It’s 12PM. I sit in my room, fingers tapping away at my computer, and hear Jodie moving around in her bedroom. She issues a low grunt, reflected in the groan of the bed. Through the thin walls I imagine her rolling out of bed, slowly, painfully. Placing her feet on the ground, adjusting her stained shirt to cover her nipples, grabbing a dirty pair of shirts off the ground. It’s been a couple days since she got out of bed. Eyes blinking, she wanders to the bathroom, where she pulls the cord and then curses. She forgot that our bathroom light had been broken for months. I was trying to get Lee to take some ownership of the situation and purchase the lightbulb himself, after standing on the toilet to read the lightbulb specifications on the ceiling. Lee insisted that he didn’t have enough money for the bulb and the cost of transit until they got their bi-monthly JSA (Job-Seekers Assistance) check next week. Until then, Lee and Jodie would live on packets of crisps, sweets, and whatever food items were on sale at Spar across the street. It was during these dry times that Jodie usually preferred to sleep her days away. And where things like lightbulbs were distant dreams.
Jodie pissed and sighed for at least three full minutes. I could smell the acrid urine from my open door. Disgusted, I left the chapter I was writing to walk the blue steps (on blue carpet past jarringly light-blue walls) to my door, trying to shut it as lightly as possible so as not to reveal to Jodie that I had heard her. It didn’t work; in her sharp intake of breath, I could tell that Jodie has forgotten she and Lee had a boarder living in the room of their daughter, a girl was taken from them as a child to be adopted by a family that was more competent to care for her. When Jodie wandered up the thin staircase, her hand sticking slightly to the railing, and settled herself upstairs on the couch with Lee, I wondered if they might look at photos of their daughter. But after greeting her, Lee found Jodie’s favorite cooking show, turning it up loudly.
For a few more hours I sat in my room, writing the book about Plymouth that I knew had no space for the explicit story of Jodie and Lee. I tried to convey in the most sensitive of ways the Plymothian subculture that Jodie and Lee represented: grandparents of grandparents who had been on government benefits. People who had never learned how to take care of a child, clean a toilet, who suffered mental disability and were given public aid in the form of psychiatric medication and money. I wanted badly to explain that Jodie and Lee were lovely people. How lucky they were to have found each other, to have avoided drugs and alcohol, and that Lee’s everlasting positivism could mitigate Jodie’s all-encompassing depression. I wanted to explain that they were very smart. One night Jodie sat on the stairs while I cleaned the toilet, which was covered in shit because of their perpetually frustrated bowels, and Jodie told me her life story. She had been abused by an uncle (although she didn’t say it that way) and hurt by her mother (which she explained in detail). She had held a couple jobs in customer service, which she liked and did well in. She met Lee online. They spent all night on Plymouth Hoe for their first date, just sitting and talking, mostly because they had missed the last bus home. They went to great lengths to qualify for the squalid house we now lived in. And they meant to get pregnant. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. And they soon realized they couldn’t raise a child. Especially when, some days, Jodie couldn’t raise herself out of bed.
Jodie and Lee were good with money, the way calculating people with no common sense are. They could analyze the pros and cons of different television payment plans the way Eisenhower analysed D-Day. They were constantly subscribing to deals: 12 magazines for the price of one; a month’s worth of MMA channels in exchange for a free t-shirt; facial products for re-sale. They were good deals, but not deals that someone who had no other savings should ever partake in. They never had any money, living hand-to-mouth alongside their paychecks.
The night they got their check they always ordered pizza: 2 or 3 Large pizzas; soda; chips; buffalo wings. They ate until they could burst, and then they let the rest of the food waste away on the kitchen counter. The next day they went to the grocery store, where they purchased lovely, nutritious food that they would cook in the kitchen (after cleaning the dishes that had sat in the sink since the last time they cooked two weeks before).
Lee loved sport. He sat on the couch, taking notes on goals, football stars, punches, and championship rounds. He could accurately predict outcomes through very clever algebraic equations he created. Jodie was eloquent, lively, and witty, reciting recipes out of books and detailing the origin and characteristics of ingredients. The still loved their daughter, frequently looking at pictures of her. They told me about taking their daughter to the doctor. I look around the house, covered in small objects and hairballs and tubes, and know that their memories are selective when thinking about the short time they spent raising their daughter. When they talk about her, their face glows slightly, but their eyes drop and voices trail…Jodie and Lee love each other. I only ever once saw them fight, an incident that I quickly chastised them for because I worried they might become abusive like so many of their family members.
After a couple hours, it’s time for me to go. I have a date with the gym and the grocery store; I’m sick of using my University-Level diploma to write a book; maybe I’ll grab a beer with a friend. I suck in my breath and open my door, trying not to smell the stench that wafts from Jodie’s room. One time I watched her “clean.” I sincerely doubted she actually knew what that meant.
“Bye, guys!” I call over my shoulder, grabbing my expensive bike. They come to the doorway with me, smiling and asking me if I wanted them to make me some dinner. I felt guilty taking their food but loved Jodie’s cooking, when she was in one of her “healthy” kicks. “Yes!” I said gratefully. I walked up the steps out our front door, into the sun (our ground-floor home was typically dark and drab, as most public housing in England is). Lee waved from the doorway; Jodie called, “Lee, can you get me a cold drink?” from the recesses. I smiled back.
Jodie and Lee, I thought. Just like you and me.
This article was written in the winter of 2015, after I'd already left the home of Jodie & Lee for more appropriate accommodations. In the winter of 2016 I received a Facebook message from Lee: Jodie had died in her sleep. She has been suffering a great deal of pain. After she'd been in bed for some time, he tried to rouse her. When he couldn't get her to wake, he ran to a neighbor's, who also could not wake her. When the ambulance arrived, they declared Jodie dead.
When he told me, Lee admitted to feeling very depressed. He planned to leave their home to live with his family in London, who he didn't get along all that well with. But, at least he wouldn't be alone.
Emily Stewart is an insatiably curious merrymaker and busy-body.
Everything on this website is Copyright © 2017 by Emily E. Stewart, Sole Trader. All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Paul K. Porter, who's pictures appear most frequently on the site, for being the best yoga retreat photographer EVER.