Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pam a la Carmen

       It was the weirdest week of my 30 year life. My wife lost her mother to heart disease and complications from a life spent making bad decisions. She was the lone executor to her mother's estate and the lone heir to any inheritance left behind. Part of her mother's bad decision making was her inability to realize her bad choices would leave her daughter in this predicament at such a young age. My wife is 28 years old and her mother, Pam, was only 66 when she passed away. The circumstances surrounding her final days were sketchy at best. All that we knew was provided to us through a police report, a coroner's examination, and the conjecture of Pam's landlords. The police report was 100% factual, but provided little detail beyond the obvious. The coroner's report said she passed away two weeks prior to the police finding her, but provided no further details. The landlords had plenty of theories surrounding her final days, but we did not want to hear a single one of them. We just wanted to handle the situation, preserve the remaining dignity of her mother, and move on to honoring the memory of a once great woman.
       You see, Pam lived alone. This was her choice, and the fact that she had very few visitors was her preference. The only people she spoke to were her landlords (a couple of off-kilter foreigners that handled the day-to-day dealings of the family's investment properties), and her daughter (my wife, and the person to whom she had carved a distant relationship over many years). They were thrust into the same situation once Pam had decided she had enough of her mortal existence. As the husband of the bereaved and the main source of local support, I was thrust in as well. This story is of the first time we all ended up in the same place at the same time. I was a third party in this crazy situation and my job was simple. I was to provide a buffer between Jessica and lunacy of the landlords.
       As much as the situation was terrible, nauseating, stressful, and any other awful adjective you can think of; there were actually quite a few moments of levity. Most of them involved a woman who answered to the name "Carmen." Carmen was the elderly mother of the woman who owned the apartment in which Pam lived and died. She was just a smidgen taller than the midget/non-midget threshold (don't be offended, I only write it that way because little person/non-little person doesn't read as smoothly). Carmen also has another trait that made her entertaining during such a terrible chapter. She had no brain-to-mouth filter and was the owner of an attention span that can only be measured in nanoseconds.
       I had never met Carmen prior to Pam's death, but I had heard her through secondhand sound when Jessica spoke to her. She spent most of the time on her calls or voice mail messages laying a guilt trip on Jessica about the lack of participation in her mother's life. I was aware of how uninformed Carmen was about their history, and no matter how many times Jessica tried to explain it to Carmen, it never really stuck. When I did finally meet Carmen, it all made sense. She wasn't a terrible person, she wasn't an awful person, she was just a person who had no social skills.
       We arrived at the apartment the morning after we received the news that Pam had moved on from her physical existence to whatever follows that. It was less than 10 hours after the police officer had knocked on our door and delivered the morbid details. The reality had yet to creep into our consciousness. We were essentially paralyzed in deep thought and retrospect as we stood by our car waiting for Carmen to arrive. My sole purpose for being there was to support my wife in her hours of need. Just as we exchanged our 100th and 101st "I love you" of the morning, a red Chrysler LeBaron pulled up and parked cock-eyed in a visitor space about 25 feet from where we had been waiting for over 30 minutes. They took their time exiting the slightly rust-colored vehicle. As soon as I saw her, I knew it was Carmen. Her stature and the demeanor matched the description Jessica had provided me in the past, and the shrill voice I had overheard on so many voice mails and phone calls finally had a face.
       Her husband had yet to be described to me, and his voice was as foreign to me as his body was to the United States. His name was Gerard and he could only be counted on for an occasional mumble or "yes honey" when Carmen asked him a question. I was instantly not a fan of him. Any man who can not look me directly in the eye is not someone I can trust or respect, and Gerard was a mouth-breathing ground-staring sonofabitch. Carmen confirmed for me that he was originally from Germany. I couldn't gauge his age, but I can only assume he had some close branches in his family tree that stood idly by as the atrocities of the WWII era commenced. I can hear his father or grandfather mumbling "Yes, mein Fuhrer. I'm with Himmler and Goebbels on this one. Great solution!"
       Luckily (for all of us) Gerard stayed in the car most of time, and we only had to deal with Carmen. We couldn't have taken much more of the duo, because Carmen was a hand full by herself. She wanted to make small talk with us, even if we showed no interest in the activity. I had come straight to the apartment from work, so I was clad in my business casual garb. This particular occasion led me to wear a dark blue button up shirt, a black sweater, and a casual black blazer. Carmen was wearing a flowery ensemble with a white scarf and a pair of brown orthopedic shoes. When she approached us we were leaning up against my Mazda Hatchback with our shoulders slumped and our heads staring at the pavement in grief. She did not pick up on that energy. She immediately tried to start the small talk. Like verbal vomit she talked about a tree Gerard had ordered online that would produce three different fruits once it matured. She turned up the heat immediately by explaining how she prayed every night for Pam's health and for Jessica to come visit her.

