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2nd November
2013
written by LS Girl

Talking to Strangers – The cottage was small, 400 square feet, but it was impeccable.  Perfectly designed, elegant, and sophisticated, with an enclosed seaside deck made of gray slabs of wood.  A narrow walking path filled with white crystal stones stretched alongside the 1950’s ranch house in front of the cottage. This path led to the designated parking space next to the driveway where the front lot tenant, a 50-something female writer and author with stiff blonde hair, parked her small pickup truck.

At $800 a month, it was the most affordable place I could find that felt homey and safe.  Located on a private beach with well-groomed sand and plenty of peace and quiet, the tiny cottage was picture perfect.

cottage

After settling in, I quickly got the lay of the land and realized that the landlord was a general contractor and builder who renovated properties and rented them.  My neighbor in the ranch home needed her deck replaced, and the property owner had the courtesy to stop by and explain that a contractor would be working on the deck for a couple of weeks.  He said the work would stop by 6:30 p.m., and asked me to let him know if the noise was too much, or carried on too late.

Each day I would arrive home a little after 6 p.m. and pass by the contractor as he worked on the deck, first tearing down the old worn materials, then working to reinforce the underpinnings and foundation in preparation for the new planks.  As the days passed, we began chatting for a while as he cleaned up his work area, and packed up his tools.

We never exchanged names, but we talked extensively about the neighborhood and my tiny cottage in particular.  He was part the team that renovated the small rental property, which used to be a garage.  He went into detail about the quality of craftsmanship and design given to the small space.  “Nothing but the best”, he said.  “The garage was in shambles, and was stripped down to the studs and foundation, and built up from almost nothing”.  He explained how the solid wood kitchen cabinets were purchased from another builder who filed for bankruptcy, and how the recessed lighting really gave the place a modern look.  The contractor wrapped up extension cords and dusted off saws while proudly unfolding the story of how the cottage was brought back to life. I sat on the step and listened, intently.

By week two, we had fallen into a routine of friendly conversation that involved bottled water and Gatorade.  “Any plans for this weekend?” “They say it’s going to rain most of tomorrow, but Wednesday looks like a perfect day.”  “How was your commute?” We would chitchat for about 15 minutes each night and then bid farewell until the next eve.

Wednesday came, and the contractor was right, it was a perfect day.  The commute wasn’t too bad, and I was looking forward to the cold bottle of water waiting next to the Gatorade, which I would offer to him, and he would reluctantly take. This had become part of our evening ritual.

Making my way up the path, I passed by as the nearly completed deck construction was in full swing with saws blazing.  I shielded my face and went inside, without waving or causing any kind of distraction while he worked.

Grabbing the Gatorade, I went outside once the noise subsided and was greeted by a fellow I had never seen before.  I said hello to the new person, and asked where the other guy was. The stranger fumbled around with some tools and then lifted his eyes to stare at me.

“He killed himself last night.  They found him hanging in his bathroom.”

Stunned, I inquired as to what might have caused this tragedy.  The man explained that he was found at about 7 p.m. in his home, dead.  That would mean that we spoke casually, joking around about the weather and how frustrating it can be to drive in rush hour traffic.  We shared a cold beverage; he packed up his tools, drove home, and killed himself.

Completely shocked, I went inside and felt very strange for a long while.  Did I miss something?  Could I have done anything different?  He seemed so proud of his work and upbeat about life.

The new gentleman completed the project and the deck looked great, but I could not look at it without feeling anything but sadness and guilt.  The unopened Gatorade sat in the back of my refrigerator until months later when I moved.  I poured the contents down the drain, and placed the bottle in the recycle bin. Two perfectly good things, gone forever.  One of them, a life.

 

Thank you for reading Talking to Strangers. 

 


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2 Comments

  1. 03/11/2013

    Oh no! That’s so sad. I can’t imagine how you felt hearing that news. I would’ve been a wreck! I guess it really shows you how you never know what someone is thinking or feeling inside. So sad 🙁

  2. 04/11/2013

    Yes. I think of this moment and it still is very perplexing, as we weren’t friends or even acquaintances. To think of a person having such a casual conversation, and then making a drastic decision like that; it is very sad. Thank you for your comment. It certainly did change the way I try to interact with people. I think, if this moment turns out to be this persons last, will I be ok with that, or am I being a jerk? There is always a better choice, than to be a jerk. Sometimes it’s hard to find it, but it’s there.

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