“She came home, prepared dinner, and disappeared into the afterlife,” Mary Jane said during her fictional newscast on the BET show Being Mary Jane. One of my greatest fears was being played out in primetime.
The story of the single woman who died while watching television and went unnoticed for three years was featured on Being Mary Jane last night. It was a scary recreation of what can happen to single women who live alone. The dead woman on Being Mary Jane was found in front of her television, Showtime still playing. Now we know that’s not real because anyone who’s ever missed a cable payment knows the cable company would’ve discontinued her service after a few months. ConEd would’ve shut off the electricity and the landlord would’ve started eviction procedures long before, eager to get rent for the unit. But that’s beside the point. She was a single woman, on the outs with the man she was dating, and the storyline was based on the true story of a woman named Joyce Vincent.
Ms. Vincent was 38 years old when she died in London. Vincent had her own place and according to this article on Madame Noire, once worked at Ernst and Young, and died before wrapping some Christmas presents. But she was single and lived alone so there was no one to come home and find her, lifeless. And what of the people she planned to give Christmas presents? Did not one of them look for her during the time her body sat decomposing in her apartment? The story chilled me because I live alone and I cannot tell you how many times I come home, have dinner and fall asleep on the couch, TV still on. I could easily be Ms. Vincent or the character on Being Mary Jane.
When I got my wisdom teeth removed, my gums did not stop bleeding in the time frame the surgeon told me they would. I feared I would bleed to death in the middle of the night. I was off-again with the guy I was seeing. He did not come to check on me after my oral surgery and my calls to him went unanswered. “If you don’t hear from me in the morning, come to my house and check on me okay,” I said when I gave up on him and decided to call my mother as I laid in bed waiting for the pain killers to kick in. I had paper towels on my pillow and my mouth was filled with gauze to soak up the blood that flowed through my recently stitched up gums. I imagined I’d fall asleep, the blood would seep through my half-open mouth, and the next morning my beige pillow case would be dyed the color red and I would be dead.
My fear was not irrational. It stemmed from the loss of my childhood babysitter who was like a second mother to me. She treated me no differently than her own children. They grew up and moved out of their mother’s home and though I had my own keys to her apartment, just three floors above the apartment I shared with my mother at the time, I rarely went upstairs to see her anymore. During my teens years, even if I didn’t make it up to her apartment, I’d call her after school each day. But when I hit my early twenties, I was too busy doing who knows what to check in with her daily. Funny, I can’t remember what was keeping me so busy those days. The last time I spoke to my former babysitter was when I went upstairs to borrow her vacuum cleaner because mine had broken. She was by herself, watching Dancing with the Stars in that two bedroom, pre-war, apartment.
She was not sitting in front of the building when I got home from work on Friday, as was her usual routine when the weather was nice. She didn’t answer the door when our neighbor stopped by with Popeye’s chicken for their weekly catch up session but neither of us thought to investigate further. On Saturday morning, when my mother said, “take that vacuum back upstairs,” I didn’t. “She doesn’t vacuum on Saturdays. I’ll take it back upstairs tomorrow,” I said. Had I returned the vacuum that day, if I’d used my key and let myself in, I may have found her sooner. Might have been able to change what was to come. She was not dead, but she had suffered a stroke. We don’t know how long she lay there, in pain, alone, before her son happened to stop by for a visit. He used his key to let himself in, found her in a bad way and called an ambulance. She lingered for a few days before she said “goodbye world. I’ll stay no longer with you” and went off to be with the Lord on Memorial Day, of all days. I guess that was her way of telling us to never forget our loved ones, her and what happened to her.
It is so sad to think that someone could die and not a soul will notice. Or if they do, they don’t take any steps to find out what happened to the person. But sometimes when we are so consumed with our own lives, it’s easy to forget to wonder about our single friends and family members. I now try to check in with someone – generally my mother and my god sister and a few friends – everyday, or every other day. Because like the woman on Being Mary Jane said, “us girls gotta stick together. If only to make sure we’re not dead.”
Image credit: diego_cervo / 123RF Stock Photo