The man across the hall

My neighbor, a man in his late 40s or 50s who lived directly across the hall, was discovered dead in his apartment today. Been dead a long time, possibly over a month. None of us had seen him since before Thanksgiving. The lady next-door has been fretting over this situation for weeks and asked me to knock on his door, which I do. Never an answer. She said she last saw him back in November when he came out in the hallway, stumbling and slurring in an uncharacteristic fashion, looking to bum a cigarette. And that was the last time any of us saw him alive.

The postman told me and the lady next-door a couple weeks back that he stopped delivering the guy’s mail and put a notice in his box for him to come to the post office to retrieve his mail by a certain date or it would be tossed out. We knew then that the guy wasn’t shacking up elsewhere since his medications are sent by mail.

Then the landlord came around to do routine pest control and the lady next-door told him to look in on Sam, but the landlord saw the sign on his door stating he was a “day sleeper” and decided not to bother him. The various notes taped to his door have been there for over a month, untouched. Today I learned that the new apartment manager did go in at one point with the pest control people and saw Sam lying on his sofa under a blanket. What was eerie is he later asked the lady next-door if Sam was a black man, which he isn’t. That’s because Sam’s hands had turned dark by then…but the connection wasn’t made until today. Yikes.

Today is the 6th of January. Our lease specifies that rent must be paid by the 5th each month. Sam received Section 8 housing assistance, so the majority of his rent is paid directly by his caseworker. It was told to me today that Sam hadn’t paid his share of rent in December either, but the landlord didn’t react until this month’s rent went past-due. And here we are.

I got up today feeling like hell after a rough night with stomach problems. Walked out and saw the new building manager (a man in his late 50s who’s only been employed here a few short months) standing in the doorway of Sam’s apartment, talking with a cop and some other lady (later learned she was with the medical examiner’s office). That smell…

Another neighbor was told that the smell would be worse once the body was moved, for whatever reason. And it sure was. Our hallway is intolerable at present.

They had my car blocked in by the police vehicles earlier when I tried to leave for work, so I watched as they brought out his body in a zipped bag. The lady next-door was pretty emotional about it all, despite barely knowing Sam, she and her husband having only lived here a few months. Sam’s been a recluse for much of the past year. I’d knock when a package arrived for him, and he’d seem grumpy about being disturbed, saying he was working nights by that point. So we generally left the guy alone. But the lady next-door noticed Sam’s lights and tv never being on anymore, they normally being visible through the blinds to those who smoke out on the back porch. She’s been worrying and fretting over him for weeks now…

Not the first time somebody’s died in this building while I’ve lived here. A very obese woman who lived downstairs died last year, and her boyfriend on the 2nd floor was distraught. I still have some of her houseplants he asked me to care for.

As for Sam, he was a real nice guy most of the time. When he first moved in we’d chat and I even let my cat go over to hang out with him one afternoon (she’s popular in these parts, ha). Can recall getting into a big feud with my beau one day and Sam offering to cook me dinner, which was very nice of him. And on the occasion that I needed something fairly trivial but didn’t want to drive to the store, he wouldn’t let me pay him for the item, just insisted I take it for free. All he asked of us was to adjust our use of the washing machine to accommodate his sleep schedule since his back bedroom was right next to the laundry room, and we all respected his request. Then I’d see him less and less. Sometimes would pass him as he walked back from the bus stop, then not even that anymore. The last time I recall seeing him was when a package was delivered that I kept in my apartment until I could reach him. He looked haggard and didn’t say much that day. And that was it.

The lady next-door saw him one other time in November when she helped him set up his new cell phone. Then nothing more was heard from that apartment.

The building manager said there was a good bit of alcohol, medication and marijuana in the apartment. Maybe he mixed his drugs with accidental consequences. Maybe he deliberately committed suicide. We don’t know. Might never know. They said they reached his father to tell him the news and were still trying to reach his ex-wife last I heard. Not sure if Sam had any kids. He never mentioned any to me.

Always kept his place tidy. And he grumbled a lot about our apartment management and showed me how he kept all correspondences from them in a binder. Seemed a little paranoid to me at the time, like he was expecting to eventually have to go war with the landlord over repairs or something. He knew his rights as a Section 8 tenant and expected the landlord to comply with the law, which I suppose is reasonable. Our landlord isn’t some huge slumlord, just cheap and unable to keep a quality maintenance crew around. But those are the only times I saw Sam get pissed, when he was talking about his tenant rights and venting about the building management situation. Other than that, he seemed like a nice, friendly guy.

But we really didn’t know much about him.

Sad that he laid up in that apartment for likely more than a month dead. His caseworker hadn’t even checked in on him throughout that time and so never reported him missing.

The smell is overpowering and nauseating and likely will be for days to come…


Update Jan. 11th, 2015: Well, the neighbors are still buzzing about the news of Sam’s passing. One of his brothers stopped by the day after his body was found, and I’ve seen a couple of his brothers come and go since then, including one this morning. Moving all of Sam’s stuff out. Apparently they live in town but for whatever reason(s) were estranged from Sam. Perhaps that’s what Sam preferred. But the next-door lady who’s been talking with everyone here about this matter claims that no one called Sam’s phone beyond late November, so it appears his family wasn’t reaching out to him over the holidays. It was said by one of his brothers that he did used to visit and take Sam out sometimes, but I’ve never noticed Sam receiving any visitors, ever, nor have any of our other neighbors. The walls here are thin enough that we can hear knocks on doors even on other floors, so directly across the hall I most certainly would hear comings and goings, as would the lady next-door who’s a stay-at-home wife. There were none. No visitors. Never have any of us met a member of Sam’s family prior to this past week. Yet they claim now to have been relatively active in his life and to have visited fairly frequently. That’s simply untrue.

