Memento Mori

I went into the leasing office in my apartment building earlier this afternoon because they have Milk Bones for Eden and Three Musketeers minis for me. While Eden was munching loudly and I was discreetly pocketing my guilty pleasure, I noticed a woman sitting on the office couch. She looked distraught. She was talking with the apartment manager about how her name was not supposed to be on her daughter’s lease, that her daughter had taken her name off months before. The manager was reassuring her, saying that her name was not on the lease.

I thought nothing of it. The apartment building is probably 25% students from the art college across the street, and it’s not unusual for parents to co-sign on leases, I’m sure.

This evening, about 4 hours after the leasing office incident, I left my apartment to walk Eden again and I nearly ran into a man right outside my door in a pressed white shirt and formal black trousers, also looking distraught. He asked me where apartment 226 was. I live on the 3rd floor. My apartment building is a little screwy, though. Some of the apartments starting with 300 are on the 2nd floor, some of the apartments starting with 200 are on the “plaza” level, between the first and second floors. I told him this, and tried to point him in the right direction. He walked back to the elevator with me.

That’s when I saw the empty gurney with a black velvet blanket on it.

I walked Eden. There was a police car outside the front door to the building with its lights off. I came back inside about 20 minutes later to find several people immediately inside the front doors, some sitting on the stairs, some milling about slowly and uncertainly. Some were crying. The woman who was in the leasing office earlier was there. She was telling another woman that she just wanted to be left alone, to have time to herself. The grief was absolutely palpable. Everyone was hushed, and grave, and gently touching one another.

I went back to my apartment. My heart rate was up, and I felt vaguely nauseous. The air had changed, it felt thicker, as though time had stopped and I was moving through space in spite of it. I dropped Eden off, tried to shake off the gloomy feeling, and prepared to go to the grocery store for such mundane things as spinach and eggs.

I left the apartment again, got in the elevator, rode down. When the elevator opened onto the first floor, I saw that the gurney was in the narrow corridor between the elevator and the breezeway leading to the front doors. I also saw the man in formal clothing, and a police officer. The man in formal clothing had tears rolling down his face as the police offer spoke to him in low tones.

The gurney was no longer empty.

I didn’t know what to do. There was no way around the gurney, which was blocking the majority of the corridor. So I stood there, quietly, shaken, trying to be inconspicuous and respectful, heart pounding, every hair on my neck at attention. Eventually the weeping man noticed me and apologized (jesus christ, he never needed to do that), and moved the gurney into the breezeway so I could pass.

As I walked by, I saw the form on the gurney. I didn’t want to look, but I saw out of the corner of my eye.

The figure was so slight, so small under the black velvet cloth.

So lifeless.

If this person was the daughter of the woman I’d seen talking with the building manager that morning, she must have been young. Her mother did not look much older than I am. The death of a young woman is always tragic, of course, and I obviously don’t know the cause. But the presence of the police and the weeping undertaker hinted at a story I was sure I didn’t want to hear. I suddenly felt deeply terrible in the strangest way. I felt awful that I most likely did not know the dead woman. It pained me that I probably never even saw her. I wish I had been able to help her if there was help to be had.

I didn’t go the the grocery store. Halfway there, my stomach in knots and tears threatening, I veered off and went to a bar to have a stiff drink and to write this out. The tears keep threatening here, too, but are kept mostly at bay by the presence of other people and the ability to put this into words.

I talk a lot in my posts about being grateful, and that is never spurious. But I am acutely grateful tonight. I thank the powers that be that I am alive, in spite of my lifelong efforts to the contrary. Any small, insidious thoughts of suicide have completely dissipated. I don’t want to leave. I want to stay on this earthly plane, to be here, to see the people I love. I want to keep doing the things I love to do. I want to continue to stretch my boundaries as a human being and hopefully, one day, rediscover a state of joy. I don’t think it’s far off, but I’ll keep trying forever if that’s what it takes.

The fact that I am not dead is a terrible source of relief tonight.

I’m grateful for my friends. I’m grateful for my ability to write, to run, to cycle, to walk, to see, to hear, to breathe. I’m grateful that I have a home. I’m grateful that I’ve found help for my chaotic mental state with a wonderful therapist. I’m grateful that I have almost no debt and a little money in savings. It means everything to me that I have future plans, future goals, future aspirations.

A young woman died in my apartment building. My heart is broken for her tonight, and for her family and her friends. I wish them a small measure of peace in all the frightening and torrid turmoil surrounding a death. I wish them many happy memories when the time comes that they are bearable.

The best tribute I can give to her is to continue to live.

Update: the deceased was the daughter of the woman I saw in the office. She was 27 years old, and she took her own life.

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