Mr. Holback’s goodbye
I heard about his suicide the way you hear everything in an apartment building. A mean little whisper that is never directed at you but you hear it none the less. Those who have never lived in an apartment building in a big city often romanticize it, picturing it in their head as some little community where everybody knows everyone and knocks on each other’s doors to borrow butter and batteries. Not really. They imagine it filled with hard people with hearts of gold. They have the first part right anyway. People come and people go and you nod at each other and exchange pleasantries in the elevator but you’re careful never to be too friendly. They might get the wrong idea … that you actually care about the words that are tumbling out of their face. Mr. Holback didn’t even go as far as nodding most of the time. He always seemed preoccupied and in a rush. Most of the people in the building assumed he was some sort of intellectual who probably taught at one of the universities. Nobody knew. Nobody much cared. Least of all me. He had lived across the hall from me my entire tenure in the building. I remember as I was moving in he tried to help me with some boxes I was awkwardly unloading from a rental van I had borrowed for the day. I told him I didn’t need any help and I don’t think we spoke again outside of grunting a hello as we passed in the hallway. He rarely left his apartment at night and I would see the light on under his door when I would return after a long night of work or hell-raising. There was yellow tape on his door after it happened and I’m not sure why I even did what I did. What made me, after staring at the door for a good 3 or 4 minutes, grip the doorknob and give it a turn. I’m not sure why I wasn’t surprised it wasn’t locked and I’m not sure why I ducked under the tape, walked in and closed the door behind me. Morbid curiosity or was it to pay some sort of misguided respect to my former neighbor? Whatever it was it had me standing inside the door and looking around a room I had never been in before. The idea that I was somehow disappointed that it wasn’t filled with newspapers dating back to the 60’s or a collection of guns, mummified body parts or other oddities that would create a more interesting Mr. Holback flitted through my mind briefly. He wasn’t some hermit I could understand by picking and choosing stereotypes that would make him suddenly make more sense. He was just a guy. Was that why I was in here? To figure out why? He liked to read apparently. There were 2 rows of bookcases brimming with books on each side of the narrow room and between them an old desk. To my amazement the police had removed the body but left the rope. Hanging under the beat-up chair that had obviously been used and then kicked away. The desk was empty except for a pad of notebook paper. Looking over the books it seemed obvious that one side of the room held the philosophers and the other side the scientists. There were no books of fiction or horror or romance. Every book he must have purchased in the last 20 years must have been clearly destined for one side or the other.
The notepad contained no suicide note. No last will and testament. I am not by nature a nosy person but I couldn’t help looking through the pages and reading some of the notes he’d made. If I was expecting something profound I was to be sorely disappointed. It was nothing more than a bunch of little insights, most meaningless to me. For every scribbled “if a woman owns a snake be sure that she will play with your penis when you are asleep” there was an equally odd comparison between his own DNA and that of a Black Widow. Pages and pages of it. Notes to himself? Notes to nobody. The last thing written was written on the thick cardboard in the back. “If you don’t want anyone to follow you, leave no clues.” Fair enough Mr. Holback. I stood up and stretched my legs. My leg brushed the chair and it suddenly occurred to me that this is the exact spot where he had died. I couldn’t help but imagine the scene in my head and suddenly I had a deep desire to leave the apartment and never look back. But I didn’t. Instead my eyes were drawn to a little indent in the otherwise neat row of books to my left. Was this the result of Mr. Holback’s last moments on earth? A foot wildly kicking and striking the works of a group of German idealists? Whatever would Kant, Hagel and Schopenhauer have made of that? Kneeling down I could make out other dents and inconsistencies that could logically assumed to be from the spasmodic twitching of a dying man. Up and down the shelves I could see books that had been on the receiving end of a flailing arm or leg. At a time like that you have to wonder if subconsciously he was striking those books that either a great or terrible influence on him. Unlikely was my conclusion. On the other side of the chair it seemed the science authors fared no better. For every jostled Aristotle and Saussure there was an equally bumped Cavelos or Hawking. Did he really intend to die as some cliché… a man found dead and hanging between the greatest works of philosophy and science? Suddenly I found no irony, only sympathy for my old neighbor. He had lived and died alone and, to be honest, it was only after I had left his apartment that it even occurred to me what would have happened if I would have accepted his offer to help me move my stuff in. I guess everybody automatically assumes that their intervention can help out any situation. All I did for the next little while was sit in his chair and flip through some of the books. A little Maxwell’s equations for light and a dash of phenomenology. I wondered who she was. The girl that had Mr. Holback feeling like a male Black Widow. I wonder if she would ever find out about his suicide and if the image of his dark red face, congested with blood as the noose squeezed tighter, and his bulging eyeballs would ever make their way into one of her dreams. I did what anyone would do in this situation. I gave the room a final glance and uttered a soft and sad ‘goodbye’ as I closed the door behind me. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m not even sure if it was a mock sadness or sincere. I think I’ll stay the fuck out of both the philosophy and science sections of Borders until I figure it out. And don’t worry Mr. Holback … I won’t be looking for any clues.