No matter how great a friendship, you truly never really know anyone.
About this time last year a lovely new friend moved into the 6-plex here where I live. He moved alone into the unit directly above me. What a gift! Nice quiet, 58 y/o retired fellow, friendly and like me loved to work around the building keeping things nice. LOVED DOGS! After several real shitty tenants he was a dream and settled in really smoothly. I could not have asked for a better tenant living above me.
He kind of became the glue that made our “Occupants” into a small family. Always checking on everyone, cheerful, sociable, all around awesome guy. We became fast friends even though I am often a suspicious and not so friendly type lol. We spent quite a bit of time together working outside on different projects, gossiping about neighbors or just drinking an evening ice tea out on the front stoop. Over this last year he, I and others here even spent some holidays together like Xmas Eve and New Years. We all had some fabulously-fun competitive Monopoly games on the weekend nights. Like myself he was a non-smoker and light drinker. A glass or 3 of wine on game night was plenty.
We saw one another at least once a day and spent sometimes several days a week either visiting or messing around in the yard. For an older single guy he kept his place in a somewhat reasonable state 🙂 Not exactly what I would call decorated but hey old guys don’t care much for that. Comfortable, semi-clean and tidy it was. He took over cleaning inside the building. (Prior to moving here he had been an accountant all his life then after 50ish a property manager of several residential buildings in town) He cleaned our hallways, vacuumed, mopped and did the laundry room all the time. Painting and weeding, just a real go-getter. We shared many life experiences, interests, peeves, work ethics… it all combined to make us very good friends quickly.
He talked a lot about his 88 y/o parents both still living in their home plus his 3 grown children and grand babies. Speaking about them his eyes would light up like each was a shiny new bar of gold. Unfortunately none of his children still lived in the area so he didn’t see them as often as he obviously wished he did. He spent a great deal of his time running back/forth to his parents as they needed his help with yard work and things too. Never a complaint out of him. He always instinctively knew other peoples complaints, issues and was an awesome listener. When asked about how he was or what he was up to he always said he was great, family was great and shared some news.
6 months ago he needed a dental surgery and there were complications. It was incredibly painful for him and they had him on a bunch of pain meds and antibiotics. About 4 mths ago he fell down at his part time job ( he was never quite right on his feet as he had previously had a stroke at some point). The fall left him kind of gimped up for a bit but would not keep him down. We all rallied and took care of things so he could rest up. He was still going on his twice daily walks. Three weeks ago he tripped on the stairs carrying his laundry basket and fell breaking 4 ribs plus a punctured lung. He insisted he was fine during these times and was getting on well. He started to finally heal up and last week we were scheming up a building Pot-Luck during yet another multi-tenant Monopoly game.
On Thursday I was in my kitchen just starting some lunch and as normal I could hear him puttering around above me in his kitchen. It was not abnormal for me to hear him drop something once in a while, trip or on occasion even hear him fall out of bed.
KABOOM. There was a massive smashing of dishes and cutlery and whatever else onto the kitchen floor. I heard him call out UGH, another crash on the floor and then what sounded like someone pounding on the floor for about 30 seconds. Then…..NOTHING. No movement, no noise, Nada.
I stood there in the kitchen looking at the ceiling, waiting for some hint that he was ok and realized holy fuck he is not getting up. The pounding on the floor was him flailing around seizing or something. 😦 I ran up to his door and knocked yelling out his name and there was no response. This was a brain twist for me as I often overreact & because he OFTEN would not answer his door nor respond. His excuse for this was always because he was in his housecoat or had headphones on. His door was of course locked so I ran up to one of the longest term tenants and told him what I thought was happening and did he have a master key? Thankfully he did.
We knocked again and went in. There was my friend on the kitchen floor, head cut open, blood all over, completely blue and unresponsive. I called 911 while the other tenant called our landlord/friend who knew all his family. I was at this time, oblivious to the surroundings in his apartment. I saw but did not process. 2 ambulances, 6 paramedics, 3 RCMP cruisers AND the fire department all arrived within minutes. They worked on him for at least 20 min straight. They shocked him so many times I lost count. The rest of us were just standing in the stairwell listening and praying. They did every possible thing they could to bring him back but the fact was he was gone before we even entered his apartment. They were still doing chest compression and had air going into him when they left with him. Although hopeful and wondering why, we all knew he was gone.
