A Nice Story About Death

I used to work for a company that did maintenance work on properties that were foreclosed upon and had become bank-owned. Our company contracted with vendors who would do lawn work and maintain the interior of these non-lived-in homes all over the country. Among other things, we also did clean outs of homes that the previous tenants or owners had left their stuff in for one reason or another, typically for the most depressing reasons. I didn’t feel particularly good about that work, but this post isn’t about that.

This post is about one particular clean out a few years ago. Crews would send photos of the interiors and the debris within before removing it so we could determine if there was anything of value–specifically something we called “personal belongings”–left behind. Of course, “of value” has a different definition in that world, and very few things (among them mostly irreplaceables like family photos or obviously expensive jewelry) constituted stopping a trash out and holding up the bank from getting their hands on an empty and marketable house. But one day a crew called me with one of those very few things.

Typically we identify this kind of stuff prior to beginning the trash out, and then put the whole thing on hold as when one thing is identified as a “personal belonging” then everything in the home falls under that jurisdiction, but in this case, the crew was halfway through when they called me. Dear Reader, you don’t want to get a call from your crew saying they’ve already brought a load to the dump and then found “personal belongings.” And you definitely don’t want them to tell you that what they found was a fucking urn.

To make this news doubly stressful, my manager was out of the office that day, so I had to go to another manager who I did not know that well for help. (This other manager had, in fact, trained me when I first started at this company, but I have always been incredibly forgettable most of my life, and she didn’t remember me though she seemed to remember literally everyone else. So I guess it wasn’t that I didn’t know her that well, but more that I felt very small and embarrassed that she didn’t know who I was and I had to do that whole introduce myself to her even though we’d met and worked together a lot already thing that only you other poor, forgettable fuckos understand.)

So I went to this manager, reintroduced myself, and explained my predicament. Her eyes went wide. “An urn?” she asked with both the horror and excitement of the realization we almost threw away human remains and now we’d have to deal with this. “An urn,” I told her with a solemn nod, holding back laughter because humor is how I deal with everything and this was, at its core, kind of ridiculous.

We shut the trash out down, obviously, and the manager set to contacting everyone she could in regard to the house in question. Somehow, through the long line of everyone who had handled the house thus far, she had gotten in contact with the former owner of the house. This was unprecedented as, in my particular position and department, we were typically very far removed from the former occupant of the houses. Talking with people who think you personally are taking their home from them is particularly terrible–I would learn this a year later when I picked up overtime by answering our emergency phones after hours and got yelled at and threatened by all sorts of people who didn’t pay their mortgages–but speaking with someone who has lost their house AND the remains of their family member? Horrifying.

So the manager called the woman (thank the gods) who was now residing on the other side of the country, and when informed we had found an urn amongst her abandoned belongings, do you know what she said, Dear Reader?

“Well, I thought we left someone behind!”

As it turned out, the remains were not human, but of the family dog, and we were all a little relieved this wasn’t someone’s grandma, but still, right? You see, a lot of people, when they’re foreclosed upon, leave behind a bunch of stuff sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of spite. I don’t blame these people, I basically had a job because of this, but very rarely was something of this caliber discarded so thoughtlessly.

So the manager asked the lady what she’d like to do. This was, after all, all that was left of a beloved pet, and the family had already been through enough losing their home and packing up with little they could take and relocating, so we were willing to send the ashes to her–something we wouldn’t have done for any other belonging–and the manager was going to pay for it out of her on pocket.

But to our surprise she said no, and for a moment I was particularly upset and not just because I like animals more than people. First she forgets Fido, and then when given a second chance through an incredibly kind gesture, she blows it off! But her reasoning was thus: that house we found the ashes in had been the dog’s home its whole life, and that was where she belonged. Not tinned up on someone’s shelf or, worse, in the back of a closet, but there, at home. So she asked us if we could bury the ashes on the property so the dog could “watch over the house forever.” Those words will stick with me my whole life, Dear Reader, and I don’t think I will ever be able to tell this story without crying.

