Do good for someone today.
I have been thinking long and hard about whether or not to write this post. Since Monday, I've been struggling with something that happened in my world, and I have decided that as selfish as it might be, I have to get this out of my head, and move on with my life. This little bit of selfishness, as you may see, is but a ripple of that which started the ball rolling a long time ago.
Warning: this isn't warm and fluffy reading. In fact it's dark. If you have any hesitation whatsoever about reading into the sometimes gruesome and dark realities that rear their head in this life, please just stop now, and I promise I'll get back to the sweet joyful musings of kids and laughter soon. Until then, joyful this is not.
As most people know, I am a landlord. I have some apartment buildings that I work very hard to maintain. They are the homes of many people...the place that they come to sleep, eat, laugh, live. The life of a landlord is a 24 hour a day job. Just last night, I got a call at 3:45 in the morning to let someone in who had locked herself out of her home. The option I had was to force her to call a locksmith, pay the after hours fee, and likely spend a couple of hours dealing with it until she could finally return to bed. Well, in my experience, that amount of waiting is unnecessary...I was already awake, and I live close by. I could also bet that before spending the money and time, most people make a pretty good effort to break into the building, which is very secure, and such an attempt evolves into property damage that I have to deal with later on, so that's what I did...that's what I do: I answer the phone, and I deal with these things at all hours of the day and night.
It's a balancing act I play all the time, too, as my life still goes on. It wasn't easy to lay awake at 4am, with the kids in the other room sleeping, thinking about the fact that I had to get them up in enough time for school today. I am just lucky that Anna was at my house so I could leave and deal with the issue at all. The kids didn't have to be woken up until right before 8, as Sean wanted to see his mom before school. Still, since my kids were slow to rise, and could not be motivated to wake up as quickly as me, they lagged getting dressed, and I couldn't get them completely ready for school in time to also see their mom, so something had to suffer...in this case, judging by a text I just got, Babymama is pissed off about the fact that I didn't have the lunches made, or their teeth brushed. As sorry as I am that I couldn't do it all, I also get defensive because nobody really knows how this life really goes for me. I'm trying my best all the time, but I'm deeply entrenched in so many other people's lives, I am trying to make 3 businesses succeed, and I'm first and foremost, trying to make 2 little kids know that they are always loved, and the most important thing in the world. Oh well...you pick your battles, and the fight for my kids' joy is the number one for me always. I wish it was the same for everyone else.
A little over a week ago I was in the office, and a stranger walked in. He was trying to get into the apartment of a kid who lived here. I'll call my tenant Cal. So this stranger was very disheveled, and acting strange. He was obviously on drugs, and fairly desperate to get into Cal's apartment. He told me that Cal told him he could live there, and his stuff was in the apartment but he didn't have a key. I told him that Cal had never discussed having a roommate, and that even his presence in the building without Cal being home was a violation of the Lease. He kept begging me to open up his apartment. I told him to get off the property, and if his stuff was in fact inside, he could call Cal or call the police, but there was no way I was letting some stranger in. He left very upset and confused, but I think that the confusion was due in large part to his brain firing in a million wrong directions, triggered by the pains of addiction. I called Cal. I let him know what was going on and that if he was allowing someone to live in his apartment, it was a violation, and we had a problem. He assured me that this stranger was not his friend, but a casual acquaintance who he in no way wanted in the apartment, nor did he have any of his personal property there. We agreed that the stranger was not allowed on the property again, as much as we could control it, and I made a mental note to keep my eye on Cal.
I was already aware that Cal needed a little monitoring. I try not to rent to kids that are too young. Cal was 19, and not the typical tenant in my buildings. They are older, have hardwood floors, and sounds tend to get through the walls pretty easily. I warn everyone moving in that if they are late night types, or like to entertain, that this is not the place for them. Cal got the speech, and he reassured me that he was more of a recluse, involved in his church a lot, and wouldn't be a problem. I made an exception to my rule and for about a month there weren't any problems. He had some tattoos, a couple of piercings, but a genuinely great smile and warmth that told me he had a huge heart and was a good kid.
I tried to think about all of this on Thursday night when after a couple of calls from other tenants, I had to knock on Cal's door at 1am. The complaints were about noise and smoke, and the possibility of drug use going on in the apartment. I don't mess around with stuff like this, so I moved quick, and banged on the door ready to do whatever I needed to do. I had already called the police, anticipating something sketchy going down. They informed me that I could wait for a car, but they had no idea how long it would be. I knew that I couldn't wait, that the other tenants were worried about their own safety, and were quickly losing sleep and faith in their ability to enjoy the peace of their homes, so I told the police dispatch that I would head in myself, and call after if anything was out of my control. When a tall young man answered the door with his eyes dark and sunken into his head, smoke came billowing out around him. I told him I needed to talk to Cal, and he said he would go get him. "Are we being too loud?" he asked. "Yes, amoung other things," I replied, "Get Cal now." He went back in the apartment, murmurs followed by silence, and then he returned, "Cal's at the store, sorry." I told him that he and his friends had 2 minutes to leave the premises before I called the cops, and that Cal had 5 minutes to be back to talk to me before I called the cops on him. The kid went back in, and after some shuffling, Cal appeared at the front door, apologizing that he was in the bathroom when I showed up and didn't know what was going on. I watched as 7 young kids all left the building, each one more nervous than me. I made sure that my accessories let them know how serious I was, but nothing got confrontational that night. Cal agreed that everyone would be gone and he would be in my office at 9am on Friday to talk about the fact that he would no longer be living in the apartments.
