downstairs neighbor

Danie Hensley

I had this downstairs neighbor once. he and his girlfriend would say hi to me on my way into the door every day. midwestern hospitality, maybe. I would give a slight nod and head to my walk up as quickly as my awkwardness would allow.

my neighbor was always smoking marlboro classics with an oxygen tank strapped to him. i’d been fostering that disregard for my well-being my whole life and he just had it, effortlessly.

the ambulance came and took my neighbor away one morning. “COPD,” his girlfriend told me. he’ll be good as new soon, she said. a week passed and there was my neighbor on his porch, smoking a cigarette, oxygen tank in tow.

when he returned, i decided to try to learn what I could about him; his interests, politics, anything — he had few feelings on any subject, but what he did have was weed. he promised to smoke with us the next time we saw him, and we parted ways.

two days later, in the evening, i saw police lights shining their emptiness through my blinds. desperate sobs pierced the night. every one of my neighbors were standing outside, so I took two xanax and joined them.

the second the man’s girlfriend saw me, she grasped me in a hug that I can still feel. a hug neither of us knew we needed. a hug of hopelessness. a hug that asked, “what do I do now?”

she assured me she did everything she could: she’d given him his medicine and breathing treatment, she made sure he wasn’t left unattended, anything she could say to assuage the guilt. “you will get through this” I mumbled through my own tears.

two cops stood there and looked on silently. my neighbor’s lifeless body sat in my apartment complex for 4 hours.