“Let me know if there’s anything you need.” I texted my friend Shawn.
“I’m ok thanks.” She texted back.
My phone lit up again with those little waving, bouncing dots, I always think they represent the wheels turning in the brain as we text back. The wave stopped for several moments, I imagined Shawn pausing to read what she wrote back before sending it.
Shawn’s message appeared a few moments later. “It’s so weird. We were supposed to sign divorce papers on Monday. Then Jack goes and Kills himself on Saturday. I was planning on being divorced. Now I’m a widow. Did I tell you Matt found him?” Shawn’s text read and I could almost hear her dry sarcasm as I read the words.
I just saw Jack a few months ago. We bumped into each other at a yoga class. It was the first time I had seen him since the break-up.
“Jack! How are you doing? Sorry about the break up.” I said.
Jack sat on his yoga mat next to mine. “Being single sucks.” He laughed, so I laughed too. He didn’t go in to any detail about himself but instead talked about how well Shawn was doing.
“You know, the break-up is good for her…I don’t think she would have gotten her master’s degree if we were still together. She’s doing really great.” He said with a sad sort of smile. Class began. Jack and I flowed through our practice side by side.
After bowing in Namaste Jack rolled up his mat. Several of us gathered in a small circle and chatted after class. I wasn’t aware that Jack and I had mutual friends. Maybe I would get to know him better. He seemed like a nice guy…sad but nice, and divorce changes people, often times for the better.
“Hey Jack!” I called as he was walking away. He turned around. “It was great to see you. Maybe I’ll see you at class again soon.” I ran up and gave him a hug. “If there’s anything I can do to help let me know.” I said. As we all say. We recite that clichéd phrase to our friends when they are going through a difficult phase of life. Most of us are sincere, but how many of us actually ever do anything to help beyond the cards, the hugs, the facebook posts of support. I didn’t feel that I knew Jack well enough to reach out and help beyond that superficial level. I hoped he had people surrounding him who did.
“Hey, haven’t heard from you. You ok?” I texted Shawn several days after our previous communication.
My phone lit up with those little blinking dots immediately. I watched and waited for her reply but the blinking stopped and no text appeared.
Later when I picked up my phone Shawn had replied. It was short…terse almost…if it’s possible to pick up a tone through text.
“I’m fine-just busy. Trying to get stuff together in Jack’s apt.”
“Let me know if you need help” I texted back. My phone lit up, the little blinking dots working on my phone. They would stop then start again.
“Yes-could use help. Tomorrow afternoon 1-3 Jack’s apt. Throwing stuff out & putting stuff aside to give to charity”
“I’ll be there.” I texted back happy to help my friend…dreading the task.
Shawn and I were scheduled to meet in the lobby of the historic grand hotel transformed into modern day apartments Where Jack lived after the divorce. On the ground floor past the lobby was a grand spacious room now used for yoga classes but was once a magnificent ball room. Rather than entering from the front of the building I came in from the side just to walk through that room.
The gleaming marble floor, mostly a variegated gray and white had splashes of black here and there that looked as if they could have been imprinted by elegant dance moves from centuries ago. I paused and imagined the room filled with couples dancing; women in their long ornate gowns, holding fans with one hand, their other hand on the shoulder of their partner. They stand a respectable distance apart as they sway and step, everyone in the room moving in step and time with music, and with one another. There is a twirl then a swoop and a dip…that’s where the black swirls in the marble floor came form I decided. The energy of that climatic dance moment captured in stone, solidified in time.
I walked through the lingering ghosts in the room and paused. I could feel a bright light over my head. It felt shimmery and soft not like the harsh zapping feeling I get from typical florescent lights in industrial buildings. I remembered that I was directly underneath that enormous chandelier.
Thousands of faceted crystals formed the brilliant lantern. The glass jewels hung delicately on individual strands. The strands together formed a billowing shape that looked like a flower bursting forth just before it bloomed. I marveled that such a powerful and intimidating work of art had been arranged from such delicate and fragile pieces.
Out in the lobby Shawn sat in an oversized arm chair next to the wall under huge gilded mirror. The Chair almost swallowed her petite body. Shawn, like the crystals in the chandelier, was small and delicate in form but her personality added three feet and ten pounds to her frame. It’s as if her spirit is composed of thousands of those delicate brilliant crystals. I only notice how tiny she really is when she’s seated.
“Hi!” Shawn jumped up (and seemed to grow larger) when she saw me. “Do you want some coffee-tea?” She gestured toward the café that I think looks awkward and out of place in the corner of the once elegant lobby.
