So the other day I met the woman who used to live in my apartment.
I've been checking in on my upstairs neighbor, who was AWOL for a while and I thought maybe deceased? until she was back again after I got back to LA. My upstairs neighbor is old enough to talk about the plans she and her husband made when they got out of the concentration camps and these days is back from hospital but still poorly, so I fetch her mail and visit. My angelic good neighborliness has kind of backfired on me as I have been entirely unsuccessful in diverting our conversations away from the sole discussion topic of how crappy she feels and the unsaid implication of "and soon I will die". I feel like a shit for even complaining about this, but man it's a downer, plus there are very few ways to resuscitate (so to speak) the conversation at that point.
Anyway, last week, she had visitors and one of them was the woman who used to live in my place. As much as this neighborhood is full of orthodox jewish people, I haven't really talked to any of them besides my neighbor, so talking to her was an exercise in mediating my curiosity about her (she's got to be my age and has three kids-- is that a wig? does she have to wear that skirt?) while trying to have a normal conversation. She was very bubbly and sarcastic and friendly and translated the occasional yiddish phrases for me.
In a reciprocal curiosity exchange, I invite her in to look around my apartment and see how different it was. Our shower still has a glitter sticker of birds that I left up because I like to look at it in the mornings. She was on the phone to her oldest daughter describing the place as she walked through and the daughter said she got the sticker from her ballet recital. It's interesting to think of what a place that means so much to me means to someone else, not to mention all the other someone elses who have lived here for the past 80-odd years.
When I was sixteen, I got a baby-sitting job from people who had moved into the house I grew up in. I put the kids to bed and then wandered around in the house. I probably spent about ten minutes in each room.
Now, sometimes when I can't fall asleep at night, I imagine walking through my old house, what the rooms looked like, what kind of carpet, where the lightswitches were, the sound the cabinet doors made when you closed them. They tore that house down last summer.