A terrifying, intense night in the midst of a terrifying, intense holiday: Halloween. This is a true story and it begins on the night of the 29th. Saturday.
By Pam Quinn (Writer)
My roommates and I had been planning a party for months. Candy, spider webs, costumes and Pandora playlists. We were ready. The party started around 8pm and really started to pick up around 9pm. At 9:30 I went downstairs to throw out the 2nd round of trash bags for the night. I run into HANK, the on site handy man who lives in the basement apartment of our four apartment- apartment building.
“Hey, Hank! Do you wanna come by the party? Please feel free.” I invite.
“Oh. No thanks. I don’t drink anymore.” Was his reply.
“No worries. I’ll see you around.” I say with a smile and head up stairs to rejoin my guests. That was the last time anyone saw Hank alive.
At a young 54 years old, Hank died the night of Saturday, October 29th, peacefully in his TV chair. Arms folded, feet folded and no one knew until the next night.
Hank had known our landlord for over 45 years. His daughter was our landlady’s God daughter and had grown up in the very building I was living in. Hank had spent a lot of his life attached to “the bottle." Only recently had he begun to turn things around and cut drinking out of his life. It was drinking that caused a separation between him and his family, sending him to live in the basement apartment of our building... alone. He fixed our electric, heat and maintained the property. Hank always had a story for everything as he had lived quite a life, met quite a few characters and loved meeting new people to tell them said tales. The tenant who had resided in the basement apartment before Hank had left it in an unsuitable condition (Mirroring the set of a horror movie, actually) and Hank had begun the process of restoring the basement apartment to it’s once stable condition. It was a project to keep him busy.
“I saw him last night.” I replied. “Why, what’s up?"
“He’s not picking up his phone and his ex wife can’t get a hold of him.” She explained. About 15 minutes later, I received another call from her informing me that Hank’s ex-wife and 21 year old daughter were at the front door to the building and needed to be let in. I obliged.
“My father lives here. In the basement apartment."
“Hank... yes. Of course, come on in.” I said to the worried look on both their faces. The daughter looked more annoyed than worried and the ex wife... it was as if she knew before even walking into the building what had happened.
“Mom... stop it. Jesus Christ relax. You’re driving me nuts.” The daughter instructed her mother to ease up. They knocked. Nothing. “It’s not like him to not call us back.” She explained to me. She knocked again. Nothing.
“Would there be any reason for him to go somewhere? Travel? Maybe he’s in an area with no reception.” I suggested as I tried at the knob with a credit card.
Our “juiced up” 1st floor neighbor walked out of his apartment as a result of the commotion. We explained the situation and he offered to kick the door in. He kicked. And kicked and Kicked. The knob came off. He kicked. And kicked. BANG BANG BANG!!! The door broke and created an opening of which the daughter ran through.
Then the most horrific, blood curdling scream I had ever heard came from the basement. “NO!!! NO!!! DAD! NO!!!” I began to shake and immediately grabbed my phone and dialed 9-1-1. The ex wife fell to the ground and went someplace else in her mind. Someplace where none of us were. Shock. Complete and utter shock. The daughter ran back up the stairs and fell down beside her mother, shaking her and begging for a response. “MOM!!! STOP!!! Sit UP NOW!!! MOM STOP THIS!!!”
I attempted to talk to the emergency operator through a shaky voice and couldn’t hear what the woman was saying through the screams of Hank’s 21-year-old daughter having just seen her father, the man who had been turning his life around for her, dead in his chair. I hung up with the operator and stood by the foot of the stairs leading up to my apartment. What do I do?
The daughter cried. “My phone!! My phone!!!” I could barely understand her. She had dropped it where her father lay. I ran down the stairs into the basement, not thinking... just wanted to get her whatever she wanted in that moment. I retrieved her phone and looked up. There he was. Completely lifeless. It was clear to me that he had died peacefully, however, that didn’t make what I was looking at any less shocking. A dead body. A dead body of someone I knew. Someone I had spoken with. Someone, who hours ago, had life in him. That was new for me.
