That Night. Forgive my smiling picture: this is a sad story, one I still feel awful about – bad enough not to tell anyone when it happened, not even my mother. But years have gone by and friends have asked . . .
Monday night, March 24, 2008: I didn’t make it out of my Wall Street office until about 10 p.m. By the time I dragged myself home to Carroll Street, our ninth-grader, Willa, was asleep. Freddie, then a senior in high school, was still up – and worried. She been hearing raised voices in the apartment we rented out, downstairs: our tenant Sanjeev (who liked to be called Michael) and his new lover, arguing. I listened. Nothing. A little later, I heard a few angry exchanges, but not heated enough to frighten me. I heard nothing while grabbing my late-evening snack, jumping into the shower, and setting out my clothes for the next morning – wishing I were already asleep. As I began to slide into bed, Freddie called me into the room she shared with Willa. “Do you hear that?” she asked. At first, I didn’t. Then I heard heavy breathing. Apparently, after their fight, our tenant and his latest had decided to, um, put their dispute to bed. I told Freddie it was nothing. I slept.
The morning of Tuesday, March 25, I went to the office as always. But around 11 a.m., Rick called. He’d noticed an odd smell coming up from downstairs: bleach. When he’d called out “Michael,” even called “Sanjeev,” there was no answer. Rick grew concerned enough to tiptoe downstairs. He didn’t want to talk about it, but there was blood. Sanjeev lay on his mattress, soaked in his own blood, dead.
Apprehension. By the time Rick got me on the phone, the police had already roped off our house with yellow tape. The CSI said the murderer had tried to cover up prints with bleach, but they were optimistic about finding enough to identify him. In my initial shock, all I could picture were the muffins Sanjeev had brought us from his job, still in our freezer – how were Rick and I to explain the murder to our girls?
All through the night of Tuesday, March 25, 2008, the CSI gathered evidence in our basement. For days, our house was roped off. Detectives and apprehension experts came and went for weeks. All that time, they wouldn’t let us replace the lock to the basement floor – even though we knew the killer had the key, and he was still at large.
But Brooklyn’s finest were pros. They found evidence. They tracked down their suspect. They dragged him to jail in New York City from his hideout in New Jersey. It took years for the case to make its way through the courts. Finally, the spring of 2012, the murderer admitted his guilt. The last we heard, he was behind bars.
Renovation. Sadly, Sanjeev’s family didn’t want his things: We gave some to a friend of his, we gave some to charity, but many we kept, like a shrine. We had to: It didn’t feel as though he had left. No matter how many lights we turned on, the basement always felt dark, and we could feel Sanjeev’s presence, heavy in the air.
Only after the murderer was safely locked away did it feel anything other than sacrilegious to renovate the floor where Sanjeev died. It has been so long. Freddie had left for college shortly after the murder; now she needed to move back home – and bring her boyfriend with her. But even after the biological-waste cleaning company mopped up our basement, the linoleum on the floor still looked blood stained. If Freddie’s boyfriend weren’t moving in with her, she wouldn’t have spent a night there. I’d slept there myself, and as I closed my eyes and tried to nod off, I couldn’t help but picture Sanjeev.
So we shopped for tiles and found a contractor. All seemed in order, until the guys took up the flooring. And – as you can see in the picture above – it turned out there was no foundation underneath. No cement. Not even packed dirt. Just rubble.
Laying a Foundation. After standing on dirt for over 100 years, our brownstone now has a foundation, hallelujah! No more worries that the entire house will crumble while we sleep. The guys pulled in at 6:30 a.m., laid down a layer of gravel, and topped it off with cement. It looked like a skating rink. And underneath the floor, no more traces of blood — just Willa’s initials in the cement.
Tile by tile, the men laid down a floor, based on solid concrete. Now, it feels like a new apartment altogether — light and clean. And our daughter Freddie is finally home, after four years away at college. She’s been toting all her stuff downstairs, including her boyfriend. Actually, maybe he’s toting the stuff — and toting her. Or they’re both safely walking down together.