As morbid as it sounds, I have been placing mental bets on which of my neighbors would die first. At first, it seemed obvious. The woman across the hall from me was in her late 90s. She had nurses and caretakers constantly on watch over her. I never even saw the woman. Sometimes I would be in the elevator with one particular Filipino nurse who would give me short, unsolicited updates on the woman. “She didn’t sleep at all tonight. Long night,” she would tell me. I would be torn between sympathy and anger. Of course I felt bad, but at the same time dealing with the terrible impermanence of human life is heavy for eight in the morning carrying a laptop and heading out to a job in advertising. I’d usually just nod and do my best to broadcast some warmth in my smile.
Last Christmas, I was hanging a wreath on our front door when I noticed my other neighbor had just done the same thing. When we got rid of the tree and wreath weeks later, I noticed the other neighbor still had her wreath up. This woman lives next to the trash chute, so I see her front door quite a bit. Months and months passed and still, the wreath stayed up. It went from a dark, vibrant green to a lighter, dryer hue. It became petrified. So many things I looked forward to on my calendar had passed, but the wreath stayed up. It is nearly summer and the tinder box of pine needles and juniper berries still hangs on her door.
This was the morbid debate I had with my fiancee, who usually wanted nothing to do with such an impersonal and crude conversation. I have always been one to have these thoughts. I wondered if the wreath woman was dead and no one knew. I mean, if she ever left the apartment you know she’d have seen the front door and thought about how Christmas was long gone. Spring cleaning sort of starts with taking down the dead circle of evergreen on your front door, right?
One night walking home from the Four Seasons with a belly of scotch I found the Beverly Hills Fire Department out in force on my quiet street. They were trying to get into my building. Deciding they weren’t the most elaborate and organized terrorists of all time, I let them in. Sure enough, they were across the hall from my door. The woman with caregivers had passed away. I don’t know from what. I sat in the hallway watching everyone go about their business. Wondered what would become of the woman’s little dog. Had a brief moment of wanting to adopt it despite it being a silly, tiny dog that I couldn’t take anywhere. Then realized I had no idea who I would even ask about it. Quitter.
So the damn wreath hangs in perpetuity. What does it even mean now? It’s a symbol for something. Just can’t figure it out. Stared at it the other day in the morning before I did something truly strange.
For whatever reason on my way to work the door to the dead woman’s apartment was calling to me. The universe loves a good setup. Of course I check the door knob and the woman’s apartment door squeaks open. It is the mirror opposite of my apartment. She has lived in the building so long they have not renovated. Where my place has hardwood floors and a marble entry way, hers is sterile, but ancient. I have to go in. I don’t want to, but I have to.
It’s cold. It’s creepy. It smells of cleaning supplies. I have this feeling. It’s like fingers crawling their way up my spine finding their way into my hairline. It’s a weird scene. I take a minute in the living room before looking down the hallway. It’s a little too much for me. Just a feeling of not being supposed to be there. This place will need to find some life before it feels normal again.
I guess there was no point. Maybe to refocus on enjoying every moment. Maybe it was a sign to yank that dead wreath off the wall and do away with it. Maybe just a kick in the heart to make summer feel even more needed. In any event, I don’t plan to ignore it.
And hopefully soon the apartment rents…