Friday, May 02, 2003
Last night, I had a chance encounter with one of my upstairs neighbors that haunts me this morning. Isn't it funny how you can live in the same building with someone for years and never cross paths, never notice one person's sudden absence?
That's the strange paradox about neighbors and apartment buildings; in our bid to retain anonymity, even the shortest physical distance could easily be an ocean away. Neighbors pass unseeing in the halls with scarcely a greeting, our only knowledge of one another muffled music, thuds, squeaks, and flushing toilets.
Our next-door neighbor Dawn is moving out this weekend into a new condominium with her fiance Chris. Since they're consolidating apartments, she's giving away a lot of her furniture and housewares to save to trouble of carrying them out of the building, and her two dresser-drawers are being taken by a lady who lives upstairs on the third floor of our wing. I'll call her "Jenny."
Jenny looks to be in her early to mid-40's, hair tinted in the fashionable reddish shade many city women wear in lieu of a straight brunette color, but in an oddly stiff style. She seemed a little "off" or distracted. We even silently suspected she might be "under the influence," although we smelled no liquor.
Her apartment is spare and clean, the bedroom is visible to our left. After brief introductions - yes, we had never crossed paths, despite living only a feet feet apart - we checked out the old dresser drawers Jenny was trading for Dawn's, and we'd offered to perhaps take Jenny's old ones. It's the old "city apartment switcheroo". The dressers were "Mid Century" early antiques in fair condition - an interesting pale green Jazz-age color with retro brass fittings, but too large and heavy for our decor. Nice - but just not our type.
I noticed a large framed photo on top of the taller dresser of a middle-aged man with a crew cut and mustache. He looked almost military except for the gold loop in his ear. The placement of the frame struck me at the time as unusual, almost like a small shrine. He looked familiar. Where had I seen him before?
We told her we'd think about the dressers, and suggested to Jenny that perhaps the Broadway Antique Market down the street would purchase them since they specialize in pieces from the postwar era. We said our brief goodbyes to Jenny, as she closed her door with a soft click.
The three of us walked downstairs to our floor and Dawn pulled us aside in a hushed whisper.
"Did you know what happened to Jenny? She was about to get married, when her fiance was killed in a car accident two months ago."
"You know what else," Dawn continued, "She was having these really bad headaches, and when she went to the doctor she found out she had an aneurysm that could burst at any time. She went in for surgery two days after her fiance died - that was his picture on the dresser. They told her if the aneurysm burst she'd have only about 20 minutes to live.
Now she's got to start all over again."
We all fell silent for a moment as the pain behind these facts sunk in. It dawned on me that Jenny's rather unusual hair was probably a wig, and her stilted speech and distractibility the result of her cranial surgery and of her recent great loss. If that isn't a case of life dealing someone lemons, I don't know what is.
I was struck by the fact that we'd probably seen Jenny and/or her fiance at some point in the two-and-a-half years we've lived in our building.
But we didn't even notice he no longer existed.
It made me think of how no thing and no person in our lives should be taken for granted, because no matter how certain a thing seems, it can be taken away in a flash by Fate. Back when I was working in radio this was one of the songs I'd play a lot; I was reminded of the words today.
"Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody's going to jail
If you find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door...
And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool's advice
And take care of your own
One day they're here;
Next day they're gone."
-- Don Henley, "New York Minute"