It's time to water Bill
A sad way to go, huh?
Personally, I think Bill still lives on my floor. Many nights I’ve been sitting by my “Vertigo “ staircase outside my door, furiously waving my laptop in the air to steal a wireless signal and have seen shadows on the wall and thought one of my neighbors’ kids was sneaking up on me, only to find no one there when I turned around. The elevator arrives on my floor, uncalled and the doors just sit open, waiting. For a while it freaked me out. Then two of my neighbors attended his memorial service last week and I got a little back-story on Bill.
Bill might very well have been schizophrenic. But apparently he was also one of those rare people who blur the lines between genius and insanity. His brother spoke about the 97 journals he found that Bill had filled with his thoughts. 97. According to him, every single journal was a lucid and beautifully written literary masterpiece about Bill’s observations on everything from family, neighbors and weather to foreign policy, current events, books and films.
Sure, his brother might’ve been biased on the “literary masterpiece” part. But a neighbor told me a story about once discussing with Bill how he was returning to New York to get his black belt – a huge accomplishment (I just learned how big it actually is). Bill was fascinated. He spent 2 hours asking questions to fully grasp what was involved in the training, how one qualified for it, etc. After my neighbor returned from New York, he found a long letter from Bill underneath his door congratulating him on his achievement. My neighbor is also a writer on the side, an incredibly smart man with a well-developed vocabulary. He said the letter was so beautifully written (same words as his brother) but so complex that he actually had to look up some of the words. He was touched because not one other person had taken the time to question him about his training and what it meant to him and thus no one really understood why it was such a big deal. No one but Bill. Bill got it.
Bill also wrote letters to everyone in his family every week. He addressed them and stamped them but never mailed them. His family read hundreds of them between the time he died and his memorial service and was overwhelmed at the emotion, beauty and positive thoughts in every single letter. Imagine being on the receiving end of all those years of unsent thoughts. After being alienated from someone you love because of a mental illness, probably doing everything you could to see and help that person only to be denied but then discovering they were thinking of you all along, every single day, every single week, year after year. I can’t think of a more amazing yet torturous gift.
The thing that overwhelmed them the most was that in the thousands and thousands of pages of journals and letters there was not one negative thought, not one bad word spoken about anyone, no anger at his situation, no frustration. Bill took a genuine interest in everything, especially anything that anyone took the time to talk to him about. Because while he alienated his family, he couldn’t hide from his neighbors. He accepted their visits, loved their children and took an interest in their lives.
Bill lived in the building for 30 years.
Only 2 people from the building went to his memorial service. That part made me the saddest.
After living in this building for 5 weeks, I have a brand new understanding about the importance of neighbors. It’s a weird niche, neighbors. People you’re friendly with but they’re not really friends. (with exceptions of course…I’ve become great friends with a wonderful family across the hall). People who know the comings and goings of your daily life more intimately than family but they’re not family either. People you’d probably share your water supply and flashlight with because of their immediate proximity in the case of an earthquake or some sort of crazy terrorist attack. People who might make a sheet ladder with you if the building was on fire or at the very least bang on your door to let you know something was happening and that you needed to get the hell out.
People who, after 30+ or – years (depending on when they moved in) shared all those important and strangely intimate day-to-day experiences with you but who can’t be bothered to come to your funeral.
That’s why Bill’s shadows don’t freak me out anymore. I like to think he’s just exploring, after so many years of being alone in his apartment for whatever reason. He knows there’s someone new on the floor and maybe he wants to see what I’m up to every night out there on the stairs. He’s probably reading over my shoulder right now, maybe making some notes in his journal about the new girl in 603 and her weird laundry habits.
I noticed there’s a tree from Bill’s apartment that’s sitting on our floor. I catch Joanne and First Family (my nice friends across the hall) watering it from time to time (coincidentally, they’re the 2 people that went to the memorial service) and that makes me happy. I’m going to start looking out for Bill’s water levels too. In fact, I’m going to try and be better about taking 2 minutes every day to do something nice for someone that doesn’t fall in the friend or family category. It’s so simple to make someone’s day, yet how often do we actually do it for someone we don’t know that well? Pay a genuine compliment to someone we don’t know? Mail someone that we’ve never even met some gorgeous painted hearts? (Thanks again, Miz Gina…you rule).
For today, I think I’ll just make sure Bill has enough water. His shadows are kind of nice to have around.
(Told you I was having a funny hiatus. Maybe all that ammonia and bleach got to me.)