“No. Thanks.” I said. I had come prepared to work and didn’t want to lose my momentum for a task that was sure to be dreadful.
“I have to get all his stuff outta there by the end of the week.” Shawn began listing items in Jack’s apartment that needed to be organized. I could sense how overwhelmed she was. Her whole being seemed full, tangled and overflowing with endless to-do-lists mixed with rollercoaster emotions. As mothers will do, I sensed she was holding her kid’s emotions as well as her own.
As the elevator doors closed Shawn leaned back on the wall. “I gotta get rid of that bed. Sucks that he died in it. I could have gotten some money for it. Maybe I’ll just leave that detail out and sell it.”
I laughed. Shawn was sharp and funny, though slightly sardonic that day.
We walked down the narrow hallway on the fifth floor. I imagined the hotel was a magnificent luxury destination when it was built, but the narrow hallway with low ceilings made me feel claustrophobic. Shawn opened Jack’s apartment door.
A stale, musty smell hit me in the face and I held my breath. It seemed like the windows hadn’t been opened for years. There was a strong odor of urine. I remembered Jack had gotten a dog, a puppy I think, right after the break up.
“Do you want anything? How about some art? This print is really nice.” Shawn was effervescent as she guided me around the living room as if it were a museum. A museum after an earthquake maybe. The floor was littered with trash, close hangers, gum wrappers, dog toys and Jack’s clothes.
I broke out of my work mentality to appreciate the quality art hanging on the walls above the mess. My own walls at home were still bare after moving in three years ago. As Shawn pointed to prints and paintings I envisioned each of them filling up my lonely walls.
“Are you sure? I’d love to have them…” I said gathering the framed pieces in my arms and setting them against a wall.
“I didn’t come here to get stuff…” I said. With my hand still on a framed silk tapestry I was coveting I turned my gaze to the mess-the task.
“Ok, put me to work.” I said. Shawn opened and closed the fridge. She opened a kitchen drawer, emptied the contents setting them on the counter then opened the drawer and put the contents right back in. She talked as she moved from kitchen to living room. Opening and closing things. Picking up objects then laying them back down. I know that state of overwhelmed where there is no clear place to start and every task seem too daunting to begin.
“Show me the rest of the rooms.” I suggested so I could form a starting place in my own mind and just get to work.
My eerie tour ended in Jack’s bedroom. Shawn stopped chattering, stared at the bed where the sheets were still twisted from the tossing and turning of Jack’s body before he died.
There was a heavy sensation in my chest and I found it hard to breathe. It felt like an icy sadness that didn’t belong to me was weighing on my heart. I stared at the bed. I saw the ghost of Jack’s form just like the ghosts of the dancers down stairs.
Shawn and I both just stood there…staring at the bed. “Matt found him.” Shawn told me again.
It’s so tragic that Jack’s 14 year old son was the one to discover the body. I tell myself that Jack didn’t consider that possibility.
“He suffocated.” Shawn said flatly.
“Pills and a bag over his head?” I asked.
“Yeah. How did you know?”
I put both my hands to my heart. “That’s how Sam told me he had considered doing it.” And for a moment I saw my 27 year old son’s body lying on that bed.
“Well, it’s effective.” Shawn said with that cutting cynical edge. It wasn’t directed at me, but it still hurt.
“Sam needs to get help.” Shawn said.
“I can’t make him.”
Shawn began walking in exhausting circles again. I decided to begin in the kitchen. She had opened the fridge first so that’s where I decided I’d start to work.
“You want to keep any of this stuff?” I asked.
“I guess if it’s something that’s not opened.” She said.
I began tossing jars of hoisin sauce and mayonnaise into a large black trash bag. A small steak still in its wrapper hadn’t even passed the expiration date. I started to ask Shawn if she wanted that but decided her mind was full enough and she didn’t need to make another decision. I tossed the steak.
A package of crisp romaine lettuce had hardly been touched. It was organic.
“This is so confusing…” I said holding the fresh lettuce in my hand.
“What?” Shawn asked from under a desk in the living room.
“I mean…why is there so much fresh food in here? If Jack were thinking of killing himself I wouldn’t think he’d go out and stock up on fresh organic produce. He was planning to eat this…you know?”
“It was very spontaneous.” Shawn said. “That gives me a lot of comfort.” She added.
