How it ends thus far

e390f91d0c1a6c62c1d966331299e71f_story-end-illustrations-and-stock-art-498-story-end-illustration-_180-195I’ll tell you how the story ends. It’s me living alone in a subsidized apartment downtown. There is currently an infestation of “drain gnats” and since I cannot afford bleach or drain cleaner, I’m attempting to deal with them by boiling copious amounts of water and pouring it down the pipes. However, the internet has informed me this is futile as the larvae can survive extreme heat. Now I have resorted to taping over every drain in my unit save for one – I feel like a crazy person doing this, but I’m not alone.

All the people in my building are crazy in one way or another – and I don’t mean that in a figurative way. One of the requirements to live in this building is that you must have some diagnosed disability. There may be a rare case of an elderly person or two with strictly physical disabilities, but near as I can tell they are in the minority. 

I’ve lived here a little more than a year now and have managed to avoid contact with most of my neighbors. There’s a black woman who goes by “C” because nobody can pronounce her real name. I ran into her my first week when I was doing laundry. Being new to the building, I thought it would be prudent to stay in the laundry room while my clothes were being cleaned. I had just come out of the homeless shelter and couldn’t afford to have anything stolen. Jodi Picoult’s novel “The Tenth Circle” was keeping me company as I waited for the cycles to complete. I exchanged pleasantries with “C” but nothing more. 

A guy I call “Creepy Greasy” lives on my floor – the nickname should be self-explanatory, but I’ll tell you about my first encounter with him. My friend Jess helped me move my things from the shelter into the apartment because I didn’t have a car. The building has a few shopping carts in the back hallway to help people move things in and out. After clearing out my room at the shelter, Jess and I drove to my new building. We loaded my stuff from her car onto one of the carts and took the elevator up to my unit. After unloading the cart, we went back to the elevators to put it back in its place. When the doors opened up there was Creepy Greasy just standing in the elevator. He stared at us and we stared back at him. Once it became clear that she and I were not getting on the elevator with him in it, he creepily and silently got out of the elevator and walked to his apartment. His hair was long, black, and very greasy – and so it is every time I see him out walking his cat around the building carrying a mug of coffee which he sloshes about.

I think the lady I share a living room wall with is named Debbie. I’ve never met her, but she must have severe post-traumatic stress disorder because she screams at random – day and night. I’ve either become accustomed to her screams or they are less frequent than they were a year ago. What unsettles me most is when I can clearly hear her scream the word “help.” I have no way of knowing if she is having a flashback or is in need of actual help in the present.

That’s where my other neighbor Donna comes in. She’s a little nutty, but her heart is kind. When Debbie has her fits, it’s Donna who knocks on her door and tells her gently “It’s okay honey.” Donna has used those same words on me a time or two after a particularly rough day. 

Donna just decided that we were going to be friends without consulting me in the matter, and perhaps that’s been for the best. We became acquainted when I stole her laundry detergent that she left sitting in the hallway. I couldn’t afford to buy any myself and it seemed less risky to steal it from her than from a grocery store. After writing me a nasty note and slipping it under my door, I wrote back an apology and gave her my old fishing gear that I hadn’t used in years. We now spend time together sitting at her table talking over a drink or two a few nights a week. I held her as she cried when her beloved cat of sixteen years passed away. She gives me little trinkets and gifts that I don’t really want, but wouldn’t refuse either because it’s how she expresses her affection. We’re both estranged from our families of origin so we’ve mutually decided to consider one another family.

She’s also become my connection to the rest of the building. She told me about Debbie and the horrible abuse she suffered as a child. She told me about another neighbor whose dog had died. And she’s close friends with Helge who lives on the first floor.

About a month back he was out back smoking his pipe as I was coming into the building. He asked if I knew how to darn and I replied with a quizzical look. He explained that he had a pair of wool gloves that had worn holes in them. My guess is that Donna had shown him the hand warmers and matching hat I had knit her for Christmas and he thought I may be able to do some mending. I told him I could take a look and though I felt incredibly uncomfortable being in his apartment, knowing he was a friend of Donna’s helped me retain my composure. He gave me the gloves and I mended them. He also lent me a book by Jon Kabat-Zin. A few weeks later he brought me some Irish stew he made for St. Patrick’s day. I still need to return his container. And I still need to read that book.

Then there’s this older gentleman with grey hair and a bright face who asks me if I’m new to the building every time I see him at the elevators. He’s always wearing a grey t-shirt and blue jeans. I always tell him that I’ve only just moved in. 

Someone was murdered in the building a few months back. I didn’t know him either, but I think his name was Duane. The news reported that he was an ex-con, which makes me even more uneasy than the fact that he was murdered. Some of my crazy neighbors are also ex-cons. But I’ve learned to sleep with that knowledge along with the relentless traffic that parades by at all hours. I grew up falling asleep to the sound of frogs and distant cattle. Things sure have changed.

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