The Story About the Time I Found My Neighbor Dead in the Hallway
Last night I read at an event called You’re Going to Die: Poetry, Prose, and Everything Goes. Up until a few days ago, when I was prepping for the reading, I forgot about this story that I’d written. As you can guess, it’s about me finding my neighbor dead in my hallway. It happend right after I moved to SF when I was 21. Read below. You’ll like this story.
The actual building where this all happened
It was 9:35am and I was starting down the stairs in order to catch a bus that would get me to work by ten. As I bounded down to the tiny landing that separated the first set of stairs from the first apartments, I saw him splayed out with his legs on the last couple steps and his head blocking the door. I recognized him as the old man who lived two stories above me and smoked joints. Even though I’d never seen a dead body before, I also recognized him as dead the first second I saw him laying there.
“SIR! SIR! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” His face had a bluish quality about it. He must have tripped and hit his head. There was a small scratch on the door from where his glasses scraped against it.
I ran back up stairs and managed to tell my roommate Peter what I had found at the bottom of the stairs and call 911, in the same breath.
“Shit, who is he?”
“I think he fucking lives two above us, with the little fucking plants.”
“Fuck, I’ll go knock and see if anyone knows him.”
I brought the cordless phone down with me to the old man and talked to the operator while Peter flew upstairs to knock on people’s doors. In a trembling voice filled with umms and and’s, I explained to the operator what I had found.
“Is he unconscious?” The operator was just a shade less calm than the man lying next to me.
“I told you he’s not breathing, he’s fucking blue.”
“Has rigor mortis set in?”
“What?” I knew what it was, I just couldn’t think straight.
“Has he gone stiff?”
“Uh, yes I guess I don’t know.”
“Is he stiff?”
“Bend his arm, see if he’s stiff.” His arm wasn’t stiff. I bent it. It was heavy like a real person’s.
“No it’s not stiff.” Upstairs there was noise. Peter had found someone who knew the old man. I could hear him coming down the stairs.
“Dennis?” He said the name like someone preparing himself for tragedy. When he hit the landing and saw the old man, his voice showed that there is no preparation for tragedy. “OH MY GOD! DENNIS! OH MY GOD!”
“Have you given him C.P.R.?” The operator’s voice brought me back.
“I don’t know how”
“DENNIS! OH MY GOD! YOUR GONNA BE OK BUDDY! STAY WITH US! OH MY GOD! DENNIS!”
“Do you want me to instruct you?” I could hear the sirens now. Things started to swirl a little. “Hello?”
“Do you want me to instruct you on C.P.R.? It’s your choice.”
“Uh…” I turned to the neighbor. “Do you know C.P.R.?” He didn’t answer me, he just moved in and began C.P.R.. I heard the sirens getting real close and the paramedics pulling up, so I got off the phone and said, “We’re gonna have to move him so the paramedics can come in.”
“We’re not supposed to move his head,” Peter answered.
“But how the fuck are the paramedics gonna get in?” The neighbor said nothing and moved Dennis out of the way the best he could. Blood streaked across the white tile floor as the neighbor slid Dennis’s body across it. I sat back watching as the neighbor did C.P.R. and the paramedics tried to wedge their bodies inside the small space created by Dennis’s body and the door. The last thing I saw before I went back to my apartment was the paramedics ripping open Dennis’s shirt and one of his buttons flying up the stairs and landing next to my foot.
I sat in the funky smelling orange chair that came with the apartment, looking through the window at the proceedings going on outside the building. I knew that I was gonna have to go down and talk to the cops, since I was the one who found Dennis, but I just didn’t want to have to see the body again. I stuck my head out the window.
“Hey do you wanna talk to me? I’m the guy who found him.”
A motorcycle cop with a handlebar mustache answered incredulously, “Yes of course we have to talk to you. Come down now.” Why do motorcycle cops always have handlebar mustaches?
I went down the back stairs and hopped a fence on the side of the building. I did not want to see Dennis again. The cops were just sitting around joking and filling out paperwork when I came around the building. What is it about the American police force that makes the “good cop, bad cop” routine applicable to all situations? Handlebars was treating me like a felon while Asian dude was trying to console me for being intercepted by a dead guy on the way to work. After answering their questions and giving them my info I split. The whole thing was too heavy for me and I needed to leave.
I walked around for awhile, freaked out, calmed down, called me parents, freaked out, calmed down, got some food, walked around and finally after a couple hours decided that it would be ok to go back. After stepping through the door of my building, I was amazed at the efficiency of the paramedics or the morticians or whoever it is that cleans up dead bodies. No one would have thought that there was a corpse there less than two hours earlier. The only thing left from that morning’s madness was the one button that had landed next to my foot.