The Sadness in our House

Our Brownstone on Carroll Street

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.

Media Coverage of the Murder

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.

Under Our Basement Tiles

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.

Our New Foundation

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.

Willa’s Initials

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.

New Basement Tile

14 thoughts on “The Sadness in our House

  1. If it’s a “garden” apartment, couldn’t you just leave the floor in its natural state? That way Freddy could grow her own meals as well and become more self-sufficient!

    1. Rose Auslander

      I’d actually just written a poem suggesting that! But seriously, best that she open the door and plant in the garden out back. Apparently we’re lucky the house stood without a foundation. We owe a big debt to the neighboring houses for propping us up, but (speaking of self-sufficient) I’m afraid to keep leaning on them 🙂

  2. David Cohen

    I think Freddie should write a memoir about the traumas of graduating college and moving in with her boyfriend back to her parents’ place in their garden apartment that was the scene of a violent crime. We really shouldn’t make light of the tragedy, but it sure lays the groundwork for an interesting story.

    1. Rose Auslander

      David, you must have ESP. For years, Freddie has been writing a novella of short stories about the murder, told by all the different voices in the neighborhood: the grandma across the street, the little girl next door, the murderer’s wife, the victim, and the murderer himself. A group of those stories formed her Senior Project for her Creative Writing major at SUNY Purchase, and her plan is to develop the book for publication — maybe she can add her own voice looking back while moving into the scene of the crime, these four years later. Thanks!

    1. Rose Auslander

      Thanks so much, Laura — will post as soon as more happens! The contractors are due back tomorrow . . .

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    1. Rose Auslander

      Seriously, it’s like that movie, the Money Pit. They’ve now started on the upstairs bathroom, and surprise! They had to put in extra layers of plywood to build a floor, and they’ll need to put cement on top of that too. Plus some plumbing fixes. What next?

  4. Pingback: Is It Harder for Women To Juggle? « Rose Auslander

  5. How traumatic for you all, and undoubtedly also more than a few sleepless nights wondering “What if I’d called when we heard the strange noises? What if I’d phoned earlier?” I can imagine oppressive guilt taking a long to time to work itself out, even though, of course, it isn’t warranted. Writing through it must have been profitable therapy for Freddie. So many perspectives to explore! Enjoy your new space, time moves forward…

  6. Shawn, thank you so much for your sympathetic ear. For us, it’s been an awful mixture of wondering if we could have helped if we’d realized what was happening — and worrying that the man with the knife might have headed for us if we had. And just how unsafe we all are. Freddie’s stories about it are amazing, though . . .

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