The crew completed the request and sent me pictures, digging the hole, putting in the ashes, filling it in, and even placing a handful of wildflowers on top of the spot. We sent the photos to the woman and received a heartfelt thank you. People who clean out houses for a living are incredibly tough, foul-mouthed, strong people. Often they lied to me because the system was a game and they needed to win so they played dirty, and to be honest I respected that, but I think in just about everyone’s heart there’s enough room to get it together to bury someone’s pet with the love and honor it deserves.

I like to think that even though she was abandoned for a bit and never reunited with her family, that dog is very happily haunting that yard to this day, raising the hair on the back of the mailman’s neck and chasing off the errant squirrel, and, pleased with a good day’s work, she curls up on the back porch every night to sleep. So yeah, I helped trash out foreclosed houses–I don’t feel great about that–but I know I did right by that ghost doggo.

The Time The Worst Thing Happened

I think I’m getting sick which is kind of shitty since I haven’t been truly sick in a long time. I’ve had food-poisoning-esque episodes and unexplained headaches in the last couple years, but nothing where I’d call myself “go-to-the-doctor ill” (except this is America and we don’t really do that anyway). But if this thing I’m feeling manifests, I’m dreading the result because this feels a lot like the time I got the sickest I’ve ever been, and The Worst Thing happened to me.

Come with me, Dear Reader, way back to March of 2013. Barack Obama was president, doge was so wow, and your blogger, AK, was a newlywed. I worked reception/office management at a doctor’s office, of all places. Our PTO policy was not the best (we had to use it when the doctor took vacation if we wanted to get paid), but I saved up my time off and took all of it when I got married. And of course, OF COURSE, I got sick immediately after my actual wedding.

I had to return to work though: I had no time left, and a wedding to pay off! (Just kidding, my wedding was cheap and my mom paid for most of it.) Plus I thought I’d have a few days of the sniffles and then poof, right back on my feet!

That didn’t happen.

Snot dripped out of my nose in a constant flow, I lost my voice every other day (which is extra rough when you’re on the phone), and my head felt like I was trying to cram a hundred pounds of shit into an eight pound skull. Everything hurt, and I did, indeed, feel like I was dying.

But the worst part may have been the daze I existed in. Every task I attempted was worked through a thick fog, my memory was peripheral at best, and I didn’t have a clear sense of what came next. I let the day lead, and everything just happened around and to me, including The Worst Thing.

This went on for entirely too long, something like three or four weeks, before The Worst Thing happened. You may be wondering why I didn’t see a doctor before this. Well, despite working for a doctor, I didn’t have healthcare, and I worked for a specialist who didn’t deal in general medicine and wouldn’t have probably prescribed for one of her employees anyway. So, yeah, I let it get that bad. Don’t worry, I got what I fucking deserved.

I was puttering around in my fog at work when I had the urge to pee, so I went to the bathroom, and then returned to my desk. But something was off. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, but I was uncomfortable, and my ability to focus was at an all time low. I returned to the bathroom to try to puzzle out what was wrong.

Dear Reader, I peed myself. At 25 years old, I had sat on the toilet WITHOUT taking off my underwear, and urinated. And then I got up, washed my hands, and returned to my desk thinking all of that had happened in the exact way it was supposed to. What I call The Worst Thing could also be called The Triggering Event, because it was at that moment of realization, when I had to stow my underwear in the car and face working commando for the rest of the day, that I called the family doctor’s office in our plaza and told them yes, I’ll take their next open appointment, no, I don’t have insurance, yes, I’ll gladly pay $200 up front JUST PLEASE SEE ME.

I ended up prescribed a truckload of meds including something that relaxed the muscles in my throat because apparently it was alarmingly inflamed and the doctor didn’t understand how I was eating, let alone speaking on the phone. Maybe I wasn’t eating. I mean, if I couldn’t remember to take my damn underwear off to pee what else was I not doing?

