June 09, 2005

A Knock at the Door

Ive lived in my apartment for 9 years. In San Francisco this means I have cheap rent. It also means Ive lived there longer than most of the other residents. Everyone except the man across the hall. Hes lived there longer. I didnt know how much longer until Tuesday 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 theyre 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. Weve 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 Id never been to his apartment before. Hes frail and gentle but you never know what youre going to find or what might happen. Before my friend arrived hed 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 cant 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 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.

Posted by allison at June 9, 2005 11:02 AM