I knew I was living.
I knew I was still a human. However, I can’t honestly say I understand anything else about who I was then.
It was a chapter of my life I haven’t read yet. I was more of a reflection of the life I was raised in.
During this glorious time of my life, I had no kids, no roommate, and no romantic affiliations that demanded I devote my time to them. I was future facing. I had no need for my past, but the present moment meant nothing to me. I knew everything. I was invincible. If I could just figure out how to get out of my head, I would have conquered the world.
“Well, well, well; we meet again.” I say to myself facing a mirror.
I wipe the fog from the mirror and see my unfiltered, nude reflection. I scowl and look away. Appreciating the form I saw would have changed so much, but I couldn’t.
Instead I would set out to destroy myself under the ruse of a good time.
I slowly danced into clothes. Meticulously inspected myself and started my morning routine.
Eventually, I smelled the familiar unfamiliar food smell. I could never quite tell what it was. However, I could tell by the pungent aroma, it was time to get to the bus stop. My smelling parts demand I leave; or else.
As I trekked out to my regular bus shelter, I remember having overwhelming insecurities. I can’t remember them all, nor would I want to. If I had only known what I know now.
Most of my time was spent stuck in the turbulent waters of my head. I didn’t see much in the world even though I was in it. Like most people, my vision was turned inward, but I digress.
In my sluggish progression, I start my regular, awkward conversation with my upstairs neighbor. He was at least late 50’s, and lonely.
Unfortunately, he was less than capable at articulate English conversation. Bless his heart; or so they say to those who try really hard, but don’t succeed. Our conversations generally surrounded his ‘Jazz Music’ which to me sounded like old-school baroque Mozartian music. He lived above me, so I was often subjected to his tastes in music and TV.
I believe he attempted to make deeper conversation, but I only understood minimal Ukrainian. I only knew how to swear and say, “I love you”. It wouldn’t have been a very functional exchange.
It’s 8:30. I have only a minute before my bus takes forever to get the crowd of people on. I say my goodbyes and hope he understands as I creep away.
I went to work. I half-assed the day and came home. I race inside and avoid the riffraff inevitably waiting at the high-populace strip-mall near my stop.
I most likely added excitement to my day by daydreaming, and watching pointless videos while creating freelance works. I followed that up by pestering my fur-babies and drinking myself to sleep.
Alarm rings 630am. I hit snooze at least 12 times before I finally get out of bed. Finally, around 730 I get up. Repeat the same patterns as the day before.
“Time to make bad decisions,” I tell myself again as the overpowering breakfast slop smell invades my house once again.
Mr. Jazz Man is at the stairs again.
Crud; he’s using phrases like “How you say in American”. This means I will have to translate what he’s trying to tell me.
He points to the heating fixture under the mailbox. I access the thesaurus part of my brain and announce everything in vision. I spit a list of words: heater, mailbox, boxes, entrance, mail, hot, package, and warm.
That’s it! Thank goodness, I was starting to have to think about more words. I smile, nod and race off to the bus.
I come back home that night and I see a note just above the heating fixture. “THIS TOO WARMLY DON’T PACKAGE PUT HERE.”
I chuckle slightly and head to my apartment to repeat tradition of freelancing, fur-babies and becoming one with furniture.
New day, new bad decisions. I work in dispatch and logistics. I debate if I should try something new.
I contemplatively walk to the bus and my friend, Mr. Jazz man, awaits another greeting. I don’t even know his name and he doesn’t know mine. He calls me purple; I’ve never known why.
“Flowers, I like; Purple.” He says while carrying a plant outside.
He had this ritual of bringing his plants in and out of the house daily. Those plants were lucky to have found his home.
He seemed very educated and kind, however our language barrier was too much. I had self-loathing and partying to attend too; he was just a fixture in my day.
As per my daily tradition for 6 months: I wave goodbye. I never really understand what kind of conversation we had. However, I don’t think much about it. I just get to the city bus.
Day completed. I get home and relax. I am now creating copywriting for a hair artist at a whooping $1 per 100 words.
I do it for the fame, not the money, I tell myself as I describe the horrific hairdos that mimic nightmares.
I hear Mr. Jazz Man upstairs. His music is oddly satisfying as I type random assortments of words to a behemoth laptop.
Morning sneaks up on me. Most mornings it’s hard to peel myself out of bed, but I continue with my morning routine.
I calmly walk to the bus but no Mr. Jazz man. No matter; I continue to the bus to be greeted by other languages I don’t understand.
Repeat normal mundane day. Decisions were made; most likely not the greatest.
Today is Friday. People who don’t work weekends have this inflated sense of freedom for 2 days. The entire week is spent looking forward to it.
I was no exception. I was excited to get home, so I could repeat more of the same as I always do. I had no reason to be excited except for the fact that I wasn’t working. That was enough for me.
In the comfort of my home, I wrote more and dreamed about ‘making it’ as a writer. I listened to the creaks and music of the upstairs neighbor as I lulled myself into a false sense of security. Most likely, I drank more than I should and treated my fur-babies to some much-deserved harassment.
I didn’t even notice the missing Mr. Jazz Man, or his flowers prettying up the front stoop. I just went about my day. I more than likely drank the weekend away. Then, unfortunately, the week returned.
Just like that; our day passes.
We worry, hustle and hurry-up through everything so much we don’t have time to remember what we’re doing.
We’re busy for sure, but busy doing what?
We may never know.
Our immediate moment is spent planning for the next or feeling bad about the moment before.
Who knows where all these minutes go, but I hope they’re happy somewhere remembering us.
