Monday, March 21, 2011

Who Will Watch Over My Hostas?

A lovely man, attorney, good tenant of mine, hung himself on a Monday, March 7, 2011.  He had intended to do it a week earlier as evidenced by the letter he wrote telling me he was dead.  Four years ago, I had negotiated what was to be his last five year renewal in my building.  He had been battling cancer and at the time, he wasn't yet certain he would win the battle. He asked me to incorporate a "death" provision into his lease.  This was not uncommon, especially given his circumstances being a sole practitioner. Should something happen to him, he did not want the long term obligations of a lease to encumber his estate. Understandable.  Done. But did he negotiate that provision with something else in mind?

First, I received a letter from him telling me he was dead - his office had been instructed to mail said letter in the event of his death.  Within minutes of receiving the letter I was surprised to find an email from him apologizing for the mistaken mailing and assuring me he was alive and well.  My response went something along the lines of this....." so happy to know you are alive but don't you ever do that to me again......"

A few days later, he asked me to mail him a full copy of his lease and within a week of that, he went to his basement and hung himself, but not before hand writing a letter to me with date and initial just before he did it.

I have since been able to piece together just a few fragments.  He reportedly was in financial trouble; yet he paid his rent right up the the very end. He left behind two long term sub-tenants who had no more of an inkling of his plans than I. He carefully and thoughtfully placed notes in his house to warn his live-in girlfriend to 1) remember him as he was and 2) to not go down to the basement but instead to call 911.

Walking through his office the next day, it looked as if he had left for the night, nothing unusual, nothing out of place, newspaper on the cafe table, something he might finish reading when he returned.  Law books carefully organized and two bewildered sub-tenants who had leased from him for ten years. They told me how they had been receiving phone calls from vendors who seemed to know of his death before it occurred, just as I had been notified.  Placing the fragmented pieces of the last desperate puzzle together, it became clear - he attempted it once then changed his mind just long enough to unravel the unrest he had sent out to the universe, only to attempt it again, this time with success (so very hard to use that word in this context).

When I held his second letter in my hand, knowing it was real, knowing he dated and signed it hours or perhaps minutes before he hung himself, I wondered.  Had the very act of mailing the letters a second time provided him the impetus to not turn back? He couldn't call me a second time and tell me he was alive. He couldn't explain two such letters mailed in error for an attorney is much too pragmatic for that.  He mailed the letter and knew, this time, he would end it.  The Wisconsin Bar Association notified me before I got the second letter. I had time to question my actions.  Had I been cordial to him after the first letter or had I been a hard ass landlord interested in collecting rent?

And why didn't I take the time to connect with him on a level of which I am most familiar? Hurt, loss, financial trouble, depression, regret?  You've just got to keep fucking fighting the best fucking way you know how.  This life can be hard beyond our ability to cope but I also know when you are done, you are done. His kids were grown, he had faced death once......maybe he came to a place of acceptance that no living soul will ever understand.  Not one of life, but of death.

I will miss you and I will think of you each time I view this property and see the Hostas along "your" front walkway struggling to survive amidst the salt and plow damage from the winter.  But rest assured my friend, this year, I will plant nothing less than a soliloquy of seasonal, breathtaking, foliage in your name.  For I know you were the one who always took the time to notice and care for your surroundings.

Your lessons will not be forgotten.

Even in the midst of the greatest pain, the final reckoning, the encore that brought you back from the dead, you were always surrounded by the bountiful offerings of the earth. Why was that not enough to save you? Why couldn't you hold on for one more spring? I suppose the thought of the rose that would bloom was mired by your own belief that death had come to the vine.

And whether it's a twisted, thorny vine or a Hosta that held on as long as it could but eventually gave way to the bitter elements of a cold, hard winter, I believe life will come again for with the The Charge of the Light Brigade, "....Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: into the valley of Death, rode the six hundred. 

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

The Charge of The Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 


  1. Brilliant. Tennyson placed properly.

  2. What a hard, hard Winter you have had. I pray every day that Spring will bring you ease and peace and light and warmth. What a beautiful tribute to your tenant.


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