We weren’t great friends with them, but good. They lived above us and were outside smoking cigarettes more than a few times a day. They were both tall. She had dark, long hair; he was more scraggly and thin, and had blond hair…what was left of it, as he inched further and further past thirty. She was a little standoffish, he was more open and friendly. He could tell a story very quickly and be very funny without it taking much effort.
I forget what led up to it, but there was one where he interjected, “I used to be a fat kid.” It was hard to picture because everything about him (and her) was thin. Even his voice and his laugh—thin, reedy. But after he said it, you could kind of see it. His cheeks bulged, his features more pronounced.
“What happened?” we asked.
“Speed,” he said. She rolled her eyes as if to confirm.
They were having issues with our landlord, who was trying to hike up the rent, and eventually, they had enough. They decided to move. It was a sad thing, but they were happy. One of the last times they came over he showed us a video of the new place, walking through it, filming each room, full of sunlight, empty space and windows. Nothing like where they were coming from, nothing like where we lived.
Almost to punctuate their loss, their place in our building was renovated over the next few weeks. It was a noisy time. Sledgehammers pounded away right over our heads. All kinds of debris rained down into the alley, outside our ground-level windows, up to and including the bathroom sink, which bashed into a few different-sized pieces. Maybe to save time having to clean up all the broken glass, the medicine cabinet was ceremoniously escorted down the stairs and gently placed next to it. There were workers constantly going up the steps, constantly coming down. A radio was tuned to one classic rock station all day. Forty minutes non-stop commercial free radio…NEXT! Then came the tiled floor of the kitchen, fake wood floor of the hallway and living room. Their apartment started to appear more and more out there. The bedroom would be up next. Its cheap, mirrored sliding doors. Their place was more or less identical to ours, so we could tell how much progress was being made and get an idea of when it might hopefully be finished. Finally, it was.
A lot of time went by. As things go, the promise to keep in touch was just that—a promise. A good intention on both sides. Then one day, a card came in the mail. It was small, grey, discreet. It was left on top of the mailboxes, where letters and junk mail for people who didn’t live there any longer tended to pile up. It had her name on it, handwritten. The return label was printed, a man’s name, with her last name on it. I rescued it from the other envelopes and magazines, which would just be thrown out at the end of the week.
It might be an excuse to get in touch, we thought. He was the friendlier of the two, so we started with him. A week went by, maybe two. The card slipped our mind. It was tucked away in a drawer somewhere, keeping its little secret.
She was the one who got in touch. “Hi, I saw that you both wrote. I’m sorry it’s taken this long to get back. I still check his email to see who I haven’t been able to tell yet. Not long after we last saw you both, he all of a sudden got very, very sick. He was in and out of the hospital the whole summer, and all of last month and most of the month before. He passed away two weeks ago. I don’t know what else to say. I miss you both. He did, too. Could you please send the card? It’s from my uncle on Staten Island. Obviously, we’re not close.”