To you, who lived here

Gerald ‘Jim’ Sullivan once lived here.

His former neighbors told stories about Gerald J. Sullivan. They remembered him as neither completely sane nor crazy—a grey area a lot of us inhabit. As far as they know, he’s now homeless following eviction from this apartment. Although the eviction happened many years ago, he lingered around the property for some time. He approached the tenants and asked to be let into the courtyard until a restraining order was filed. Gerald J. Sullivan was a bit strange but harmless, said the neighbors.

I know Gerald J. Sullivan through these stories—and his mail. I know him mostly through his mail.

Jim signs up to receive brochures from travel agencies and luxury cruises. Alaska or Europe. I don’t think he would mind either.

He applies to American Express credit cards like a thirsty man on a desolate island. It all started with fourteen envelopes from American Express falling out of the mailbox. They were identical thin envelopes that could not have held more than a solitary sheet, and never a credit card. Another time, fifty one American Express envelopes arrived.

Conversations with the neighbors led to the conclusion that since Jim had not lived here for quite some time, he is purposely using his old address for correspondence.

The key to the mailbox was changed, so even if he still had an old key, he could not open the mailbox.

Maybe he accounted for that all along—to retrieve his mail, not now, but one day in the future when he returns triumphantly to the address of the life he meant to live. Life before unemployment, addiction, poverty, homelessness, mental illness or any other of the ways American society has failed its most vulnerable citizens.

A note placed on the mailbox notified the mail carrier that Jim did not live here. But the mail carriers ignored the note, and continued to deliver Jim’s mail in all its glory and frequency. The Post Office stated there was nothing to be done about it because Jim had never filed a change of address request. One could not be filed on his behalf by the new residents “unless you want to go to jail.” When asked if I was doomed to receive his mail for eternity, you could hear the inaudible sound of shoulders shrugging.

Initially, the mail was returned to sender until it became too frequent and eventually languished on a kitchen table. Managing Jim’s mail was a part-time job.

So when the mail piled too high, it found its way to the trash. Gerald J. Sullivan’s mail continues to be delivered to the property. The most dramatic of all notes pasted by the mailbox points out that there’s a restraining order against the individual, and that delivering his mail here only encourages him to trespass. The mail carriers called the bluff and refuse to be deterred by hyperbole. Their apparent life-long mission to deliver Gerald J. Sullivan’s mail to this address continues unabated.

A few weeks back, a red blanket lay discarded by the front gate. The next night, there were strange noises in the courtyard. The next morning there was a green blanket by the back gate. And finally, the following day, the owners of the property were talking to two cops on the street.

Jim was back, perhaps hoping to somehow retrieve his mail.

He was caught sleeping in the owner’s backyard, trespassing.

One neighbor recently said that he was unlocking the front gate when Jim approached and stood behind him. When the neighbor asked him if he could help him, Jim calmly responded “I live here.” This neighbor knew Jim when he was a tenant, and would’ve been aware of the eviction. The neighbor responded “No, you don’t.” Jim insisted “Yes, I do.”

The four apartments surround a small courtyard where the tenants leave bikes, grills, weights and such miscellaneous items.

There is nothing to tie the bikes to. Some neighbors places locks around the wheels.

Jim seems like a decent man. He has been trespassing for some time, and has never stolen anything left out in the courtyard—not a bike or shoes or grills or umbrellas. Nothing. He has never tried breaking in, and even in his latest ghostly return, all he wanted was a place to sleep.

Initially angry at Jim for using the mailbox, I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe in a haze clouding his judgement, he adamantly believes he lives here.

Jim, I’m not angry. Because, once, you lived here. You were me. You have a first and last name, and your friends called you Jim. You exist beyond the name on your mail. You get cold at night, and we do get some chilly nights here by the coast. Well, cold for Southern California. I think that was you I saw on the sidewalk by the church the other day. You were talking in your sleep. I walked right by without disturbing you.

Something happened. I’m not sure what, but you no longer live here, Jim.

One day, on a cruise somewhere in the Greek Isles and, sitting down for dinner dinner, I will find none other than Gerald J. Sullivan. Having found a way out of the darkness that consumes him at the moment, Jim will toast to a good voyage. And when he goes to buy me a drink—because I’ll make him—he will put it on his American Express, having been approved for one out of sheer perseverance.