Return To Sender

Mail for former residents comes in bursts, rather than the occasional trickle I'd expect. They used to own the house until they sold it to my landlord, and continued renting the downstairs floor while racking up gambling debts, DUIs, and medical bills. I can't imagine what sequence of events led to the condition they were in by the time we moved in upstairs, and now that it's been years since they transferred to assisted living, I have all but forgotten the pervasive sadness that had crept upwards through the floorboards into our lives.

Most of the time, we get their unpaid bills, legal notices, impersonal mailing list distributions, and catalogues. Occasionally, we find a handwritten envelope in the shape of a greeting card, lovingly addressed to our former neighbors whom I couldn't quite bring myself to resent, despite how many times I've endured pest invasions, doors left unlocked, laundry machine fights, televisions blasting all night long, drunken death threats, cars colliding into the building, and nights lying awake listening to their lives peter out while struggling to accept how much of a personal burden I could make of the problems of strangers I happen to live near.

I want to write back to those people after bouncing their cards and let them know that their people no longer live here, but that I lived above them for almost two years and have always wished there was enough love in their lives to pull them away from their pain. Our landlord and I stood in the basement one afternoon, shining flashlights through the rotten piles of trash they had hoarded there for decades while we tried to determine what we could do to help them move out.

"I feel sorry for them, because they are old and no one cares for them," he said after a long silence, in his chronically resigned manner of accepting whatever life presents him. "At the same time..." he made a gesture of throwing everything out in an unmistakably relieved decision.

I couldn't have agreed more.

I wonder how much longer we'll be bouncing mail addressed to them.

02 February 2014 17:44

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