Requiem: Reckoning with the Silence Left Behind by a Lost Friend

In the darkness of night, unbeknownst to anyone but the little shaggy dog, Gypsy, who lay by his side, a friend has died. Down a long pale corridor, behind a door, there is an absence of sound where laughter used to ring out. The silence where music used to play loudly enough to rattle the windows is deafening.

The room itself is beautiful, as was the man who lived there. Such refined, elegant taste, such luxury—from the thick, plush carpet to the brown, leather sofa and an easy chair comfortable enough to sleep in through the night, to the expensive lamp that cast a warm glow over the room, which was done in gold and burgundy. Nothing was overdone. Nothing was done without care or a regard for beauty. In this room there was only one season, one climate—that of a beauty so rich it took one's breath away, as though one were entering a cathedral rather than the living room of an apartment in a subsidized high-rise in downtown Knoxville.

David himself might be dressed in a red, satin smoking jacket, or, depending on his mood, a pair of blue overalls with a simple white T-shirt. David looked fabulous in anything he wore, for he was beautiful, with his mane of black hair, hazel eyes, and tall slender body. He was without a doubt one of the most handsome men I have ever known. He was popular, he was intelligent, and he had family and friends who adored him... but he was lonely.

When I was fortunate enough to be invited for dinner—and that was rare, for I am a difficult guest, spilling and sloshing any liquid put in front of me—David would come rushing over with an ashtray as soon as I lit the first inevitable cigarette.

"Una, you're a mess," David would tell me fondly, Una being his pet name for me.

"Tell me something I don't know," I would retort, and then sit back and sip a glass of good, red wine as David prepared a meal, which might be anything from shrimp scampi to petit foie gras, to salmon, to Southern fried chicken, to pancakes with hot chocolate sauce.

Sometimes we would gossip, sometimes we would sit in silence, sometimes David would open the drapes and the windows and we would gaze at the stars and the full moon casting shadows over the lawn of Summit Towers. More often we would listen to music from the '70s and '80s, on up to the present. Our mutual favorite was "How to Save a Life" by the Fray. David's personal favorite was the song "I Will Not be Broken" by Bonnie Raitt, which we would sing together at the top of our lungs.

Now there is a sense of waiting, the rooms quiet in respectful attendance. Beautiful clothes still hang in the closets—raw silks in vivid reds, deep purples, and palest yellow—as if lingering for their owner to return, slip them on, and go dashing out the door and into the street in his imperious way. Walking across Market Square, Gypsy scampering behind him, he had a smile and a nod for everyone.

About a month ago, as we sat at the Preservation Pub drinking our beers, I told David that he must have suitors coming out of the wall to get to him. "You are so gorgeous," I said. And he was.

David gazed wistfully at a young couple chasing a toddler down Market Square. "It's odd, how it works," he said, brushing his hair out of his eyes. "My looks seem to keep people away. They think I'm a snob—unapproachable."

"How sad," I said. How sad indeed—there was space inside he could not fill. No one is to blame. But it also bears mentioning that David was bipolar.

Having the same illness, my moods veer toward mania. Not so with David. His depressions went deep and often lasted for weeks. Sometimes his medicine worked, sometimes not. That's just how it is with bipolar disorder. It is a constant battle that never ends. Sometimes the person is fortunate enough to win, sometimes the illness takes over.

Since David often went for extended periods without coming out of his apartment (except to take Gypsy out), no one thought much about it. But one day, I saw him through his door, which was ajar. This should have been the first red flag, for David was very private, and never to my knowledge, left his door open when he was inside his apartment. Further, he was in a kind of frantic distress that I had never seen him in before. In addition, he was just slightly unkempt. David was never unkempt.

"Are you all right?" I asked, sensing that something was amiss.

"I will be," David replied curtly, brushing me off. This, too, was a red flag, for David was ever the gentleman. Mildly alarmed, I went to his sister's place of employment on Gay Street to suggest that she might want to check on David, but she was off that day. I went on my merry little way and forgot about it. Shame on me. But that's what many of us do these days. We are too busy—with our careers, our laptops, our rushing madly from place to place—to be aware of what other people might be going through. A moment or two of concern, then we are off to the races.

It was the absence of music next door that was the final, telling detail. David and I both played music loudly at all hours of the night, and sometimes one or the other of us would yell and pound the wall: "Turn that music off!" And the other would holler: "Stuff it."

But in the day or so following David's brush-off, it was eerie—no sound at all came through the wall. I'm certain that some part of me registered that, but I was too busy painting paintings that no one would care about, writing stories that people might or might not read, wandering in and out of Market Square shops looking to buy another item I could not afford, talking and listening to people without hearing what they said, and in general, trying to avoid myself.

Now an empty space remains where a vibrant, lively person used to be. We don't know how he died, though they say it was a heart attack. I pass his door coming and going, expecting him to burst forth, dressed to the nines, with all his exuberant being, but it remains closed. I put yellow daffodils and a string of tiny paper angels on his door after I learned that he had passed, but within an hour they had vanished. Did his spirit scoop them up? Did someone steal them? I don't know. It doesn't much matter. I keep waiting to hear "I Will Not Be Broken" through the door but there is nothing. When I pass his door I sometimes reach out and touch it, as though to bring him back, but still there is only silence. As a family weeps in the night.