At twenty nine years old, she was found dead on Good Friday, had choked in her own vomit in a seedy little motel up on Central Avenue outside of Albany. At least that's what someone who knew her told my friend, who in turn told me.
She came to me last April in answer to a Craig's List ad for the downstairs flat of my two family house. I was immediately struck by her self-assured and intelligent demeanor and I liked her. Char was a server who worked at a local Olive Garden, but she had just accepted a job at a restaurant about a mile from my home and wanted to live closer so she could walk to work as she had no vehicle.
Against my better judgment, I accepted her deposit without doing a background check. After all, she had said it was just her. I warned her that I didn't want any nonsense, but she assured me that she would be gone most of the time and that there would be no problems.
At first things were okay. Char, as promised, worked evenings and often pulled double shifts. Her father had come to help her move in early on and I liked him, too.
It wasn't until later in June that the problems began. A man began coming to the house. He was tall and formidable looking and he hung out on the front porch drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
One day I caught him climbing through the front window of Char's apartment. When I questioned him, he said Char was "his girl" and he had forgotten something and needed to get back in, but she had forgotten to give him a key.
I texted Char and asked her what was going on. She said he wasn't her boyfriend and that he wasn't supposed to be in the house. By that time he had gone, so I left it to Char to take care of it.
Then suddenly, she was gone. For over a week I didn't see her coming or going and rent was overdue. One day I saw her pulling up with her mother's truck and when she saw me leaving for the shop, she drove by and waited for me to go before getting out of the vehicle. Her hand was on her head and she looked distressed.
She called me later to tell me that she had to quit her job at the nearby restaurant and that she was babysitting for her sister. She would have money for me because she didn't want to lose the apartment.
She returned, but with no money and no job. And the man returned, too. My daughter and I were watching TV one late afternoon and the partner was sleeping in the bedroom, having just taken another round of chemo. That's when the screams began. "Help me! Somebody help me!"
The daughter ran into the bedroom and woke the partner up and sick as he was, he came between the man and Char and I called the police. The man was escorted off the property, and I told Char she needed to find another place to live. She said she could do that.
The next day she texted me and apologized and asked for another chance. I told her that the violence that had occurred downstairs literally made me sick to my stomach and I found it intolerable. In addition, my partner had cancer and we didn't need extra drama in the house. I also told her the man was not allowed on the property and if he returned, I would have him arrested and she would be legally evicted. She agreed and promised to have the rest of my rent money that night. Then she left to go to a ball game with her dad, returning later in the evening.
Her father gave her the rent money for the month and she told me she was getting her old job at Olive Garden back and that she would get back on track. I asked her why she had quit her job at the other restaurant. The man had beaten her so badly she couldn't lift trays and when she asked for some time off, they couldn't afford to give it to her. She gave the man another chance when she saw him at church the following Sunday and he seemed fine, so she allowed him back and that's when he tried to prevent her from leaving the bedroom to call her dad.
I made a deal with her that she could pay the rent weekly using her tips instead of monthly so she wasn't always trying to catch up. She agreed and it got better again. Once in a while she would have a co-worker over, but that was it. She spent a lot of time at her brother's apartment to save on cab fares.
When she was home she played music and it was the kind that always made my body ache, loud rap with that incessant bass beat. Then she would play gospel. She told me she loved her apartment and that I was her angel. She seemed to be getting her life together.
But things changed again after my son returned from South America. The music got louder and more people began to come and go. Another man started coming around. He was blocky and dark and I instinctively didn't like him, but she said he was a friend.
One day the partner asked me when had I started watching porn. I laughed and said "not me!" We queried the son, who also denied it and then we realized that it had been ordered through the cable box downstairs, which I had provided free of charge. I had forgotten to put a password on the box. I had the Hustler channel removed and put the lock on.
When Char was at work, the man brought other people into the apartment and I started to get really concerned. The smell of pot permeated the hallway.
Then the arguments began and the late night slamming of doors and loud music. I had to call her in the middle of the night to turn down the music.
And then there was the sex every morning. Loud sex and loud porno movies.
The gas and electric company kept calling to say they needed to get in the cellar to turn off the power. Char had never turned the power on in her name. When I asked her, she said she would take care of it.
Finally, in January I had become so stressed I snapped. She came up the stairs and I told her that her music and loud activities were keeping us up at night, her "friend" was bringing strange people in and out of my house and he wasn't even on the lease and she wasn't holding up her end of the agreement regarding rent.
She seemed surprised and said she didn't know she was being that loud. I looked into her pretty blue eyes and saw the reddish circles under them and I knew. She was angry, too, and I heard her say we were being "just like her father."
My partner tried to talk to her and tell her the power was going to be shut off. He tried to tell her that we knew what was going on downstairs and that relationships like theirs never led anywhere.
She told the man. The man came out and screamed at my partner "You don't know me!" and not to talk to Char. If my partner hadn't been so sick, he would have kicked his ass.
Formal eviction proceedings began the following week when my affable and easy going son told me they had to go. He had overheard conversation while letting the dog out that he found disturbing. And yet I still liked her. Still liked her bright personality and good natured qualities. And I worried about her. The worry gnawed at me. I felt the danger she had immersed herself in.
I allowed the electric company to come and turn the power off in the coldest snap of the winter. For over a week while she scrambled to get money to turn the power back on, we had peace. But then she returned with the man. She had no money for rent, but she was still working as far as I knew.
She didn't show up for her court appearance and was legally evicted in early February. We remained civil to each other and the worry gnawed at me, but I had to let her go. The stress of having her in the house was too much for my sick partner, my son and me. I dropped ten pounds.
After the 72 hour notice was attached to the door, she moved out late at night. They never left the keys and left the lights on and the door wide open. The man also left a nice memento of his existence by kicking in the back bedroom wall. The place was dirty and litter was scattered everywhere and there were bags and bags of empty beer and soda cans.
But I was grateful. Grateful that they were gone and that the damage hadn't been more severe. And I texted her to let her know that there were no hard feelings. She agreed. I still liked her and I still worried and I kept her number in my phone. We texted back and forth a couple of more times regarding the power being taken off in her name and that was it.
Sometimes, I would think about contacting her just to see if she was okay, but my life with all its personal turmoil got in the way and I never did.
Two days ago I got the message. He had been pimping her out when she died. I am sad. Sad that a bright young woman is no longer with us. I had hoped she would work her way through it, come out on the other end a stronger person. And though her presence in my house kicked my ass, I'm the better for it.
Last night I had a dream that she was spinning upwards through crystal water and the bubbles coming from her mouth were translucent pearls of pink and blue. Her eyes were closed and her dark lashes heavy with wetness. Upward and upward she spun into the light above.
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