12 May 2010

Death And Squalor

I woke as usual on Wednesday, immediately logging onto Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/mortimerlove?ref=profile) and checking out what happened during the night, since I usually log off around eleven and go to sleep. The show "Glee" (http://www.fox.com/glee/) had been on the night before and it always elicits a huge amount of comments among my gay boy/straight girl friends. The rest of the morning was going fine, I got my breakfast of oatmeal with some fresh blueberries, orange juice and coffee, getting back on my self-imposed diet. Because I was up in Philadelphia for so long, I hadn't been to the gym so I planned to go at some point during the day. I didn't really feel like going, it's so easy to find other things to do when you haven't been there in a few days. Although, when I do go on a regular basis, it can't think of any place else I'd rather be.
I did some laundry and yard work, taking my time to get ready for the gym, total procrastination but I figured I'd get there, sometime.
Then my mobile rang. It was Helene.

She was calling with bad news. Tammy, Doris' step-daughter, had just died. Tammy's mother, Nellie, rang Helene first with the news, understandably distraught and hysterical. And before I could even ask what happened, Helene asked me if I could go with Doris to Vineland to be with the family since she would be upset and needed someone to ride with her. Helene couldn't do it herself because not only was she working but was also on her way to Philadelphia with Evelyn, the woman she cares for as an in-home health-care aid. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, I agreed to go. The reason why I was so hesitant will become painfully clear as the story progresses.

I had been out in the garden so I was a little dirty but now I had no time for a full shower. I did a quick clean-up and got dressed and by the time I was done, Doris was there and off we went (after expressing my condolences, of course). By now, I had found out what happened and it really didn't surprise me. Tammy had died of an overdose. She had an appointment to be in court that morning for violating the conditions of her last conviction, i.e. staying clean. Evidently this is the third or...eighth time this happened and supposedly the judge was going to throw the book at her. I gather she was doing a "last shout" before having to go to jail. What makes this even more tragic and despicable is that she has three children (in their teens/early twenties) and, through her schemes and welfare assistance, is the soul provider for the house. Now, her little private heroin party not only cost her her life, but will totally devastate the family when they will eventually lose their home.
It's a sad situation compounded by even more pathetic complications, as you will see.
The ride there was interminable, since I was not in the mood to deal with all this madness. I kept Doris distracted as much as I could, telling her stories of my trip to Philadelphia and lying about performing up there. There was no need to go into my problems at that moment. She was pretty calm and collected until we got to the cross street we needed to turn down to get to the house. The city had it blocked off for construction/repair and Doris, in her imitable style, turned on a dime into the parking lot of the convenience store to our right, nearly hitting the car that was exiting and driving right over the curb. I slammed on the "passenger brake" and clutched the seat for dear life!

Here's where I should inform you that Doris is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. She is under medical supervision and is taking the latest drug regimen but there are breaks with memory and skills common to those with the disease/condition. Her driving, though, has always been erratic and has, so far, not been affected by the disease. She's a bit of a speed demon and far too aggressive (read: road rage) for her own good.

We figured out an alternate route to the house from the other end of the block and drove down the street looking for a place to park. Without her telling me, I could tell which house it was by the assorted riff-raff gathered on the front porch and the police vehicles parked out in front of the brick home. She brazenly pulled into the driveway and we got out of the car, making our way through the ramble of people who did not behoove themselves to even step aside to let us in the house. They were sitting and standing everywhere, some were eating and chatting loudly which I found a bit distasteful, considering Tammy's body was still in the house! I could hear dogs constantly barking from somewhere nearby. We walked through the screen door and into the front hallway. To our immediate right was an old-fashioned front parlour and I saw, right away, the squalor these people were living in. It was dark and full of dust and lacked any furniture to sit on. There were parts of a cheap entertainment center haphazardly set along the walls, made of pressed fiberboard and filled with personal mementos, and a vintage television along the back wall, in front of the cobweb encrusted curtains and blinds. The beige (I think) carpet was filthy with stains and dirt and the smell of dog waste hit us as soon as we entered. Nellie's bedroom was to the left but the door was shut and there were people standing throughout the house, smoking cigarettes although I don't recall seeing an ashtray let alone anyone using one. We made our way past her son's and daughter's bedrooms who's doors were (mercifully) shut and into the kitchen. Doris was adamant that she wanted to see Tammy's body but the police informed her that no one could go into the room until the coroner came and inspected the scene. From what I could see of the kitchen, it was in the same state as the parlour. Little to no furniture or appliances and devoid of clutter but not exactly clean. We went back down the hall and I couldn't help but despair at the condition of this once-beautiful house. The aged dark-wood door frames, the hardwood floors, the plaster ceilings and moldings were phenomenal but the fact that it was not maintained broke my heart.

Yes, I admit: I was more concerned for the house than the family undergoing their self-inflicted tragedy.

We entered Nellie's room which was dark and disheveled, a condition that I think is normal and not because of the recent events. She was sitting on the bed in her house dress that didn't quite cover her legs, especially since she was in a sitting position. I was standing at the foot of the bed and got a most unwanted view. There were people milling about and I was informed to make sure the door stayed shut. I really didn't mind except for the fact that I was on that side of the door! The conversation quickly became personal amongst the family members (burial method, financial decisions, etc.) and I hurriedly made my way out of the room when someone else came in. I stood in the parlour, text messaging people and accessing Facebook, watching the people come in and hug and cry with the family. The city chaplain came in and did his thing, comforting the immediate family and friends and was a welcome sight, since he was able to answer questions and knew the drill. After a bit, I felt completely out of place and I went outside and stood on the sidewalk out front, since no one on the porch made me feel the least welcome. The ambulance service and coroner came and the oldest son moved Doris' car out of the driveway and parked it down the street. The ambulance backed into the driveway and pulled all the way back to the rear of the house, out of my line of sight, thankfully. I went back in just to see what was going on and they were letting those family members who wanted to to view the body before they bagged her and took her to the morgue.
I went back out, refusing the offer to see Tammy. No, I really don't want to view a dead heroin addict who's bowels have released, who's blood has settled to the one side of the body and has been lying there for hours in an un-air-conditioned room, thank you anyway.
I fled to the street again and rang up Miss Patti and told her what was happening. She was my little glimmer of normalcy and hope in this tempest of misery I was unceremoniously thrust into.
I wandered down the street to the car, watching the neighbors who were watching the events happening on their street. I began to notice how nicely maintained the other homes on the block were. The lawns were mowed, flowers were planted, hedges were trimmed, it was all very nice and orderly, all of them with Tammy's house the only exception. I couldn't help but think they might have been a bit relieved. I'm sure they were well aware of what happened and probably thought that this would facilitate a vacancy of the house since this was the problem house of the neighborhood. The police were there so often for fights and squabbles that it had become a constant but commonplace nuisance. I sat in the car for a while and then paced up and down the street, admiring the beautiful day, finally watching as the ambulance pulled out of the driveway and took Tammy's body away.

I went back in and after some more discussion of the funeral arrangements, Doris (thankfully) was ready to leave. I gave the family my respects once more, hugged Nellie and quickly made my exit back to the car and we drove home, uneventfully. The conversation on the way home, however, was odd. It seems that the family is under the impression that Tammy committed suicide instead of a dying of an overdose. Frankly, I could care less.

Once home, I went back out into the garden.

The funeral is this coming Thursday. Helene wants me to go.

Once more, into the breach.

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