About a week later I started to get better and finally two months after my wedding I felt like the person I was before I got married. So is there a moral here? No, not really. I’d say go to the doctor when you’re sick, but a lot of us just aren’t in that situation. I’d also say take care of yourself, and that can go a long way, but I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been right now and still feel a little like I might die. So what is there to say? Not much, Dear Reader, except maybe this: sometimes you pee yourself. It happens, but you’ll live. Probably.

I Moved In

My Husband and I met on the internet as many an internet-people do. We went on two dates before I began spending long weekends at his tiny apartment. We were meant to be, you might say. However, the state of that tiny apartment when we met wasn’t saying that. Let me describe it to you.

He slept on what we affectionately came to call the “crack mattress.” I wasn’t particularly well-off for at least half of my childhood, or at least I thought, but I was clearly doing just fine as I’d never known anyone to not have a box spring and a frame under their mattress. Husband had neither. Nor did he have proper sheets. But he did have a down comforter that he never washed until I came along (and subsequently ruined long before I finally convinced him to throw the smelly thing out–who knew you couldn’t launder goose feathers? Also, who, in the modern day, requires an animal be murdered and plucked clean in order to sleep?)

All his shit was strewn around his bedroom. Even the drawers that should have contained the shit that was strewn around were strewn around. He had one real piece of furniture–a scuffed up chest of five drawers–and not a single drawer was in place. It stood, hollowly looking out over its own innards as they recklessly lay about 80% of the bedroom making it basically impossible to cross the room from the crack mattress at its entrance to the closet at its back. But honestly, I found it reassuring that one could not easily cross from bed to closet as that was its own nightmare.

To be fair, the closet wasn’t Husband’s fault. At least, not the architecture. That closet would have existed in its utterly terrifying state regardless of who inhabited the apartment. He certainly didn’t make it better, but it was hard to make it worse (he persevered). Typically we think of closets as shallow rectangles or boxes. This was, instead, a long rectangle that ran insidiously down along the wall with an entryway (the door had long been removed) at one end and a single lightbulb hanging just inside. So you’d step into a small, acceptable, almost normal space, but then if you glanced to the right, the horror of the void would stare back at you. For some reason, the closet was a very narrow, very dark hallway to nowhere. Except maybe Hell.

Husband kept garbage bags full of clothing, mostly and inexplicably Hawaiian shirts, back there. The bags were tied off. I don’t know if they were clean or dirty when they went in. There were all washed when they finally came out.

Additional furniture came in the form of a massive, leather beanbag, an entertainment center that he referred to as a “family heirloom” because his family severely misuses the word, and that is literally all I can remember. The apartment itself wouldn’t have held much more than that anyway. We would acquire a futon months later after the beanbag was unceremoniously used as a litter box.

He knew how to cook one thing, and not well, and had a special appliance (his only appliance save for a microwave that hummed at exactly an F#) just for making it. I was very afraid of eating raw bacon when he eagerly made me a bacon and egg sandwich in this appliance, his coveted sandwich maker, but I did–FOR LOVE. I didn’t do it without complaint, though, and he sites this experience as why he cannot possibly learn to cook now as I permanently ruined his fragile ego.

His bathroom had been cleaned exactly one time, in the interim between the previous apartment’s tenant and himself. It’s important to note that the fixtures were ancient and at one point in our relationship while [redacted] in the shower together, he leaned against the back wall and four of the tiles just crumbled in on one another. The landlord’s fix for this was exactly as you’d imagine.

The apartment itself was next door to the complex’s laundry unit which was kind of convenient if not particularly quiet. It was also a “garden” apartment which is just a fancy way of saying “mostly basement” which meant the only windows were at almost-ceiling height. One evening during a rainstorm when we were watching a pirated movie on Husband’s laptop, our two cats started meowing intensely in the bedroom, we went the two steps into the room to find water somehow gushing in from around the closed window all over the carpeted bedroom and our belongings. By the time it stopped, the carpet was a mushy mess and everything we could salvage was stacked up in the living room/kitchen space.

But this is the place I decided to move into to be with Husband. We lived there for about six months before moving to an only slightly less shitty and slightly more expensive apartment. That place had bedbugs. Still slightly less shitty.