I left for work the other afternoon to find police officers surrounding my apartment building. A fire engine drove slowly by, not in a hurry, no sirens blaring. There was no smoke billowing from anywhere to be seen and no fire alarms to be heard. I had a feeling something was wrong.
I peeked through my neighbor Randy’s screen glass door. Police were inside his apartment. The blinds were open, his screen door closed shut. I mimed through the glass to them asking if everything was okay. One replied with a silent, business-like answer that all was good.
I knew that it wasn’t.
As I drove off, I saw three residents standing in the parking lot, one with tears in her eyes. I asked if they knew what was going on. She told me Randy was gone. He had died peacefully in his sleep.
I’d known Randy for years, ever since he moved into the apartment downstairs. We’d quite often share a chat; such interaction was unavoidable if not welcoming.
I’d come home from work at all hours of the morning to find him having his first cup of coffee. I’d leave for work in the evening, he’d be starting on whatever number beer he was on, a Marlboro Light in his mouth, him puffing away.
Randy was the very definition of your friendly neighbor. He was my meteorologist, my chat buddy, the elderly (he was well into his sixties) neighbor that reminded you of the character from Home Improvement, poking his head over the fence, always there to impart bits of wisdom. Former military, recently retired, you could always find Randy sitting on his screened-in porch, chain-smoking butts, drinking Miller Lite (and only Miller Lite) from a can, lounging in his plaid pajama pants and slippers, always eager to strike up a conversation with a passerby about whatever was going on.
Randy had spent time in the hospital before. I found him one afternoon. He was, as always, sitting on his patio, however, this time leaned back in his chair barely breathing. I called 911. They arrived almost instantly.
Essentially, I’d saved his life with that phone call. It created an even stronger bond between us, even if it went unspoken.
Randy was back on his patio less than a week later. The doctors had breathed life back into him. They put a stint in his heart at the local VA. He didn’t remember what had happened that day. I told it him it was I who had called the paramedics. It wasn’t that much later that I saw him smoking and drinking yet again. I chuckled, asking him if the doctors hadn’t warned him about perhaps changing his lifestyle a tad. He smiled back and reminded me, not stubbornly but in his own Randy way, that he was going to live life his own way. That was just how he went about his business.
He did. And how he’s gone.
This is not a lecture about how smoking is bad for you nor is it a post about knocking on your neighbor’s door and getting to know them a little bit better. It’s just my way of saying I’m going to miss those silly conversations with him about nothing in general, about the weather, about the Bucs, or Lightning, or whatever struck our fancy.
It’s those simple yet integral, personal relationships that constitute our lives, the people that we interact with on the daily, that we see way more often than we realize. I never knew Randy’s last name. I didn’t need to. I knew he was a neighbor that I could turn to if I ever needed anything. He knew the same about me.
I walked by his place for the first time since his passing. The patio light was on. The blinds were closed. There was no Randy. No beer can tightly tucked into a koozie resting on his glass patio table. No lighter by its side. No ashtray full of cigarette butts. No meaningful conversation.
I’m going to miss that.