We got lucky with parking. Insanely lucky. Dad had managed to parallel park the behemoth Budget truck in front of the basement door of my apartment building. All of Saturday my Mom, Dad, friend Peter, neighbors Chloe and Teri had been funneling my worldly possessions down the tiny, ancient elevator and out into the street.
Peter and my dad had shoe horned the last of boxes into the truck and the one remaining piece was the coffee table. Chloe and I levered that faux teak bastard out the door, onto the sidewalk and as we approached the truck who should I see? Who was standing in front of the truck, Peering into it like some mystic abyss?
“A WHORE LIVES HERE” Sybil.
“Ugh. Jesus” I swore to Chloe over the table. “There she is. Look at her. Just standing there.”
Chloe and I went to lift the table up into the truck as Sybil just stood in the oddly hot San Franciscan sun, watching. My father tried pulling the table into the truck but Sybil was in the way. It’s because I’m a huge pussy all I said was: “Hey. Sybil. You’re kinda blocking us. Can you…Y’know…?”
“Oh!” She said in her tiny mousey voice. “Oh! Ummm…I’m sorry!” And then she vanished inside the wedged open basement door.
All I did was huff a sigh, sweating and heaving, wedge the table into the truck. That was the last of it. All of a life I’d lived for the past nine years jammed inside a mid-sized truck.
I clambered inside the rickety ass elevator of my now former complex and took it up to the third floor to help my mother clean out the one bedroom apartment I’d lived in and found Sybil standing in the hallway with a disposable camera clenched in her nervous hands. I’d found her like that two years ago, but at that time it was a roll of packaging tape she held after she posted a rather unkind sign on my unit door.
I stalled. She stared, I stared back. I looked at this little brunette woman who was my favorite story to tell at bars.
“Umm…” She paused and rolled the next slide into the camera nervously with a loud sliding ‘click;. “So you’re moving. And…Um…I’m not going to see you again…Can I take your picture?”
And because I’m a huge pussy I didn’t say: “You called me a whore! And then you forgot my name!”
All I said was: “Sure, Sybil.” And I folded my hands behind my back and offered my most sweetest of smiles.
“CLICK” Went the camera and she said “thank you!” and went back into her apartment number 36.
I retired from my pose and looked at Chloe.
“Christ. Is that for her ‘secret friends’ scrapbook? What the hell was that?”
I went into good old unit 33 where my mom was scrubbing the counters in the kitchen in a last-ditch effort to get the majority of the security deposit back.
“Your neighbor Sybil was here.” She said, amicably.
“Yes, she was in the hallway.” I said.
“No, she was here.” My mother said.
“Yeah.” Mom scrubbed hard at a red wine stain on the counter top. I heard a noise coming from the bedroom and I think I surprised her.”
“You mean she just walked up in my house?” I was offended that she just came into my apartment that, even though recently vacated I still regarded as mine.
“Well, I found her in your old bedroom.” Mom said.” She was standing there looking at the wall and I introduced myself and se said who she was. I knew immediately of course that she was that neighbor but I just said I was your mom…”
I was too hot and too tired and in no mood for bullshit.
“Uh huh. And she said?”
Mom flopped the towel down on the countertop. “Well, I said ‘hello’ and she was startled. But then she said that she didn’t know that I’d painted the wall in my bedroom red and I said ‘Yes, she and I painted that together’ and she just said ‘It’s pretty. Can I take a picture?’ I said ‘Yes’ And she did.”
“Uh huh.” I said.
“She said she was sorry she wouldn’t see you again and that she was sad you were moving.” Mom rinsed the rag in the sink and wrung it out.
I made a bunch of jokes then. I made jokes about how she was crazy, how she had to take pictures of people and pretend she had some sort of relationship with them. I retold the story of the time she put that ‘A WHORE LIVES HERE‘ sign on my door and rolled my eyes.
But who were you, Sybil? Who were you?
I saw the self-help books you left in the hallway in garbage bags. The ones about alcohol abuse and childhood trauma. What made you so fucked up that you put that sign on my door? What made you get that subscription to Bitch magazine, whose letter I found addressed to you in my mailbox that one day? Why did you leave a postcard taped to my door (The art on it was by Chagall, who is incidentally one of my favorite painters) inviting me to a passover potluck after I gave you that mis-delivered piece of mail?
I Ignored that invitation.
What made you the way you were? Did I fall down on the job of being a decent person in not finding out? Did I do wrong by not taking an interest in you and asking if you were doing alright and if you wouldn’t maybe like to come over for dinner?
We talked about you in that apartment building. About how crazy you were. All of your episodes.
In my time since leaving San Francisco I’ve thought about Sybil’s final snapshot of me. Of her saying she never knew I’d painted my wall red and telling my mother that she thought it was pretty.
I’ve wondered what Sybil’s favorite color was and if maybe I should have seen past my own self involved bullshit long enough to have asked.