Chicago – 1994 – morning
I remember the stale smell of dust and age that lingered inside the apartment. The dust was dust but the age was from my Russian grandparents who struggled with every breath – Breath that rattled inside their chest when they slept. How I wished they’d never wake up.
Between the alcohol fueled KGB rants and the metal buckle beatings for lacking that Russian look my father wore, I would find time to bother The Stranger that lived downstairs. The stranger was not at all a stranger but rather another family member. But he wasn’t like them. He wanted out. Just like me.
It was on this morning in the year nineteen hundred and ninety four that I grabbed the gray banister that spiraled down, down to the darkness of the basement where The Stranger lived. The first barefooted step I made featured a sliver that pierced the heel of my right foot. The rest of the steps were without incident. When it’s dark enough I can still feel the “pop” of the wooden splinter entering my flesh.
After toying with a corner spiderweb that nested a pale fingernail sized spider, my feet reached the cement basement landing. Careful not to step on the drain, I remember what Michael said about the drain and what was inside it, I twisted open the doorknob.
The doorknob was this small, palm sized handle that had not experienced the pleasures of a polish. But I guess that didn’t matter because the door itself was in such bad condition that any brief disturbance of the air would send a flurry of cracked, peeling paint dancing to the floor. I enjoyed flicking the good pieces, though.
Entering The Strangers room was always a cold experience. But this time it was colder. Stepping inside the darkness, passing the humming dishwasher, I entered The Strangers living space to find him hanging over his bed. A rope, pulled tight with a creak, wrapped around the awkward angle of his neck. My mouth was dry as my eyes, blue at the time, followed the rope that started from a long pipe and disappeared in the skin that bulged fat from the side.
The body, naked say but a pair of underwear, hung still. The Stranger was absolute. And suddenly I desired to feel the metal buckle beatings and hear again the rattling in the Old Russians upstairs. Most of all I wanted to stay “in” the world of normality. I wanted to undue the scene that lay in front of me. Despite my young age I knew that upon seeing a dead body my life, in that very moment, had changed forever.