I met Rick Davies in the fall of 1992. It was my freshman year of college and he was working in the residence hall hallway. I would see him there every day and we often exchanged pleasantries. He was an average man with brown hair and a tightly trimmed beard. He always wore the same navy blue pants, black shoes and stripped work shirt. The pocket of his shirt contained a small bound notebook and many pens protruding from a vinyl pocket protector. Above the pocket read his red stitched name in cursive letters. Rick.
He usually whistled while he worked, pushing the broom or mop or wax floor brush. He was a good humored sort that became part of the scenery except when we missed him on weekends. Then, the garbage would bust out of the Rubbermaid tubs, beer cans erupting onto the floor, the bathrooms stinking with puke, littered with toilet paper and cigarette butts. By Monday afternoon, everything sparkled again, Rick whistling.
He never smiled when we spoke, and his voice rarely changed out of the monotone seriousness of someone denying you for a loan, or that of a mechanic telling you the transmission is shot. I remember his words being so wise for my momentary dilemmas. His hands stacked at the top of whatever wooden handle he was holding, knuckles white, as he advised me away from my crisis. His eyes were blue and blank and they pierced with a hollow thud. I always wondered why he was a janitor in a college dorm and I didn't ask.
I had been elected as the President of the hall for the coming year and had to report to school a few days early to set up festivities for the incoming freshmen. My flight got in a day earlier than we were supposed to report, so I had the entire building to myself. The dormitory was built in the late 1800's and was shaped like a capital I Named after the arch bishop John Ireland of St. Paul, it was a four story building with nine bathrooms and three staircases. Not a large building, but it was enormous when it was empty. The only other person there was Father Lavin.
The only permanent resident of Ireland Hall was Father James Lavin. A priest who had lived in the building as a Seminary student back in the forties, then as a Professor of History, and finally as a retired priest of the archdiocese. Father Lavin would say the Rosary every night at the top of the middle staircase. On Thursday and Sunday, he would put out the makings of Lavin Burgers, PB and J to keep the students going. Lavin was a quirky sort who talked in whispers and was notorious for chastising our overnight guests during late night fire drills. He would come up to the girls and hiss, "Sinners!, Repent!," It was a joke for some, but when he was really on, he would spit the words in their faces pointing a bald finger at them. In the summer he would sleep on the roof of the building when he wasn't trekking in the Rockies. He was an odd sort who I avoided for the most part, but I needed to see him that day for the keys to the office in the basement. Old dude was nowhere to be found.
I went down into the basement and rapped on the door to Rick's "office", which was really a large closet. I heard his familiar voice from within give a startled "Hello" as I creaked open the door. He was sitting at his desk, tying knots and drinking a Tab
. He looked up at me with his familiar blank stare and put down the piece of rope he was working.
"Didn't expect anyone until tomorrow."
He said, standing up, shaking my hand.
I explained the flight situation and made a joke about how I didn't even know they made Tab
anymore. Rick didn't laugh, he just methodically went to the office and unlocked it for me.
Later, I asked Rick if he'd like to go get a bite at the neighborhood pizza joint. I had a few going away dollars and wanted to get the story. He agreed. He told me over dinner about how he used to be a Seminary student before an unfortunate accident made him leave. The grave tone in his voice just let me nod my head. He told me about transferring to the U, where he eventually got his MBA. He had gone into a brokerage firm with a friend and had made big bucks until Fall of '87 when the shit hit it. Booze took him over, then depression until he finally went to Hazelden, cleaned himself up, got on Lithium and started cleaning toilets. The details he left out were enough. I had my answers and a new friend. For the entire year I spent time talking with him as he drank his Tab and tied his knots, which he said were a hobby he took up to keep his hands busy and his mind off the Wild Turkey.
When the year was over I moved off campus and then went to Prague. Upon my return, a friend told me about something that had happened to Rick. Apparently, he had tried to hang himself in the basement after a student accused him of looking into the showers. The noose had slipped out and Father Lavin had found Rick unconscious. No damage except his larynx was busted and he was holed up in a psychiatric hospital. The student let go of the accusation and later admitted that he may have been mistaken. I was shocked and concerned, but I had my own life to live so I let it all pass.
My internship consisted of collecting data on suicide for a theology prof. The internet was still just an infant, so my research consisted of wading through archives of cheese smelling books, and flipping through reels of microfiche. The green bibles towered on the mahogany table I used as my desk in the depths of the old library. My research uncovered an eerie bit of serendipity when I found an article in the school newspaper from the late seventies.
Seminary student hangs himself
The article revealed that the roommate of the victim was Rick Davies, a sophomore studying literature. I couldn't believe it. Furthermore, Father James Lavin was the Residence Hall advisor. I shut the tattered page and went immediately to find Lavin.
Lavin barely recognized me even though I had spoken to him endless times. His room was stacked with books and an old recliner was stuck between his two miniscule rooms. He used it as training for his mountain climbing, hurdling the chair a hundred times a day. I had heard of the chair, but never believed it. After tea and some hard reminders, Lavin spilled some guts. He spoke briefly of the student and the incident. Then I asked him about Rick. He shook his head and snapped a pale glare into me and said,
"That man belongs in Hell. He is the devil incarnate and your soul is tarnished for befriending him."
I couldn't believe what I had heard and the wrath his tone carried. It felt like something was vibrating in me. I shrugged it off to the work of God in a crazy old celibate Priest and my hippie lifestyle, but I felt tingles. He showed me the door.
I finally found the hospital Rick was in by visiting the Building and Grounds office. They gladly gave me the info without a peep through their chain smoking eyes.
I drove to the hospital through the slush of the March day and wondered what I would say. I hadn't seen the guy for a year and a half and I was just a student whose shit he cleaned up. This guy had made and lost a fortune then hit the bricks with a sliding splash in the booze and resigned himself to cleaning toilets with a whistle. I pulled between the yellow lines of the parking lot and cut the engine of the Plymouth. I cracked the window to compose myself and had an internal dialog. My curiosity was built on a desire to understand the connection between the attempted hanging of Rick with his roommate's hanging. I saw the guy tie knots for crissake, how could he have flopped the job? I made up a lie and walked into the hospital.
"Er… Hello, my name is Bob Davies, I'm a cousin of one of your patients. My mom said he was having a rough time and I should come visit."
"room 315." She didn't even look up.
I found Rick as a shallow shell of the man I knew. He was skinny, with an IV trailing out of his arm. Everything smelled like ammonia. I sat down in a teal cloth covered chair and shot the shit for a spell. Rick had a red ring around his neck over his hospital gown and I couldn't help looking at it. He was pale and shaved. His blue eyes were drained of color except for the red that lined the edge. He couldn't speak, but he wrote on a pad. He was glad to see me.
When I got to the nitty gritty, I was scared. Asking someone about suicide and a suicide they found was awful. My throat swelled with pennies. What he wrote wouldn't let me swallow.
"It wasn't a suicide.