People Writing

To you, who lived here.

Gerald ‘Jim’ Sullivan once lived here.

His former neighbors, now mine, told stories about Gerald J. Sullivan. They remembered him as neither completely sane nor crazy. In other words, that grey area a lot of us inhabit. As far as they know, he’s now homeless following eviction from my 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 crazy but harmless, said the neighbors.

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

Jim (I can call you that, right?) 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 with the vengeance of a thirsty man on a desolate island. Once, I opened my mailbox and 14 envelopes from American Express fell out. They were identical, very thin envelopes that could not have held more than a solitary sheet and never a credit card. Another time, 51 American Express envelopes fell out.

Conversations with the neighbors led me to believe that since Jim had not lived here for quite some time, he is not receiving mail at my address accidentally. He is purposely using his old address for correspondence.

The key to the mailbox was changed when I moved in, so even if he still had an old key, he couldn’t open the box.

Maybe he accounted for that all along. Not to retrieve his mail now, but one day when he returns triumphantly to the address of the life he meant to live. Life before unemployment, addiction, poverty, homelessness, mental illness or whatever other ills befell him and took it all away.

At first, I placed a note on my mailbox notifying the mail carrier of my name and, noting the frequency of mail delivered for Jim, specifically pointing out that he, of all people, did not live at the address. I asked to please return his mail to sender.

The mail carriers (there appears to be a variety of them) ignored the note, and continued to deliver Jim’s mail in all its glory and frequency. I called the post office and received a variety of responses. One lady stated there was nothing I could do about it because Jim had never filed a change of address. And I could not file one for him “unless you want to go to jail,” she said. I asked if I was doomed to receive his mail for eternity. If shrugging shoulders emitted a sound, I would’ve heard her response.

I took all his mail into my apartment. Initially, I would return his mail to sender, until it became too frequent and eventually it languished on my kitchen table. Imagine writing down ‘Return to Sender’ on 50 envelops a week and then, because our small complex doesn’t have an outgoing mail box, having to physically go to the Post Office to mail back all those envelops. Managing Jim’s mail was becoming my part-time job.

So when the mail piled too high, it found its way to the trash. You may argue that I broke some law, and maybe I did. But the United States Post Office is knowingly delivering mail for an individual they are aware does not reside at the address. After almost two years of phone calls, several notes on the box, and personal conversations from me, the property owner, another neighbor and even the cops, to at least three different mail carriers, 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 and endanger residents. The mail carriers called our bluff and refuse to be deterred by hyperbole. Their apparent life-long mission to deliver Gerald J. Sullivan’s mail to my address continues unabated.

Even mail that has a “Return to Sender” label gets re-delivered to my box. Why, baby Jesus, why?

A few weeks back, I noticed a red blanket by the front gate. The next night, I heard strange noises in the courtyard. I have a distinct memory of waking up in a fright, thinking someone was trying to break into my place. No, I reasoned, it was probably one of the neighbors opening or closing their doors. That morning, there was a green blanket by the back gate. And finally, the following day, I saw the owners of the property talking to two cops.

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 responded calmly “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 our bikes to. Some neighbors places locks around the wheels. I used to do that. Now, the lock sits, ludicrously, inside my cruiser’s hipster basket.

For all his homelessness, odd behavior, trespassing, restraining orders and, perhaps, mail fraud, Jim seems like a decent man. For all I know, he’s 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 safe place to sleep.

I was angry at Jim for using my mailbox, but now I give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe in a haze that clouds his judgement, he still 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.

I have this vision, that one day, I’ll be on a cruise somewhere in the Greek Isles and, sitting on my table during dinner, will be none other than Gerald J. Sullivan. Having found a way out of whatever darkness consumes him at the moment, Jim will toast to a good voyage and happy life. 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.

In the meantime, dear Jim, please stop using my address. You stubborn man.

3 replies on “To you, who lived here.”

Thanks Tyler! Glad you like it, and I’ll have to update this post with a new note I left for the mail carrier.

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