The knocking stopped last week. I heard that the neighbor passed away. I guess he was closer to the end than I realized. Some friends of mine, who were part of a small crew of people who I had somehow rounded up to stop by for visits, showed up one afternoon to find he was gone. Maybe he knew it was coming. Maybe thatís why heíd been reaching out to other lives. Maybe he just didnít want to go alone.
His death came fresh on the heels of news of the sudden death of a friend of mine. Itís been a long week full of sad surprises, balanced precariously with some good reasons to smile.
After he visited I emailed a list Iím on and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to visit the neighbor. There were a couple takers. On Wednesday he came back. Twice. I couldnít visit again. I felt trapped in my house. Like Iíd need to start tiptoeing through the hall if I didnít want to visit and would have to keep the TV volume down lower than I already do. I told him a friend would visit on Thursday, to just hold on. I asked if he needed anything, ďJust you. I just want a piece of you!Ē He said, trying to be funny. It wasnít. I felt him trying to carve out his piece of me and Iím a little too boundary happy lately, so I sent him home both times he knocked. Then I cooked some chicken.
I knocked on his door a few days later to check on him, and he was out cold according to his caretaker. I decided not to worry about him anymore. Sunday morning at about 3:30 I heard sirens, and instead of stopping in front of the old folks home like they usually do, they stopped in front of my house. I looked out into the hall, they were taking him away. He was awake and alert.
He came back at 10am, knocked on my door, and asked me for a hammer. He was locked out. I guess he wanted to bang the key into the lock. I had him sit down and I called the landlord. Too agitated to sit he got up and left, borrowed a hammer from someone else. Of course when he banged on his door enough, his caretaker woke up and let him in. Sheíd locked the deadbolt and gone to sleep.
Iíve lived in my apartment for 9 years. In San Francisco this means I have cheap rent. It also means Iíve lived there longer than most of the other residents. Everyone except the man across the hall. Heís lived there longer. I didnít know how much longer until Tuesday Ė 18 years.
Tuesday after work someone knocked on my door. Visitors have to buzz me from the gate on the street to get into the building. No one can knock on my door unless theyíre already inside the hall. I looked out to see the old guy standing there. He looked older and sicker than I remembered and I asked him what was wrong. Weíve never had a conversation in 9 years, just said hello on the stairs. I am a neighbor to him, but a stranger. He looked at me with pleading eyes through dirty glasses. He asked if I could come over to sit with him, to visit. He was alone, his friend/roommate/companion was gone all day everyday. He was always lonely. I told him I had just gotten home and would check on him in a little while and he shuffled back to his door.
And then I thought about how bad it must be if he is asking a stranger to come visit. I called a friend and asked them to come with me since Iíd never been to his apartment before. Heís frail and gentle but you never know what youíre going to find or what might happen. Before my friend arrived heíd already come back to see if I would visit. I went to his house.
His life is crammed into one room of the apartment. The others either empty of furniture, or filled to the brim with so many paintings and easels and sawhorses and painting supplies that you canít walk around. Stacks of paintings line the walls. He told me he had painted all his life, until now. Now he is too sick to paint. We went into his room and he reclined on the bed Ė the only clear surface. He lifted a bowl off an old TV box coffee table and took a sip of water. I sat on the foot of the bed. Against the windows is an old ripped loveseat, greasy and ripped and piled with 2 feet of crap. On top of the crap was a plastic chair, balanced 4 feet up, tilted toward a window. There was no place else to sit. There was medical equipment next to the bed and a drawer full of medications. He is dying of cancer. We sat in his dim dirty room for a while, me on the foot of the bed, my friend on the floor, and tried to make conversation. That was Tuesday.
My brother and I were time traveling. Visiting our parents, but most often our father at different points in time. We traveled within a period of just several years in the near future, and though it was in the future, I was younger in the dream than I am in real life. There was a bad man following us, time traveling to find us, and we had to hide from him in cabins, large public restrooms, in closets. Our father was helping us escape. The bad man was barefoot and had lost his shirt. His torso was streaked with dirt and blood. There was no doubt that if he caught us, he would kill us.
He almost got me once. I was going through a large womenís bathroom with my dad. We were looking in the stalls, making sure no one was hiding, and securing the area before getting some rest. It wasnít safe to sleep because this man could come through a window at any time. I guess if he was time traveling, he could appear in the middle of a secured room, but it was safer to check the hiding places and hope for the best. My dad started at the right end of the line of stalls, and I started at the left, each of us banging the stall doors inward to make sure they were empty. When I got to the middle, a door banged to a stop after only inches. Someone was hiding inside, and it was the man. I made a low guttural scream of effort as I tried to slam the stall door into him, but before I could tell what might happen I was sucked out again into the time continuum.
We knew that if we made it to December 2nd, we would survive.