        Every step I took away from her, she would immediately close the distance. Each time the process repeated itself, it made me that much more uncomfortable. My nonverbal cues had no effect on her. I attempted to subdue her conversations, but she would continue on despite my obvious contempt. She talked about the birds that flew overhead (she would ask if it was a hawk, I would tell her her it looked like a seagull to me). She asked about our personal life (kids? pets?), and each time I cordially side-stepped them with one word answers. She would ask follow up questions (not trying, not able?). Did this woman not understand the matriarch of my wife's life had just passed away in an apartment a mere 15 feet from us in unseemly circumstances within the last 24 hours? The answer was yes, but she still didn't seem to care. She told us about her life growing up in Central America, how she met Nazi Gerard, where her kids lived, what they did for a living, and also kept us updated on any passing wildlife she encountered as we stood quietly in the parking lot (squirrel!). The less we paid attention to her, the more she tried to talk. Silence was not an option. She then began to embellish the stories as she noticed our complete disinterest in them. Eventually, the fruit tree could grow up to five different fruits (oranges, tangerines, pears, apples, AND peaches), her husband was a stock market savant, and the icing on the cake is when she told us that her daughter owned the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (and apparently her part time job was a slum-lord for one bedroom apartments in Sarasota).
       At that point we had enough of her babbling, and we asked nicely for her open the apartment so that we could empty Pam's belongings and be on our way. This was a chapter of both of our lives that we would like to end as quickly as possible. She did as we requested, and we were able to complete the removal of Pam's limited accoutrements in less than 30 minutes. Carmen stood by the doorway as we diligently worked, her chatter constantly filling the air with nonsense. Once we had finished, we closed the door behind us and handed her the key.
       As we turned to get into our car, Carmen was standing directly in front of us. We could tell by the look in her little brown eyes that she didn't want us to leave. She was undoubtedly a lonely woman. She may have had a husband that was within 25 feet of her at that very moment, but we could tell that something was missing from her life. Her daughter didn't answer the phone when she called, her husband didn't respond to her requests for attention, and Jesus had not answered her countless prayers. Luckily for us, we didn't give a shit. I asked her to to be quiet for one minute so I could speak. Her eyes glistened in anticipation of what discussion I was about to initiate. The glistening ceased when the only question I had was about the cancellation of the automatic rent payment both she and Pam had set up. She promised to take care of it on Monday, and asked if she needed to call us when she had done so. I responded quickly, and told her that was not necessary. We trusted that she could handle it on her own. That was not the entire truth, we had limited trust in her follow through. However, the unease of another possible debit from Pam's account was far outweighed by our interest in never having to speak to Carmen again.


  1. brutal. i am so glad you were there for jess.

  2. Though I am completely upset that you both had to deal with this horrible situation, I am absolutely pleased with this story.

    I have a vivid picture of this woman and can only hope that one day I can find a way to recreate her in some film about an Apt., maybe like TROLL or even better, TROLL 2!

    Thank you for sharing the story. I know it comes from an odd moment in time, but it did spark a pretty wonderful tale for my viewing pleasure as I sit here in dreary Texas.