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The End

January 1, 2018

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Everything around us ends. This day will end. Every building I design will cease to exist at some point. I have a shelf life. The molecules that make up my body will reorganize as they have since The Big Bang untold time ago.

Sometimes The End comes when our control is reduced to the point where there is only one last thing that is left to us: that molecular organization.

Today is the end of another year. But it is also the beginning of another rotation of the place I am on around the sun. Our sons are done with graduate school, but will always be our children long after all our molecules have reformed.

When lives end, only memories are as alive as the dead used to be. When the dead were mysteries in the lives they were intimately involved with, time replaces knowledge with those memories. And, maybe, understanding – or at least the conclusions that we can live with.

It is only now, after 3 months of thought I think I have a description of why, and maybe how my sibling died.

It was natural that the mid-century lives of my parents could be understood as shaped in the Depression, War, Booze and Denial that made so many decisions in their lives sad and damaging. But they did things in the world and had beginnings that made those things remarkable, unlike their deaths.

My parents essentially died of well-worn bodies. Scores of years of smoking, untold gallons of alcohol, virtually no exercise made death in their late ‘70’s and early 80’s a testament to genetics and luck.

 

 

My brother died this year a decade earlier in his lifespan than his parents. He had become my sister in the last 15 years of her life, and I fully expected her determined absence from any contact with me to proceed for at least as long as our parents. She smoked, drank and drugged when I knew her as him, and I had no reason to think those long established habits had stopped.

Her passing happened without even the months of warning that the debilitation my parents gave us. I simply was called by the police and told that her body was found in her house once a co-worker alerted them that she had simply not shown up for work: a completely unprecedented absence: According to her coworker, she never called in sick, let alone simply failed to show up as required by her work schedule.

In the tumult that followed I found, unsurprisingly, that my 67 year old sister had no will, had no verbal instructions for disposition of her worldly goods, nor any clue as to a health condition that led to her death. Similarly a once deeply committed life in the Episcopal Church as a Sexton, then dedicated “Churchman” considering devotion to the Order of St. Andrews, even her transgender-presenting participation in full clerical robes 15 years ago in NYC’s Gay Pride Parade was gone as a place in her life.

What was left were two things: her work and her home. Neither were a point of creation: she was a Bus Dispatcher for a transit company and had a two family house.

But both places had special people: her tenants took care of every aspect of the property except my sister’s two floors and they had a lovely child and had been there over a decade. Her co-workers, only known to me at her funeral I arranged, came 100 miles to be there at her interment: they loved her: but had no clue how she lived or had lived before they knew her.

Into this binary world I was dropped by responsibility, as I had been to be the Executor of my parent’s estate. Initially, with a home involved, I tried to determine if there was anybody, any entity, that might get her residual assets. None could be found.

Random access to paper checking statements showed scores of monthly Amazon billings, and a small balance. The tenant said his cash monthly rent was simply given to the town by my sister to pay the $10,000 annual property taxes.

She never, ever, had locked her house. So when the police collected her body on Oct. 2, they locked the door behind them, but there was no key. I was left to break into the locked house with the police: and upon breaking in, it was, as warned, a hoarder home.

The access point, the living room window, revealed two other things besides endless bags, Amazon boxes and no visible floor: First she had not been on that floor in 7 years as the top layer of unopened mail had that date on them and filled every horizontal space in the kitchen: and that the stair access was completely blocked off – 8ft deep and to the ceiling – so the way to the second floor, where she came to live, was only by the locked front door.

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So I needed a locksmith. I hired one, met him, he rekeyed the lock and I was there, alone, on a Saturday morning. Upon gaining access to the stair, I found virtually no current mail, or floor beyond small areas of each tread going up to the place where she slept.

The results were mystifying:

Lights and fans on, after several weeks.

A sea of bags, filled with somethings, boxes, stacked items, remnants of organization under this sea in the form of supporting furniture.

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No smell – no organic garbage, no cigarette butts – which where everywhere in other places I had been where my sibling had lived.

No current mail.

No dirty clothing: no female clothing at all – just a few hanging older garments.

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Her bed was a mattress on the floor. Covered all but an island of mattress surface.

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The stair to the attic was completely blocked by 6ft of stuff, and the other bedroom was similarly filled almost to the ceiling.

Most distinctly daunting was that the bath had a full 3 or 4 feet of stuff piled at its threshold: upon ascending, it was clear, all too clear, that there had not been a use of the space, in any way, for years: no showering, no toilet use, no use at all. And no smell.

