The other day I walked into an apartment building in west London. I walk into this building at least once a week in order to see one of the people my agency supports. I've been coming to this building regularly for over twenty years now and, in fact, lived in it myself for a year almost eight years ago.
That day, as I walked in, the building had now become the site of a double homicide this past Easter weekend.
This was a surreal experience. The murders and disposition of the bodies, from all the news accounts, were grisly and not even discovered until the smell of decomposition began to permeate the building. The only suspect has been arrested and charged.
It is not the same building anymore. I spoke at length with the person I support and he is having a difficult time coping. This was not hard to understand. The whole atmosphere of the apartment complex seems to have changed. There did not seem to be as many people around, and there were not the same smiling faces I am used to seeing. The person I support said this has been the case since the murders were discovered. He says his friends in the building, many of whom we support as well, are also suffering varying amounts of anxiety and fear. It's almost as if the building itself has died its own little death and is pondering how and when to rise up again.
We have gone out of our way to describe the murders as very isolated incidences, committed by one person against other persons he knew. We have also said that the chances of this happening again in that building are infinitesimal and that the same chances would be just as good anywhere else you might want to move to. I don't know that any of this helped and I'm not sure that I really expected it to.
For myself, I'm pretty sure that if I were in the market for an apartment I wouldn't hesitate to move back into this building. It could be that this is easy for me to say because I haven't just had my living space defiled in such an egregious manner. Or it could be that I've been able to compartmentalize these murders and shunt them off elsewhere.
As much as I might want to think that eventually everything will blow over and return more or less to normal, it's still hard to convey this to someone who is in the middle of it right now.
A few years ago, a young man and two young boys were killed in a horrific car crash at an intersection in a rural area near London. This intersection is on the way to the school in Delaware I've been driving my stepkids to for the last seven years or so. For a while they asked me to go a different way--they had heard all the news reports and felt uncomfortable passing by the scene where it had happened. I didn't have a problem taking a different route but eventually the talk about the accident faded away and we returned to driving past the scene. Even though we do this, however, it is difficult to see the small crosses which have been erected there and not be taken somewhere unpleasant, all over again.
So there are spaces around us all which, if not actually haunted themselves, still haunt us with the memories we associate them with. I doubt very much whether I will ever be able to enter that west London building without thinking about what happened there. I do only need to go in it once a week--the tenants of the building will enter it constantly and lie there in their beds imagining all manner of thing. Or not---we are all individuals and cope differently with such traumatic experiences.
I can only hope that the people who live in that complex do eventually come to grips with this tragedy and move on. Whether they do this emotionally, physically or a combination of both, I hope they do find a way to separate the evil that goes on in some persons' lives from the all the good which goes on in their own.