I didn’t understand how that comforted her and decided not to ask. I kept thinking of my Sam. He will have a good day or week and decide to get healthy. He will buy good food and new clothes and I become so hopeful that he is finally turning the corner of his struggle with depression but then he crashes emotionally and is once again on the precipice where the end looks less painful than exsistance. The nutritious food in his fridge will rot and stay there until he feels better and cleans it out. I prayed I would never have to clean out Sam’s fridge and shook my head to try and remove the thought.
‘I just want to put an end to this samsara.’ Sam told me recently. When he talks like that my heart seems to steel itself up. My heart feels like it’s still beating but from somewhere deep inside a locked safe. For a moment I allowed myself to envision cleaning out Sam’s fridge. I felt nothing. Numb.
When I’d finished unloading Jack’s fridge I dragged the garbage bag into the hall to the refuse chute. I pulled open the steel door. A hollow empty wind echoed from the dark hole and the stench of trash hit me in the face. A fright similar to my irrational childhood fears gripped me—some evil force might pull me into the depths of hell through this evil portal, I thought. Or perhaps this is a monster in disguise–hungry, waiting for a carless victim who lingers by the door too long.
The thick door banged closed when I let go of the handle before I could put the trash in. I struggled to lift the heavy bag with one hand. I propped my foot on the door to hold it open then lifted the bag and tried to feed it to the mouth of the beast hoping to satiate its appetite and avoid being eaten myself. The bag didn’t fit. I leapt back and let the bag fall to the floor.
“Do you need a hand?” A neighbor asked as he was unlocking the door to his apartment right beside Jack’s. He smiled and wondered if I were moving in.
“No….I, uh, I’m not moving in…I’m just uh, cleaning up.” I stuttered and was sort of stunned to see a happy, healthy young person, smiling on this floor. Somehow it seemed as if the entire floor should be vacant. It felt vacant in Jacks apartment, cold and stale. The vacuous energy from his apartment and from the garbage shoot seemed to float into the hall and mingle there. Couldn’t everyone feel that? Didn’t they feel like they needed to evacuate this floor until that dangerous energy were cleared away or at least captured, contained and solidified like the energy from the dancers in the marble floor? It was all still so raw and fresh, despair and death floated through the hall, I could almost see forms of demons feeding on that negative energy. How was it that this neighbor couldn’t sense this dangerous evil?
As the trash piles began to disappear Shawn seemed to find her way out of the inner maze she’d been lost in. She was sorting and packing kitchen items. I moved to the bedroom. I ignored Jack’s ghostly form lying on the bed and began to gather trash. Q-tips, tissues, tickets from recently purchased clothes items littered the floor and everywhere were empty miniature boxes of chicklets gum. I guessed the gum wrappers belonged to Matt.
Sam’s room used to be littered with candy and gum wrappers. I used to scold him for the mess. I wish I could rewind the clock and take back every harsh word I’d ever spoken to him. Maybe all my firmness led to his depression. Could I be the cause of him contemplating suicide?
“Do you think Jack’s like thinking ‘Ha! I win! Now you’re stuck with cleaning up my mess and dealing with the kids.’?” Shawn asked me.
“No.” I said definitely. “I don’t think Jack was thinking anything like that. I don’t think he is thinking that now. I don’t think they are capable of thinking when they get to that point of despair.” I said answering Shawn but also responding to the questions weighing heavily on my own heart.
“It’s so sad, all of Matt’s gum wrappers in his daddy’s room.” I said as I thought about father and son hanging out watching movies in bed, chewing gum.
“No. Those were Jack’s.” Shawn said. That seemed even sadder still.
I carried yet another large trash bag to the refuse chute. Shawn held it open for me. “It’s sort of creepy-grim.” She said looking down the throat of the garbage monster. “I mean, I feel like I’m tossing Jack in there.” It was a pretty miserable place to be tossing items that Jack’s energy still clung to.
We walked back into the apartment that still felt and smelled heavy but was much less cluttered. An unopened bottle of water was left on the now cleared counter. Shawn put her hands around the bottle.
“You know what did Sonya in?” Shawn had brought her 16 year old daughter to her father’s apartment earlier that day.
“It was this water bottle. On her way up here last weekend Sonya stopped in the lobby to buy a bottle of water. She pressed the button and the machine gave her two bottles. She said she gave this one to her dad the same day he killed himself. ‘He didn’t drink his water.’ She said and then she started to cry.”
It’s curious the little things that elicit such emotion…a water bottle followed by the thoughts of ‘what if he drank it?’ Might that little seemingly insignificant act have changed his fate?
Gum wrappers…what if I had been a more loving mother?
A crisp head of lettuce…there was still hope.
“Let me know if there’s anything you need.” I texted my friend Shawn.