1 The Dead Guy in Your Apartment Building, and Other Lessons in Living Alone | The Billfold

The Dead Guy in Your Apartment Building, and Other Lessons in Living Alone


After an entire young-adulthood spent in shared city townhomes with shared kitchens in which to blame messes on other people, you will move into your own apartment. Here are the things you learn, ever so abruptly.

On your first trip to the grocery store, you will know the harsh truth about how much you can really carry in tote bags on your shoulders for six blocks in July. One of your bags will break and all of your fruit will be bruised. You will discover an online grocery delivery service.

You will not have a television. You will decide to be okay with this, and you sort of love it. Every time your mother calls, she will ask, “Did you see the such-and-such last night?” Your answer is always no. She always apologizes for forgetting.

You decide you’ll be just fine without a microwave, and spend a few days lovingly heating leftovers in the oven or on the range in a regular pan, not the nonstick kind. Look how domestic you are. Five weeks later, you buy a microwave.

You will invest in kitchen gloves for the evenings you will spend scrubbing dishes you should have washed 12 hours or two days ago. Dishpan hands will be your mortal enemy and you will spend almost as much money on a pair of rubber gloves as you would on a manicure.

Everything you read about work/life balance will assert that your bedroom is for sleeping and sex, and you will think about this as you work for at least eight hours a day seated approximately four feet from your bed.

After being briefly locked in your bathroom, you ask if someone can come take a look at it. (“Can someone come take a look at this?” will be your most-used phrase in correspondence with your landlord.) The next day, you find that the handyman has removed your bra from where it was hanging on the doorknob, installed a new doorknob, and placed the bra back on the new doorknob. You have never been so comforted and perplexed at the same time.

You will often wonder, while showering, who would come save you if you ever fell mid-shampoo.

The time you actually do need help, it’s because an empty mason jar has fallen from your antique-chic open cabinets onto the crown of your head. You have never cursed Pinterest as much as you did on this night. Instead of calling your friendly neighbor, you FaceTime your father, three states away, to ask if your pupils look dilated.

A friend will volunteer to go to the grocery store with you, and on the walk home you will watch together as, in slow motion, one of your bags breaks, depositing a brand new bottle of Sprite into the storm drain. You consider this an offering to the sewer people.

Someone will leave their empty red Solo cup on the roof deck one night and it will roll off and around the roof and into the gutter and it will cause a deluge to come running into your apartment, not just through the window but also through the wall.

You become interested in the tiny house movement, because, shit, you are halfway there.

Not having a TV will make you question why you have so many DVDs when you watch everything online. You get rid of most of your DVDs. You don’t even try to sell them. You just leave them in the lobby.

Speaking of the lobby, you will be #blessed to live in one that’s generous. You will acquire the following from The Shelf: Two lamps, a large ottoman, a blender that you will never use, various storage boxes, a pair of knee-high leather riding boots that will be totally worth spending $80 to get resoled because they will last forever.

And the lobby taketh away: Halloween costume components circa 2008-2010, well-intended but weird gifts you have no place to hide (after a two-week waiting period), all the books you bought for grad school and don’t need anymore but have zero buyback value.

Someone on your floor will die, and they will not find him for five days.

The aftermath will look a lot like Sunshine Cleaning. They will spend six hours cleaning up in there. You are horrified and curious. The hall and the elevator will smell like bleach for days afterward.

Five days after they find the guy who had died five days before that, you are still not sure how they transported his paralyzed-by-death body out of the building. There is no way that elevator could have been involved. They must have taken the stairs. It must have taken a while.

You will realize, very suddenly, that you are a grown woman with so many questions about death.


Lisa Rowan lives in Washington, D.C. She is a writer and a vintage shop owner.

Photo: The Wandering Angel


18 Comments / Post A Comment

vanderlyn (#2,954)

Please no more second-person essays throughout the Awl network! The style is always grating and navel-gazey and writing-workshoppy in the worst way—even when the underlying story is good, as with this piece. Editors, please: let’s stop this madness.

Nibbler (#5,331)

@vanderlyn Good story though! It’s spot on about the pain of carrying groceries and the awesomeness of free lobby stuff. And feeling both “comforted and perplexed” by nice but odd handyman behavior.

vanderlyn (#2,954)

@Nibbler hehe.

@vanderlyn I… hate to agree, but I have to. This was an interesting style to read once, like with something that was very personal for the writer and very unfamiliar to the reader, but I think enough of us can identify with this without the second person.

spottedwren (#4,437)

@vanderlyn Yea, I’m pretty sure I would have liked this story twice as much in first person. I have never experienced any of these things, but I enjoyed the story behind it. Writing-workshoppy is a very accurate way to describe this style.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

Years of doing homework at a desk two feet from my bed has uniquely prepared me to do the same thing when working from home.

garli (#4,150)

People really wear gloves to wash dishes?

Nibbler (#5,331)

@garli Absolutely. My apartment doesn’t have a dishwasher and I do most of the dishes, so if I don’t wear gloves at least half the time (and all the time in the winter) the skin on my hands gets very dry and cracks and bleeds.

gyip (#4,192)

@garli Yep! My hands get dry, and they insulate my hands against very hot or very cold water. I also have more grip on slippery dishes.

garli (#4,150)

@Nibbler Crazy, I’ve never had a dishwasher (or never one I wanted to use) and never thought about gloves. I’ve been missing out my entire life.

selyse (#497)

@garli Plus, you can use even hotter water when you are wearing gloves. Splurge and get the Casabella Waterstop Premium Rubber Gloves … they’ll last so much longer than the Playtex ones at the grocery store, they’re longer to keep the water out and they’re the perfect thickness.

sea ermine (#122)

@garli I started wearing gloves to wash dishes this year and it’s made such a difference in how clean my dishes are and how much time I save washing dishes. With gloves I can turn the water on as hot as possible (which is hot enough to burn my bare hands) which makes it easier to clean, faster to get oil and stuck on food off the pan, and leaves my dishes cleaner. I like the playtex brand one’s although I’m sure they’re all fine (just don’t use the Nice brand one’s, they have no grip).

potatopotato (#5,255)

@garli: They become more important the longer you ignore the growing pile of dishes in your kitchen. It’s when your hands are in water for half an hour scrubbing moldy, crusty pots that they start to get chapped and crack.
Signed, a reformed dirty dish hoarder.

sea ermine (#122)

I think this the place to share that I currently have bruises up and down my forearms from carrying groceries home yesterday. For some reason I decided to restock all my canned goods (4 bags worth!) on a day when I didn’t bring my cart and train construction meant it took me over an hour and a half to get home (at least). Never again.

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

This is my life in a nutshell, including the shower, the maintenance, the grocery bags, and the death. But oh, the 1-bedroom is so worth it for the silence and the cleanliness and the zen feeling of not having to put up with someone else’s shit for a bit (until one of the lights in the living room ceiling comes crashing down in the middle of the night during a stressful work week).

My neighbor died, it was three days before the smell permeated the building. Absolutely disgusting.

Apocalypstick (#3,987)

Most of this is great -the bedroom thing, the possible concussion, the lack of tv, the magical lobby -but how on earth did you manage not to cook or carry groceries for years previous to this? Other people bought your food and cooked your meals? Didn’t they get annoyed?

Lisatella (#3,394)

@Apocalypstick oh, the answer to that one: CARS. My car, roommates who had cars, living in the suburbs, all of the above.

Comments are closed!