About 9:30 the next morning I sat waiting for Cal with an eviction letter drawn up for both of us to go over. It had a blank in the spaces where we would fill in the date and time that he would be completely out of the apartment. By law, I could give him 3 days, but I knew that it would be too fast, and wanted to give him the chance to prove himself capable of handling this like an adult, and not forcing me to take him through the court system. When he didn't show, I texted him that we had an appointment, and asked him if he was going to show up or not. He texted back that he was sorry, but at work, and wouldn't be available until later that afternoon. I said OK, but then realized that I had, the day before, posted a notice on his door to inspect his apartment, since I wanted to make sure no one else was living there. So I went to his unit, and knocked on the door. I didn't hear anything, so I opened it up, and the security chain braced tight. Obviously someone was inside. I said "Cal, this is Brian here to do the inspection. If you're here, or if anyone is here, you need to come to the door now." Cal came to the door in his boxers and t-shirt. He was busted...probably waking from about an hour of sleep. When I went inside, two of the same guys from the night before were back in the apartment. I told Cal I'd be in my office, and expect him within 15 minutes. I told him the guests would have to be gone at that time as well...just like we talked about 8 hours earlier. He agreed.
When Cal walked into the office, it appeared that he finally understood what was going on. His piercings were out. He had put on a button up shirt. He looked respectable. He sat at the table, and started to apologize. I said that I wasn't very happy, and that he had to go. He broke down a little bit at the sight of a 3-day eviction notice for violations of his Lease. I told him that it was hard for me to feel a whole lot for someone who had lied to my face several times in the past couple of days. He straightened up and understood. He asked to not be evicted. He wanted to stay, and said he was willing to do anything. I told him, as I have had to tell others before him that this business was important to me. That when people don't feel safe in their home, they find another one, and in the process, I lose renters, and the ability to pay the bills, to feed my own family. I've had this conversation many times over the years, but as I get older the conversation gets softer and more direct. I don't really posture as much as I used to...trying hard to defend my rights to run the business as I need to, but making more of an effort to put someone else in my shoes...to create empathy and awareness that as adults living in an apartment complex, we have to be responsible to our neighbors too. Cal seemed to understand this, and asked what he could do to prove that he wouldn't be a problem. I said that there wasn't anything, and that I knew that there was not only underage drinking going on, smoking in the building, but also I believed there to be drug use. He said that he had nowhere to go and that he wouldn't know how to make it all happen in 3 days. I told him I understood, and that I wanted to help. I believed that he was a good kid. I asked him what was going on with the life he told me about when he moved in? What about the church he was a big part of? He said that he had dropped out of a lot of it recently, having fell in with some old friends. He claimed to know that he was making bad decisions and that he wanted to get back to it. I said that he was an adult, and that his actions and choices right now were going to dictate how the rest of his life was going to go.
"Cal, I don't want to file this eviction on you...I don't want to negatively affect your life, your credit, your ability to do anything in your future. I know you are a good person, and I want to help you, but you have to be honest with me right now. What kind of stuff are you guys doing?"
"Look, I know that there are worse things out there, and I've seen them, but what you're doing is not good, and it's obviously negatively affecting your decisions and your life."
"I know, and I'm sorry."
I knew he was. I told him that I appreciated his honesty, and because I trusted that he was being honest with me, finally, I wouldn't file the eviction. He could have the next couple of weeks to find a place, to clean up his apartment and move his stuff, and to get all of his security deposit back to help him with his transition. But he couldn't live here anymore, and for that I was sorry, but I couldn't let the rest of the tenants think that this was the kind of place where numerous violations would be tolerated. I need their trust too. I told Cal that I would have to inspect his apartment twice a day through the weekend, and see progress made on cleaning up. That I would be inspecting it each day over the next couple of weeks to see that no guests were staying there, and that he was staying on the right track. He agreed, and was pretty grateful. I caught that smile of his again, and felt good about how I was handling things, and grateful for how he was handling himself. We filled in the blank on our letter, and put in in his file.