My Monday adversary has returned.
The familiar aroma of fish being cooked in what I can only assume is raw sewage, chases me out the door. I amble to my day, everything is normal.
I get home and I see police. Nothing too out of the ordinary as I live in a large apartment complex. Our insane weather changes can make people want to kill each other occasionally. I get closer to my specific apartment building and I see the police at the entrance.
Now, I am curious. However, I know I won’t learn anything. I go about my business hoping I’ll hear something through the walls. I hear nothing, so I assume it is nothing.
I do hear a lot of noise coming from my upstairs friend, Mr. Jazz Man. Again, I move on to my own problems and noises.
A couple hours pass, and a knock disturbs me. I wonder if it’s my gossipy neighbor to give me all the details.
I walk over, open the door and my smile drops as an angry-looking law-man stands in my doorway.
I step outside as calmly as I can. I am panicking on the inside. I worry he could smell the smoke, or that maybe I did something dumb previous.
“Ma’am,” He is monotone while eyeing me like a criminal. “Could you tell me everything you know about Arkady?”
“Who??” I stumble
“Arkady, the foreign guy who lives upstairs from you.” He says more demanding.
“Is everything ok?” I stammer, relieved I’m not in trouble.
“Ma’am, I’ll ask the questions,” He says in a condescending tone.
“Can you tell me when you last talked with him? When you last saw him? Tell me everything you know.”
“Uhhh,” I pause as I try to remember details.
“I saw him less than a week ago. Mr. Jazz Man is what I call him. He’s Ukrainian or Russian. I’m not sure which.”
“Did he appear fine?” Mr. Law answers, clearly not in love with his job.
“Did he appear stressed? Unhealthy? Sick? Did you notice anything? How often did you talk?”
I tell him everything I remember, and the officer writes it down. After he gets all the details, he finally responds to only one of my questions.
“I think you probably have your dates wrong because I do this sort of thing all the time and that guy has been dead for at least a week if not more.”
Something is wrong.
His casual callousness throws me off.
I feel reality warping in my head.
Everything changes somehow.
My awareness has shifted.
This was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
Mr. Jazz man was nothing but kind to me. He was inviting and caring. The insensitive officer treated him like nothing.
I was absolved in guilt. I went through denial, regret, guilt, anger, and eventually an uncomfortable alcohol-aided sleep.
The next morning, I woke with a heavier heart. I didn’t even know this man, but I mourned him. I hoped there was a better place to go where he was happy.
I slowly went to work.
This is The United States of America; unless I was dying, there was no excuse for me to get out of work. I wanted to call in, but I couldn’t.
I have experienced untimely, tragic death and all sorts of in-between, but this one bothered me.
Maybe, it was just new in my mind, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention before.
I felt something deep inside of me.
It was an uncomfortable burning feeling at the pit of my sternum.
God forbid I deal with actual feelings though. I do what is easiest. Swallow that hard pill and move on to a new shiny distraction.
I get home from work and I plan to write more. I plan to work more. Anything I can do to get rid of this yucky feeling inside.
Around 7 or 8 pm I get a knock at the door. Much to my surprise, an attractive, older woman covered in tattoos stands outside my door. Confused, I wait for her to speak first.
“My name is Alice, and I’m Arkady’s estranged wife.” She starts with a very thick Russian accent. “I’m in charge of his belongings, but I want none. Would you like to take what you can from his house?”
She sees my confusion and continues. “It would help a lot if you took his stuff. I will get charged. He kept everything, everywhere. I spent hours fixing it and not even close to done. You help; please?”
Curious, I follow her to the upstairs apartment. She was very correct. He had wall-to-wall stuff. Some of it was neat, but most was only worth only sentimental value. His apartment was not disgusting as most hoarders were; it was just covered with things.
I decided to help her get rid of stuff. I pack, haul and plan for a week. I found some interesting things that I kept for myself as well.
I didn’t realize what I had then.
That weekend I went through it and found a lot about Arkady.
I just wanted to know who he was and what he was about.
I saw his writings on really old pictures and tried to translate.
He was actually a semi-famous Jazz player. He looked better with old age. He tried to learn English through historical books from the library. The history books he had were not politically correct.
He had observations about the stories pushed into the copies of the book pages. He didn’t understand slang. He didn’t understand why slavery was a thing. He also didn’t understand why American politicians didn’t share their wealth with people for happiness.
He left his country and fame for a better life and love.
Unfortunately, he claims he never found it.
He was much older than I thought; he was almost 80.
He was progressive for his age, he believed women should be treated with respect.
I wonder if anyone appreciated him.
Did anyone throw him a funeral?
Was he the last of his friends?
Was there more to his story?
As I asked myself these questions and more, I appreciated the moment more.
I recognized individuals more.
I recognized my previous trauma skewed my perception. With the death if a complete stranger, I was open to interpretation.
I did not know how to feel.
Mortality is such a convoluted and inevitable topic.
My guilt for lack of understanding became the bridge that built my better understanding. This made me more available in life.
When I became more aware, I recognized we all get trapped by the voice in our head. While stuck in there, we miss most of what is really happening in the world.
We make enemies and friends while hidden internally. People places and things are all speaking to us, but everyone is struggling to gratify the cries in our heads.
I will truly never know Arkady, but I will know that we humans share the same struggle. I don’t know his family or friends, but I know that I appreciate his existence.
Maybe, if we all knew how important we are to each other, we’d live happier lives.
Perhaps, if we lived happier lives, we wouldn’t need trauma to teach us lessons because we would already be listening.
© 2019 Dreen Lucky