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My head was reeling.

On a low bookcase top was some mail from perhaps August, fully 6 weeks before my sister had been found dead in the space. But there were old, years old, unopened envelopes from me and my other sister left on top of those newer unopened mailings. And a wad of keys.

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But there was one letter. Opened. From me to my bother: a mailing from 7 years ago, of a magazine that had my work in it: where the form letter, sent along to others, personalized – it had my handwriting upon it: above my signature, after the description, I had crossed out “All Best” that was there for everyone, and wrote, in red, “Love”.

It was meant for me to find.

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“I am going home to do some things around the house.” Was what my sister told her co-workers on September 30 at noon. She would be back for her second shift at 6 that evening.

Two things had never happened before, happened that day: My sister clearly had never, ever, done anything “around the house” before, and she had never, ever, not shown up for work.

And, she had not died before that day, either.

What did these things mean? I took all the letters I could find, all unopened and left.

Upon opening I found what I have come to believe is true.

From the summer, months ago, was one of the many letters from the City of Peekskill, all unopened. They were mostly parking tickets. But one stated a conclusion in stark terms, that I verified in a series of phone calls:

My sister stopped paying her property taxes four years ago.

The bill was at $41,000 and it was growing and she never responded to any request for any communication. Recent unopened bank statements had shown that the balance in her account was dwindling to nothing between paychecks.

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All of her bills except property taxes, were paid electronically from her checking account. The rent cash that had been her taxes was somehow used to support a life that needed only restaurant food, only new clothes in lieu of washing ones, and to pay for whatever else she consumed.

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Given that, the house was to become the property of the City of Peekskill, Monday October 2, 2017, the day they found her body at the home, the home the city now owned as of that day.

The End.

The last measure of control in a life that had seen so many efforts to prove a son’s worth to his parents, failed grades, degrees, relationships, careers, religion, even his birth gender identity. But this last failure, the financial failure of what was her last measure of control, was her final place of control.

She ended her life – somehow – on the day she knew the life she led could not go on.

7 years ago she stopped using her kitchen. Then 4 or 5 years ago, her bathroom. Then she simply bought clean clothes, never doing laundry, but discarding the dirty items.

She lived in 3 places: Work, Home, and where she ate and bathed/cleaned up/whatever.

When The End was clear as a point in time, Oct. 2nd, the day the house was no longer hers as a place to discard the things she could control by throwing them into her rooms, she went home from work that Saturday, September 30, midday:

She removed all the cigarette butts (there must have been millions)

She removed all soiled clothing (if they had ever been there)

She removed any food anything (if there was any)

She removed all recent anything, mail included.

She found my note: she set it under a table lamp.

She left this world, knowing I would find it.

She did not care about anyone now finding the world she had created and controlled even though no one – no one – had ever seen it but her – the bags, boxes, piles of used Q-Tips, papers and bits – because she, the creator of that world, would be gone.

She created The End.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2018 1:53 pm

    This is so difficult. I have seen similar situations and felt for those who would have to deal with them. My neighbor’s house will need to be burned to the ground I think. He isn’t poor and he spend winters away. I feed and water his feral cats. There is shit everywhere inside. and dead things. He’s a really nice guy and we give him rides to town. Ex ivy league-Connecticut -from money sort. I wonder if his children are aware of how he lives.

    • Launa Ron Hanson permalink
      January 4, 2018 10:07 am

      Robert…..if you can find his kids please tell them his situation. My sister died like this. NO ONE contacted me…and they could have. I would have helped her but the neighbors just let her die.

      • January 4, 2018 2:24 pm

        Yes. I will. I think they know but I really should have their contact information as I may be the one to find him someday.

    • Launa Ron Hanson permalink
      January 5, 2018 10:17 am

      Robert….it can’t hurt to try. Thanks for helping your neighbor.

  2. January 1, 2018 5:18 pm

    Love to you and your wonderful family, Duo.

  3. Joe Dzeda permalink
    January 2, 2018 7:15 am

    I have watched in amazement how gracefully you resolved this very difficult situation. Your sibling’s enigmatic life came to its end, as everyone’s must, leaving you to make sense of it all. I pray for your sister’s eternal peace, and for your strength and wisdom in metaphorically turning out the lights and closing the doors that she was unable to do herself. God bless you, Duo.

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