The Apartment


I went to Rob’s apartment three times after he died. The first time was the day after.

After I called Caryn and Zach with the terrible news, Maura drove me to the coroner’s office in Boyle Heights to pick up Rob’s personal effects and valuables. I wasn’t allowed to see the body because the case was still under investigation, and maybe that was for the best.

I waited about 45 minutes while five families ahead of me picked up their loved ones’ shit before they finally called my name. All the rooms were occupied, so they took Maura and me into an alcove in the hallway. Quincy, this was not. I had to sign a few papers and was then handed a small manila envelope with the words “Carlat, Robbie” and a case number written on it. Inside were his iPhone, a crumpled five-dollar bill and a steel carabiner that held his apartment keys as well as an AA coin and his sobriety chips for one day, 30 days, 60 days and 90 days. Hanging next to them was a bottle opener. That’s Rob right there, I thought.

Our next stop was his apartment in Long Beach.

“I wonder if his cat’s still there,” Maura said as we got on the 405.

“I doubt it, but who knows? I’m hoping he left a note or something. I don’t know what we’ll find.”

“Are you sure you want to go in there?” she asked.

“I’m sure.”

Rob lived on the sixth floor of a seven-story apartment building that overlooked the beach. He was so proud of that place. It has one of those old-fashioned elevators with a sliding metal gate that you have to pull open and close manually. I had been there a bunch before, but this was the first time I had to remove a yellow coroner’s seal from the door.

“Wait out here a minute,” I said to Maura. “I want to go in alone.”

The place was dirtier and more disheveled than usual—like Rob the last time I saw him—but otherwise pretty much the way I remembered it. The only thing that seemed different was a pool of blood in the living room and some splatter on the tiles in the kitchen.

“The cat’s not here,” I said to Maura, “but there’s blood on the floor. It’s okay if you want to come in.”

I stared at the still congealing blood for a moment. It was darker than it looks on TV and in the movies. “That’s Rob’s blood. That’s Rob’s blood,” I said to myself and then flashed back to the first time I saw him, on the day he was born, and repeated, “You’re my son. You’re my son.” But that wasn’t what made me cry.

I quickly went from room to room searching for a note or any clue that would help me make sense of what had happened. I noticed a shopping bag filled with women’s clothes and a pair of sandals, which wasn’t that much of a surprise. With Rob, it was always about a girl. Empty bottles of Lagunitas beer and Hurricane malt liquor cans were strewn all over the apartment. And then I found what appeared to be the thing I was looking for.

There was a small white notepad on the edge of the couch. I immediately recognized Rob’s barely legible handwriting. Here’s what he had written:

Meet Jeff

Call Brett

Maybe call Dan

Call Santos

Call Mom

That wasn’t what made me cry either. What made me cry was when I noticed that Maura had started to straighten up the place, folding random clothes, picking up cat litter and empty cans and throwing it all away in a large black garbage bag that we had brought from home.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked. “The building manager said they’ll take care of it.”

“I don’t know, I feel like it’s our responsibility, cleaning up the mess he left behind.”

“It’s not our mess to clean up!” I said, suddenly angry.

“I can’t just do nothing!” Maura said with tears in her eyes. “Maybe it’s my way of honoring him, giving him some dignity. I don’t know, Lar. I just thought he’d want me to!”

That was when I burst into tears.

“Let’s just go,” I said. “We can come back later.”

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