I checked back that afternoon, then Saturday morning and afternoon. Each time he was making progress, cleaning up trash and boxes...making an effort. On Sunday morning when I showed up, he let me know he had already found a place, and was probably going to be out early. I told him that I was happy to hear it, and I was stoked at how he was communicating with me and handling the situation. I had been telling Anna about this kid for days now, and mentioning that he was obviously a little troubled, but had a good heart, and I was happy with how this was going. I mentioned that I felt like I wanted to help him out, and that he was just at that age where a little extra care would probably go a long way. When I got this text Sunday evening, I felt like things were pretty good:
"Hey Brian, I just wanted to thank you for your generosity. I was going down a bad path and you woke me up to the error of my ways. Ill be out on Wednesday."
I thought about texting him back, saying good job or atta boy or whatever, but I didn't. I just knew that I would be seeing him in person the next morning, and could give him some reinforcement at that time.
I was downtown Monday morning at a meeting with a client when my phone was vibrating in my pocket. I keep it silenced in my meetings. The problem was that it kept vibrating. Over and over. I finally excused myself, and looked at the number...I didn't recognize it. I read a text that didn't make a lot of sense, but said something about the police and Cal's apartment. I knew I had to leave and get back, so I apologized to my client, but said I would get back after I put out a fire. On the way to the office I called the number back, and it was Cal's father. He had been at the apartments with the police for the last hour, he said, and he had a disturbing text from one of Cal's friends that told him he needed to check on him. The police had since left, and he never made it into the building, but was very concerned.
I met him at the front door of the building, Cal's keys in my hand, and went to Cal's unit. I banged on it for a second, then opened it up, praying in my head that nothing bad would come of this situation. That stupid chain caught the door when I opened it up, but Cal didn't come to the door when I called in this time. I busted it open, and walked inside the apartment, turned my head into the bedroom, and there was Cal, lying on his bed. Cal had killed himself. His head was covered in plastic, an elastic band around his neck keeping it tight. There were tubes along the side of his body, and a couple of tanks lying next to him. I didn't know exactly what I was looking at, except that somewhere in that mess was a the dead body of the good kid I had seen and talked to not 24 hours before.
The cries of Cal's father broke out and I turned to see that he had followed me in for a brief second, and also caught a glimpse of his son on the bed. He fell into the hallway crying, and I followed him out to try and console him. But what the fuck do you say? Cal, it turns out, had the last word, and had left it for his dad to read on his laptop which sat open next to him on the bed.
After sitting his dad down in a comfortable spot, I dialed 911 and went back in the apartment. The police dispatched someone, and connected me to the paramedics, who began to instruct me to remove the plastic from his head and clear out his mouth. They told me to get his father to help me move Cal to the ground, which I told them wasn't going to happen. I started to move him myself when I heard the sirens from out front, and went to let them into the building to do what it is they do. As I grilled the police as to why they didn't go into the building an hour earlier, one of the paramedics, an acquaintance of mine, let me know that it didn't matter...it was obvious that he had been gone for a few hours. The next few hours involved a lot of police officers taking statements, getting the medical examiner in to take care of the situation, and some grief counseling for the father. Once it was all over I went home and sat on the couch and tried to figure out what had just happened. I'm still working on answering that question.
I've told the story to a few family members and friends over the last few days. I know in my heart that as often as I have been course and direct with other tenants in the past who have done damage to my property or my business, this time I was making an effort to handle with care. I did what I had to do, and I don't actually believe that I was acting in any way other that what I had to do in the situation. But there is still a deep, dark feeling in my gut that I can't shake. It's the part of me that knows that there is still a responsibility to the situation that I have to pay attention to. But it's not that of a landlord, it's one of a fellow human being. We all come into contact with people in our lives who are struggling every day. We never know what someone is going through, only how they treat us. I can't emphasize enough that we all owe it to each other to keep kindness and love in our hearts, and do our best to connect with people that cross our paths. We all just want to be loved. We all have something going on.
As I listened to the police talking with Cal's father that day, I realized that Cal had a rough life. He has battled with all kinds of addictions and problems since a young age. He was the product of his environment since he was very young. I only knew a tiny piece of who he was. All I can say is that the purpose of my life is greater than I can understand, and I will take every interaction I have from now on with my experiences in mind every time. And when it comes to my two beautiful, innocent children, I will always, ALWAYS let them know that they are loved and they are important...I never, ever want to give them cause to seek out that love in any way, including coping with an emptiness that Cal obviously felt.
I'm very sad today. I hope that this exercise of spilling my guts helps me move on and start doing a better job as a member of a thickly woven blanket of society in which we all count on each other every day to get by.
Today is Edgar Allen Poe's birthday. He had his share of addictions and problems, one of which was the scrutiny of his peers. And as most brilliant minds tend to be, he was less than appreciated during his lifetime, but his work lives on long after he's gone. This poem, sold for $9 when he wrote it, seems fitting for the week. Thanks, NPR, for sharing this with me this morning:
A Dream Within A Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
Edgar Allan Poe