Guy saw her loading her pets into her car, that was her final retreat from our building. It also turns out that her emotional state had her living like a hoarder, according to the building manager--cat food cans piled up, broken furniture on the enclosed balcony, and the carpet ripped up from the living room so that only the bare concrete of the building's structure remained. She had been living like that for years, he said. Bad plumbing eventually betrayed her secrets; a slow leak in the kitchen had finally pooled water on the floor of the kitchen, dining room, and living room where lay at least six inches of trash, left from when she moved.  The building manager and the handyman spent ten hours shoveling trash out of the unit and bringing in fans to air out the musty, humid damage.

What does it look like? I wondered as I came home that evening. I tried the door handle, and it opened.

The manager and maintenance worker had done their best, but the condo was still in disarray.  I stepped over piles of clothes and bags of trash and peeked into the bathroom.  Bottles of Philosophy shampoo in the shower, Dr. Perricone face serum on the filthy, mildew-encrusted sink and counter.  This woman didn't just leave this place--she fled.  No one leaves behind Dr. Perricone face serum unless they're in a God-awful hurry.  I turned in the other direction and could just make out a pile in the bedroom corner.  The cat food cans.  I looked back at the cosmetic expanse on the bathroom counter.  When Guy saw her leaving for the last time, she was taking the most important things with her--her pets.  Everything else could be left.  And now, with the bank foreclosing on the place she bought not long before Guy and I moved in next door to her in 2001, everything else must go.

We live in urban areas for the convenience but also for the anonymity.  No one to pry into your life means that no one can spread rumors or be nosy, or even hold your failures up to your face constantly.  But I have to wonder if Guy and I could have helped this woman.  And then I wonder if she even would have let us in--Guy mentioned that if she ever answered the door, she barely opened the door and stood so that you couldn't see past her into her condo.  And for all our attempts at privacy and not wanting others to interrupt our routine little lives, we are interrupted by real life--people die, jobs are lost, homes are foreclosed upon.  Regardless of our tragedy or circumstances, we gather up that which is most important and go elsewhere, searching for the normalcy that allows us to live again uninterrupted.  I hope she finds the peace and quiet she deserves, I would say into the camera as the local TV reporter asked me about the neighbor: she was a quiet neighbor, and a nice person.


Lilylou said...

So sad, Pixie, so sad.

willderness gina said...

Is this the one to the right or left of your door? I was making so much noise last visit I didn't hear anyone. Surprised? Haz management tried a RSC Bobcat? They rent for reasonable... go almost anywhere. Beat the hell out of a wheel barrow and seed fork.