3 different RCMP took statements from me, both written and recorded. Quite obvious to me was he had a heart attack or stroke in the kitchen. I heard the whole thing. It was not like this was some serious crime scene. I thought it was all kind of weird and then I saw the state of his apartment through clear eyes.
The broken dishes and blood were NOTHING compared to the surroundings. I could not believe my eyes. I was stunned. Shocked. Completely Traumatized possibly worse then knowing he just passed away.
I couldn’t even take it all in.
The dust on all surfaces was an inch thick. Furniture was broken or out of place. There were booze bottles, med bottles, overflowing ashtrays, empty cig packs, dishes piled a foot high on all surfaces. Clothing, plastic bags even vegetables rotting in/ on furniture. Newspapers piled all up, bags of garbage. No where to walk that one could not be tripping over something. I guess the RCMP could see it in my face that I was completely shocked and asked “Is this how he normally lived?” It was absolutely not how he lived or at least from my experience but I had a sudden realization that I had not actually been inside his place for about 6 mths. How could this be? How did I of all people not see the signs?
I had never seen him drink more than 3 light drinks ever! Never smoked ever. I never had any indication of an issue. The coroner came a while later confirming what we all knew before the ambulance had left. He too interviewed me about what happened and about his living situation. They spent a while in there taking photographs and recording medications ( they had a pile there a foot high). My friend never committed suicide (that we know of yet because we don’t have a firm answer on that) but he might as well have. He killed himself with booze, cigs and heavy pain meds behind closed doors.
Once the coroner was done I asked them if it was ok if we cleaned up in there before his family arrived. None of them knew any of this. He said that evidence wise ( wtf) that they were done and others were now free to go in there. I went and had a drink with one of the other shocked tenants. We decided that we could not allow his family to know how he was living. We could not allow his families last memory of him to be THIS. Our landlord/his friend agreed and gave us permission to go in and clean up. We had no idea what that would entail.
We took out nearly TWO HUNDRED hidden 40 oz bottles of Whiskey. There was also an array of other liquor bottle but Whiskey was his obvious medication of choice. The rear deck was jam packed with Coke bottles. We took 10 full large bags of garbage out right off the bat. We cleared up so we could actually clean and make it look somewhat respectable. The bedroom had not even one clean sock in a drawer. Every item of clothing was dirty and strewn about the room. Junk all over, unmade bed with not even any sheets on it.
It took 4 HOURS JUST TO DO DISHES. The cupboards contained NO FOOD. The fridge had a couple condiments plus 20-30 various open containers of dried up somethings. WHAT WAS HE EATING? Every dish, pot, utensil was piled up dirty and dried on. Anything he was eating was eaten out of old plastic yogurt containers then put in the fridge to dry up and stank. The counters, stove, fridge interior and floors had to be soaked 4 x and scraped with a spatula. Just when we thought we gotten rid of all the cigs & booze bottles we would discover yet another hiding place. 2 -4 of us worked at high speed until nearly 10pm. We cleared his place of every possible piece of shame. There was nothing left that would be disturbing to his family and although not perfect by any means was in a state considered normal for a single nearly 60 y/o man.
I’m still processing all this. I am reviewing every conversation and action. I am crazy with guilt that this was going on and none of us knew. I never heard anything upstairs that I considered worrisome. I never had any reason to doubt his ability to care for himself or his mental state. He ran his vacuum regular… all normal sounds from up there. I bet he had not actually used the vacuum for 6+ mths minimum.
The total silence from upstairs is a constant reminder of the last couple days events. Constant reminder of how we missed the suffering of our friend 😦 Disturbingly quiet after being used to someones daily bumbling around and routine.
JUST TOTALLY DUMBFOUNDED 😦