I was in Art School and it was my senior year. I was finishing up a bunch of projects burning the candle at both ends and I finally had a night off. My plan was to sleep in. I remember waking up late that day. I stumbled around, read the paper, showered, cleaned up a bit and just lounged around for most of the morning. It was a typical sunny Los Angeles afternoon. It was two o’clock and I just sat down at my drafting table ready to work.
I lived in an amazing space; it was a dream place. Wood floors, two bedrooms, one of which I turned into the party room as fellow art students would come over to drink and draw on the wall. It looked like a squatters flat; elaborate drawings, graffiti and a dartboard. I loved that room. I spent many nights drinking beer, painting on the wall and playing darts with my fellow art school buddies. The rest of the apartment was sparse. I strategically placed my drafting table in the living room because it had the best light. The living room had these four beautiful tall and narrow arched windows that looked out onto the front yard. All the windows were open and the sun casted magical shadows on the floor. It was a hot day. I was bare foot wearing boxer shorts and a t-shirt. Sitting at my table I was staring out across the street, just motionless trying to gear myself into working.
Several minutes had passed when I noticed an old gray-haired lady trying to look into my house. She was leaning and peering into my front window. My windows were open and had screens on them so she couldn’t see much. I knew she could hear me because I had music on, but then she walked away. I didn’t pay much attention to her until she came back again minutes later and started walking up to my front door looking very panicked and confused. I got up and shuffled to the door and asked, “How can I help you?” She came up to me very quickly and started telling me about her sister-in-law that haddn’t meet her for tea that morning. She explained how she sees her everyday and lives downstairs from her, and oh, could you please break into her house to see if she’s all right? She had gray hair pinned up in some sort of a beehive and she had a thick accent. I’m not sure what kind it was, maybe Russian or Eastern European.
I’m standing there in my boxer shorts and here’s some old lady telling me to break into her house. It was an odd request, but I was cool with it and I didn’t feel like working anyway. I told her to hold on while I threw on some clothes and grabbed a screwdriver. I’m not sure why I grabbed a screwdriver, but I thought a screwdriver was the perfect tool in these situations. I went outside to meet her and she was now in extreme anxiety mode, waving her hand motioning me to hurry up. We walked briskly four houses down up to the front path to a duplex. I know this house. I drive by it every day. As we were walking the old lady explained that she lived alone and her sister-in-law lived downstairs. As we neared the house I knew in my gut something was wrong.
We reached the front door, the door I was supposed to break into. It was open and unlocked because she had the keys, but the chain latch was on. The door opened about five inches just enough for me to fit my hand in and unlatch the chain. I quietly thought to myself this is odd, she could have slid her hand in and unlatched the chain. After the “break in” the old gray-haired lady had never stopped talking. “I hope she’s ok”. “She usually comes for tea around twelve o’clock and it’s almost three now”. “She hasn’t been feeling well”. The more she spoke the more I knew the outcome. As the door swung open she quickly brushed by me and walked in and then turned to me and said, “Please stay, don’t go”. It was dark and a thin layer of smoke hovered around the ceiling.
We walked down the long dark hallway to the kitchen. As I walked inside, I looked around and every room had tons of boxes, magazines and newspapers stacked high. This lady must have kept everything she’d ever received. It smelt bad and as we entered the kitchen the old gray-haired lady let out an, “Oh my!!” I knew what to expect, but then I don’t know if I did. She was now talking a hundred miles a minute. She grabbed my arm and I told her to call 911. She left to go call for help and I looked at the ceiling not wanting to look at the dead body lying on the floor, but I couldn’t help myself. Right there in the middle of the kitchen was an old lady lying on her back all twisted. She was in a strange position, a very unnatural position. She looked much older than the old gray-haired lady. She was wearing a nightgown and had slippers on. She was pale and had a cast on her right arm. Her face was expressionless, her eyes and mouth were open, snot was crusted down her nose and her hair was messy and tangled. I slowly walked over to her and knelt down, I touched her wrist to try and find a pulse. She was cold and very, very stiff. I didn’t know what to do; she must have been there for at least five hours. I stood up and looked around and saw the pot on the stove, still burning, she was cooking milk and it was completely burnt and black. I turned off the stove feeling very much out of place.
The old gray-haired lady came back into the room and said, “I can’t call, can you?” I walked to the hallway as the old gray-haired lady walked directly behind me. I picked up the phone and dialed 911. While I spoke with the operator the old lady was looking at me intently like I had some answers to the questions buzzing around her head. The operator asked a lot of questions, like where is the house, who am I, how old is the victim and so on. Then the operator asked me if I knew CPR and I said, “No”. “Would you like to revive the victim if I guide you through it?” A long pause and then I started to stutter. I was thinking how could I, I don’t know how to do it, plus she was cold and stiff and looked very, very dead to me. I replied, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think she will respond, um she’s been there for a long time”. The operator said, “Ok an ambulance will be there shortly”. Click.
I turned to the old gray-haired lady. I wanted to comfort her and let her know everything would be all right, but I knew it wasn’t. She asked, “Is an ambulance coming”? “Yes” I told her. She had calmed down until she walked back into the kitchen. Then she started talking very quickly again. She said, “Her sister in law hadn’t been feeling well lately and she should have known something was wrong”. “Look she was cooking her breakfast”. “Look she burnt her milk”. “Look she had broken her arm several weeks ago”. “She doesn’t have any relatives, oh dear what am I going to do”? “This is horrible, she has been very depressed lately, and look she was going to have a banana for breakfast”.
I looked over and on the counter was a brownish yellow banana waiting to be eaten. It was peeled and there was a knife next to it. I don’t know why, but I felt bad that this old lady was going to eat a banana for breakfast and never got to it. I tried to comfort the old gray-haired lady and kept saying the same things to her like the paramedics will be here soon, are you ok, this is horrible, are you ok? If you need anything…
Those few minutes in the kitchen went on what felt like forever, and then I heard sirens and went outside to greet the paramedics. They ran in asking questions like, “What happened, where is the woman”? I led them to the kitchen as the old gray haired lady looked on. A few moments later another fire truck pulled up and then a police car. They asked the old gray haired lady lots of questions and the police asked who I was. All these questions were being answered when the paramedics came up to us and informed the old gray-haired lady that her sister in law was dead. I knew it, but I still felt bad. I also felt out of place and I slowly began to walk backwards to the front door and then the old lady grabbed my arm and said, “Please stay”. I stood there trying to lend support and just watched the commotion and the sadness in her eyes. I soon said goodbye and told her if she needed anything or needed to talk just come down to my house. She thanked me, grabbed my hand and said goodbye. She was now talking with the policemen dealing with all the paperwork that goes with dying.
It was still sunny as I left the house. I felt strange but so very much alive. I walked into my living room and just sat on the couch. I felt bad for the old gray-haired lady. She had no one. She was alone. She could have opened that door, but she walked outside looking for someone, anyone to help her. I was happy to help. It was the first time I had seen and touched a dead person. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. My day started out in a haze and found its way to a lifeless elderly woman sprawled out on her kitchen floor. She woke up alone, tried to make her breakfast and then left the world alone, while the old gray haired lady would spend tonight alone. I got up and noticed my clothes and hair smelled of smoke and death. I headed to the back of the house and took a shower. I never spoke to the old gray haired lady again, but I often saw her walking down the street alone.