Tonight, I ran out to get my mail and on my way back, I met a man I didn’t know, with a southern accent and a firm handshake, who said he’d been living in 102 since November. I felt mildly guilty, as I usually do, that I had no idea he had moved in, that I wish I knew my neighbors more, enough to ask them to bring in my mail or water my plants when I’m gone, enough that they would ask me the same. I was about to let the guilt go and move on, when the man, who introduced himself as Paul, said he was the brother of David, a neighbor I had gotten to know over the past year.
David had Parkinson’s disease and sometimes had seizures. On his better days, he liked to hang out in the hallway with his door open, or hang around the back door, saying hello to everyone who walked by, again and again, even if he said it to the same person every five minutes. Once, I’d come upon him when he was upset and crying, and we talked about what it was like to be different, to be “people with disabilities” living in the world, and I found comfort in our conversation. I wrote an essay about it. It’d been months since I’d seen David anywhere, and had hoped fervently that he’d gone home to D.C., or maybe he’d moved into assisted living or something. Every once in a while, I thought I should ask my landlord about him, but I hadn’t seen my landlord around lately either.
I’m so glad I ran into Paul, and that he didn’t let me duck into my apartment without talking to him. (I tried.) He told me that David had died in January, after being in the hospital for a few months. Paul had moved into tie up David’s “affairs”, and is leaving to go back to Virginia tomorrow. I’m so glad I hadn’t missed him.
Paul also told me that my landlord, Marvin, had also died in February. I had said, “I wanted to ask Marvin about David, you know, since I hadn’t seen him, but I haven’t seen Marvin lately either.” I remember I kind of smiled, like, you know Marvin, he’s everywhere. And Paul said, “Marvin died too.”
I couldn’t get my head around it, these two neighbors, who lived across the hall from one another, one landlord, one tenant, both the life of the building, the only two I knew and who consistently greeted me with warmth, both dying within a month of each other. So much loss, so easy for me, as I immediately did, to feel guilty about not knowing, to think, “I wish I would’ve known, I could have helped maybe.” But what could I have done? I wished I had been friendlier, enough that I would have met Paul sooner, or sent my condolences to Marvin’s wife, or something. My brain, as it does, worked hard in those moments with Paul to figure out what I could DO. How could I make my past apathy better?
But I couldn’t, and I can’t, and it’s not about me.
Paul asked me to share memories of David. I struggled with whether to tell him about the essay I’d written, how I was shopping it around, trying to get someone to publish it. I wasn’t sure he’d like that I’d written about his brother. I decided to just tell Paul how welcoming David had been when I moved in, have: he was the friendliest, steadiest person in this building, how in my moments of homesickness, I appreciated it so much.
Paul said he was sorry to be the barer of doubly bad news. I felt wrenched that he was apologizing to me when his brother had died. He said he would tape a piece of paper to my door with information about David’s obituary, if I’d like to read it. I said I would, didn’t bother to tell him I couldn’t read the paper. I asked him if I could give him a hug, and remembered that after our conversation where I’d found him crying, I’d hugged David too. He seemed so thin. Paul was more wirey than thin, but strong, intent on holding me up, even though he didn’t have to, even though I should have been doing that for him.
Tonight, I’m winging a thread of hope to the universe, that Paul will have a long, happy life. And that he knows that David will always be a fixture in my memories of this place and of Seattle.