A neighbor said she heard from one of Sam’s family members that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and so decided to hole up with vodka and drink himself to death. The medical examiner folks claim Sam was severely dehydrated and had no food in his system, so it appears he had ceased eating in the days leading up to his death.

Just passed another of his brothers on the way in this morning and he and my neighbors informed me that Sam was just a month shy of turning 58 years old. They said Sam would be buried at a military cemetery.

And, come to find out, Sam does have children somewhere out there. They’re likely full-grown by now. No one has had any further information to share on that though. They have not shown up at his residency to help collect his belongings, that much we do know.

I’ve been aiming to skirt around the people coming and going this week and have tried to avoid being pulled into the gossip among the neighbors, though they leap right into the subject as soon as they see me in passing. It’s all been quite depressing. Amazing how many people claim to care once someone has died…but where were they when he was alive?

It’s difficult not to feel guilty about someone living so close and yet not knowing that they needed help or comfort or companionship. He turned everyone away and put up a sign on his door claiming he was a “day sleeper” so that we wouldn’t disturb him. And so we respected his desires and let him be. I rarely saw him over the last few months and assumed he was staying elsewhere much of the time. Used to see him sometimes though, back several months ago. He was always polite to me, friendly, and we’d interact just fine. I didn’t realize the extent of his suffering, and he did not make it known to anyone.

So many of us live here as soloists, and we tend to stay to ourselves. I’ve grown used to that and try not to pry in my neighbors’ affairs. I simply go to work and come back home and seek refuge within this cubby space of my own. As do the rest. We’re not a community — we’re people temporarily cohabiting within the same building in separate units. Or at least that was the case until the couple moved in next-door. They’re very gregarious and curious about what others are up to, and so they speak more to people in passing than anyone else here has in the 6 years I’ve resided here. They’re not used to apartment living and do expect a sense of community, hence why the wife of that couple was the first to become concerned about Sam’s disappearance. She seems to know about many of our comings and goings, like it’s a hobby of hers to check up on people. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, just outside of our norm is all. And she was right to be concerned here. But it was too late. And now she’s emotionally impacted and feels guilty for not reaching out to him more persistently despite barely knowing the guy. I don’t know what to say to her. Her sadness impacts me, as does the whole situation here, but what was anyone to do about it? We had no way of knowing what Sam was going through when he didn’t share that information with us. Yet it’s said that he did tell his family members, and they apparently did nothing. Probably assumed he was depressed and would eventually pull through. Sad that he didn’t.

In light of this event, I’ve decided to make some life changes myself to try to pull out of the dark space I’ve been spiraling into most especially this past year. In the meantime, though, I will continue trying to skirt by the neighbors and their gossip, because what’s done is done and I have no further comment on Sam’s fate.

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3 Responses to The man across the hall

  1. Janet says:

    Good Lord Woman! I can’t believe there was no smell for a month! Wow.
    My dad died this summer, but he had air conditioning…however the smell was so bad after two weeks, someone finally called the cops for a welfare check…by that time apparently the entire block could smell “it.” The superficial people he cared about didn’t care about him too much & he 86’d most of his family, so, no one really knew what he had been up to.
    It took months for them to remove the stink,
    but only 6 months later, a new family is living in his old place!!! Ick.

    I’ve heard there is nothing like the smell of death,
    Sorry you are going through that right now.

    This probably won’t shock you, but dead body clean up is a BOOMING industry right now, you can make bank. This is a “new,” industry because in the past, people used to look out for each other, not anymore.

    I actually applied for one of those “supposed,” jobs when I graduated & was desperate, but they wanted me to pay $400.00 and use my own car, NO THANKS!
    You need a buddy too, which I had…but you never pay to get job, that is one good thing I learned, (except college, Laugh/Cry, NO MORE!)
    One needs to find a reputable company, and if I ever get out of the situation I’m in,
    I would do it, because poverty sucks!
    There is a pristine company here that does it.
    You have to be good with power tools, be able to rip out walls, carpet, floor board, etc.

    Here is one of the best video I found of a woman who does it…

    You have to get certified etc…It is what it is.

    • Byenia says:

      We figured we’d smell something too, hence why we thought maybe he’d gone off to shack up with somebody. But now that they’ve opened the door and moved his body, the smell is really strong in the hallway.

      No reason to feel sorry for me. It’s just another life experience. Didn’t know the guy too terribly well. It’s sad, but we don’t really know what happened or if it was an accident. I do feel bad for Sam. But it was probably hard on him living such an isolated life too.

      The landlord will handle the clean-up expenses. That’s all out of my hands.

    • Byenia says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. Though you were estranged, undoubtedly it’s still having (or gonna have) an impact on you. That’s rough, honey. You have my sincere sympathies.

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