Days had passed before the police were called. The room is empty now, the body gone.
There are three of us engaged in the retrieval of any personal information. The brother, nephew and myself, I am the brother’s wife. I am here for support.
We debate about actually going into the apartment of the deceased. The nephew has driven a long way to help and so it is decided that we will go in. We are looking for anything of importance that needs to be retrieved.
Ever so slowly the door to the apartment is opened. It’s April and winter seems to be hanging on. The familiar April we used to know from yesteryear has gone, this April feels like March. The key gently opens the lock and the door slowly falls back against the wall. The nephew being a gentleman allows me to enter after my husband. I am in no rush to go in.
It is cold. Colder than it is outside, it’s that awful cold that bites your nose, the air thick with the smell of death and filth. A supernatural cold, temperatures where your hands freeze and then your heart. We are stunned; words cannot describe the scene we have walked into. A small one-bedroom apartment looks like a squatters haven. A lamp sits on an old tattered table in front of the window in what some would call a living room; the shade on the lamp is disintegrating much like the body that was here. Tattered and torn, the light bulb peeks out of what is left of the shade. The couch, a spring-like mauve, is covered in cigarette burns and one would not like to guess what else. There is an oil painting of trees and brush over the couch. A large outdoor scene framed in wood that you might find at a garage sale. There is no noise, no hum of a refrigerator, no birds singing, or kids playing outside. The sun is shining, but it is dark in this room. A sort of dread hangs large, like the picture on the wall. The carpet is black with dirt and dust and smoky soot. A wall unit sits at one end of the room, barren except for an old television. There was life here once? The scene is disgusting and disheartening all at once. A shiver runs down my spine. How awful, I hear myself say. My husband and nephew are as stunned as I am and are using language that is far more blue than mine.
We are looking for any kind of papers. We are in search of documents that would tell us something about this man. This man who lived here in this dark and dreary place, my husband’s brother, an uncle, a friend. This is where he spent his hours, his retirement whiling away his years. He was fifty-seven, a man it seems who took little care to clean. A neat, comfortable place to lay his head was not a priority. This tiny apartment was a place for him to indulge in what made him happy. A place where perhaps his addictions got the better of him, and in the end took his life.
The walls are black with filth and the kitchen, if that is what you would call it, is saturated in grease, dripping from the walls, the sweat of a thousand unsavory meals. The bathroom is unimaginable, filth from floor to ceiling. How does one end up like this? I have seen such scenes on television, but never thought in a million years they could be real.
Yet moving toward his small bedroom one could see that his bureau placed neatly against the wall was spotless. A haven of cleanliness, the top of the bureau dusted down to a shine and the drawers filled with perfectly folded socks and sweaters and shirts. Each one meticulously placed as though preparing for inspection by a Sergeant Major. It is a conundrum: why would someone take such care to make sure their drawers and cloths were laundered and folded when all around them there is swirl of decay and filth?
Emotions engulf you when you are placed in a position like this. Knowing you will go home to family and warmth. A sort of survivors’ guilt?
We found his niece’s phone number on a table, to remind him there were people in his life that did care about him. There was not much else in these rooms that would indicate someone lived there. His jacket draped over a chair, some photos of himself playing baseball. Cigarettes and rolling papers strewn about the rooms. Little pieces of a man and his life, fragments of him.
The body has been cremated, and a man’s life has ended. The memories of him at a happier time drift through my mind. When all of us were younger and our responsibilities were few. Then life seemed so full of potential, but some of us got lost along the way. The path perhaps somewhat laden with obstacles too difficult to maneuver.
As we leave this place a very somber mood entrenches the three of us as I suppose each of us recalls the brother, the uncle, the friend who once lived here. My husband’s words ring true as he tells me on the way home “ he made his choices “. Indeed he did.
The body is a vessel, a shape that holds one’s spirit, and it is this spirit that one hopes will take flight after death. We can only hope that his spirit has left his body, now gone from this earth, and taken wing to soar.
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