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The Most Disturbing thing I’ve Ever Seen

This is soooo disturbing, it made me chill to the bone. You’ve been warned.

On the kind of morning when you walk out of your home to see your neighbor’s grown man son sobbing into another man’s arms, you feel the isolation of urbanism when you can’t ask if he’s ok even if he’s your neighbor’s son because you don’t know him. Perhaps it’s fear. A fear of rejection that has you think that if you show that concern that 99% of the people passing by won’t show, you’d be taken for crazy. I’m bold, right? I should do it anyway, right? There’s a sacredness to two men holding each other, one sobbing into the other’s arms that tells you to mind your position. But not being able to ask other neighbors–onlookers–is my own fault/fear. I didn’t want to seem nosy, because again, though I say hi in passing, I don’t know these people. Since I moved here, I have considered this small fact a tragedy, but have felt very uncomfortable to do anything about it. Not a single note or greeting or flower was received from them when my husband passed. I begrudged my neighbors for a short while and then thought, what do I expect them to do? They know what happened–only through the grapevine, but they don’t know me. And they very well might have felt as uncomfortable about it as I feel right now knowing something major happened with the people next door all sitting outside and working up the nerve to say/do something appropriate.

Crown Heights, known for its striking architecture and not intimate relationships with neighbors.

Crown Heights, known for its striking architecture and not intimate relationships with neighbors.

All this to say that on such a day as this, I came across the story of the 3 year corpse. The woman–Joyce Carol Vincent–even her name gives me chills–who was apparently found in her apartment–skeleton only–almost three years after she passed away. It is the most chilling thing I’ve ever heard and could not get it off my mind without writing about it.

Her television was on and her sink was full of dishes. And even as I write this in recollection, the raw nut & plantain paste that I’m eating is turning in my stomach. There was a film reenactment: interviews with her ex-partners, friends, co-workers. The film tried to piece together who she was and how a bubbly, gorgeous, life-of-the-party Grenadian woman goes undiscovered for nearly three years. The media made it sound like no one missed her–that gave the shock value they sought and got people interested in the story. But it is highly disturbing that it would be discussed that way. Madame Noire made some comments about how it doesn’t matter how she died, and that if “she wanted to be alone, so be it, there are introverts and they’re normal”. I found that so unnerving. Not a real quote from MN, paraphrased.

I’ll let you get the details on her story here, here and here. My take is that it really does speak to the social media life that we live now and the danger of lessened human contact. There have been so many studies on the psychological effects of social media that document what most of us feel. But this happened 10 years ago. So we can’t blame social media for the fact that this woman was undiscovered for three years. I blame her, because, like Madame Noire said, perhaps this was what she wanted. If the film is accurate, she lived a nomadic life and stayed fleeting, not consistent in her relationships, disappearing frequently, not calling her family or taking their calls. She put down “Bank Manager” as her next of kin when admitted to the hospital weeks before her passing. But then she was found surrounded by “Christmas presents”? That she’d wrapped? There has been so much speculation about the presents and who they were for and what they were.

I’m African. From my genetic memory, I expected when I moved into this neighborhood that someone would come to my door with muffins and say “Welcome to the neighborhood.” That didn’t happen so I thought there was something wrong with me, although some were friendly enough. I know people in Brooklyn who know every one on their block. But I’ve always been shy, and super selective about who gets close to me, because when they do, they get everything.

Call your family. Every week. Make sure that someone would come looking for you if they didn’t hear from you for 3 weeks. I know I will. This incident taught me so much about myself, because I have certainly been that person so many times in the past. Very often not wanting to be bothered, having intimate friends who I spoke to only a handful of times per year. We see that the other is alive because they’ve updated their Facebook status recently, so we don’t bother to reach out. Why would we? They seem to be alive and well… From a Facebook status… words typed into a keyboard from anywhere, pictures posted from anywhere. They could be in any emotional or physical state, and we take for granted that they’re ok because of Facebook. I could write a book on the need for community and love and communion and fellowship and connection. Wait, I already did. But the key is that no matter how much you love your own company, I don’t think this is how you’d want to be remembered. Return calls. And texts. Forgive. I’m talking to myself…

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