I handed the girl her phone and stood beside her. She grabbed my leg, trying to hold onto something stable since she couldn’t find that in her mother who lay speechless on the ground. No crying, barely any breath, just pure shock and grief. The 21-year-old tried to dial. She tried to talk and couldn’t. Couldn’t through her screams and cries. I rubbed her head. Every time my hand touched her scalp, the screaming would stop and it turned into more of a controlled weep. I kept rubbing. Her shoulders, her back. Anything to stop those screams. “MY FATHER!!!! HE WAS COMING AROUND!!! HE WAS FINALLY LIVING LIFE!!!!!!” She couldn’t talk to her family who was on her cell phone, begging for answers. Begging for anything through worried cries of their own. The girl handed me her phone and pleaded for me to communicate as she continued to hold onto my leg and cry. I tried to speak. I tried to explain what had happened. It was difficult through my own tears, shaky voice and the vision of what I had seen of what was happening around me. Her mother’s phone rang. She pushed the phone towards me and ordered me to pick it up. To talk. To tell these people that someone they cared about was dead. Dead at 54 years old.
I got through the phone calls as the ambulance arrived. The mother, still on the ground... looking at the wall as if transfixed by the world that held her, was lifted up by the paramedics. The girl continued to plead. “WAKE UP! MOM! STOP THIS!!!! I NEED YOU HERE! I NEED YOU HERE WITH ME!!!! NOW!! STOP IT!!!”
The police asked me, “When was the last time you saw him?"
“Last night at about 9- 9:30.”
The daughter grabbed my arm and closed her eyes. Through screams and tears she yelled, “You got to say goodbye before I did!!!” The tears fell from both our eyes and I continued to rub her back. That’s all I knew how to do in that moment. I’ll never forget that. Ever.
The mother regained consciousness and the two held one another on the steps of our building, rocking back and forth and crying for the loss of this truly terrific man.
Hours later I was able to keep her calm on the stairs, suggesting she drink water and take deep breaths. The officer came in and attempted to explain what “releasing the body to the family” meant as the mother, who was outside, couldn’t get a hold of herself long enough to have a stable conversation with the law enforcement. “The body has to be removed and the door has to be sealed before any of us can leave."
I attempted to explain that I knew every single person in that building and could assure the officers that none of us had any interest in going near that door, but they had a protocol to follow and I had to understand. What I didn’t understand was why this 21-year-old girl had to sit there on the bottom step trying to figure out what to do with her father’s body.
She came upstairs to use the bathroom and my stunned roommates and I turned her from the MAIN bathroom in a panic as it was decorated for Halloween with a bloody shower curtain and REDRUM written on the mirror. She used the other, smaller bathroom instead. Thank God.
After things settled a bit, and additional family members arrived at the scene to provide comfort, I went to bed. Or tried, rather. Just as I was managing to fall asleep, getting those screams out of my head and that image that haunted my brain, they both returned at 3:30 in the morning. I thought I was still in one of the passing nightmares I had been having since I attempted to fall asleep, but then I came to the realization that the body was being removed from the basement in front of the 21-year-old girl’s eyes. “NOT MY DADDY! NO!!!! NOT MY DADDY!!!!!!!!!"
Needless to say, there wasn’t much additional sleep happening that night. Being there for that girl, I can’t imagine how grief counselors or professionals who have to deal with situations like this every day... Multiple times a day... do it. How can you stomach all that upset? I thought about the people I love. How can you not when something like that happens? What I witnessed and what I heard this past weekend will probably not be removed from my brain for a while. But it did teach me something. Tell the people you love that you love them. That you’re proud of them. Don’t wait for them to be gone before you do.
PAM QUINN Moved to California from New York at age 14 and entered the professional world of writing at 17 on the west coast. By her 20th birthday she had three original works produced in the Los Angeles area. Rising from sketch comedy writing and a background in theatre, Pam collected what she had learned over the years and compiled it into playwriting. She began collaborating on an idea for an original musical (Right Together, Left Together) with Will Collyer and Jacob Harvey. Since moving back to New York in ’05, Pam hasn’t stopped breathing this idea. She co-founded The Unknown Artists (www.theunknownartists.org) with Emily Clark and continues to be prolific within this fantastic company. www.uaplayclub.wordpress.com
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