Darin was a fellow who worked for my uncle for at least a decade. He had a Chalmette accent and wasn’t “all there,” but he was the most loyal worker a guy could ask for. He didn’t quite understand a lot of tasks, so you really had to break it down for him and talk extra slow when you asked him to do things.
Darin looooooved pranking people. He’d write fake letters to my uncle from a “secret admirer” and when my uncle, seeing right through it, would say “Darin, did you write this letter?” he’d let out his childish, maniacal laugh. They weren’t creepy secret admirer letters; they were his way of thanking George for all he did for him. Darin was a victim of childhood abuse and was all but abandoned when my uncle found him outside the Salvation Army and offered him work. Not a day went by that Darin wouldn’t say, “George got all the hate out of my heart. George told me about how God just wants us to love everybody.” George would take Darin to the dentist, or help him get his bike fixed. Darin would do chores for my uncle. Once, for my husband’s and my engagement party, Darin was tasked with waxing the floors. I remember coming in and out of the house that day, only to find Darin still waxing those stairs. “He sure is working hard on that,” I’d say to myself each time. Hours and glasses of wine later, I took my dear friend Wade upstairs during the party to check out George’s new renovations in his giant bathroom overlooking a lake. As we set out down the stairs, with some 150 guests in the living room, I slipped on a stair that was coated–I mean positively COATED–in wax. I grabbed Wade’s arm. The two of us came crashing down the stairs, narrowly evading crashing through the window. Complete and utter silence as the guest of honor and a gorgeous (but gay, though my husband’s entire side of the family had no clue) fellow come tumbling down the stars, limbs askew, during a party to celebrate her engagement to another man. Awesome. I’m not really sure what was said to explain that one; I do know, however, that Darin received a firm scolding for being too good at his job.
Flash forward three years and a summer, and my husband finds himself working as George’s property manager/renovator. And Darin’s daytime supervisor/chauffer. They were long, unbearably hot Louisiana summer days, often doing manual labor. Michael found both frustration and humor in being in such close quarters with Darin. Once, while driving in the pickup truck, Darin had to sit in the middle seat because there were tools occupying the passenger seat. Two grown men. One sticky, leather bench seat. 104 degrees outside. To break the silence, Darin told Michael a well-known fact. “You know, sometimes lady ass smells worse than man ass.” Silence. “It’s true! What, you don’t believe me? Three people told me that. Somebody said if three people tell you, it must be true.” Or, another time, in reference to the Fourth of July: “I hate holidays. Two reasons: oranges and razor blades.” Michael had a good time with that one, making sure to check and see if Darin hated Christmas as equally as he hated, say, Groundhog Day or his own birthday.
As we headed out of town for a weekend beach vacation one stifling Friday afternoon, Michael told me how he sent Darin home. “I was worried he was getting heat exhaustion. I really don’t think he ever has worked so hard. And he doesn’t drink any water. Only Sunny D.” We wondered if he only drank Sunny D because George called him “D.”
Late the following Tuesday night, George called. Darin had been found dead in his apartment. It had been days, and no one knew. No one knew. He knew no one. The maintenance man had found him. “I didn’t know who else to call,” George said into the phone to Michael. “He didn’t know anyone else.” We hung up the phone, stunned, and cried for Darin, for his life, for his soul, in disbelief of a person who, in 2011, could go a day unnoticed.
Darin’s will was found. He left everything he owned to George, and all that was leftover to the Salvation Army. Michael went with George to the apartment to sort through Darin’s belongings. “That smell,” he said later. The very thought turns my stomach. George took a couple of things and gave Michael his surprisingly high-tech speaker system. It’s sitting in our garage. Something about it just creeps me out. Maybe I’m petrified of catching a whiff of something unpleasant, something that’s not in this world anymore. I asked for details of the apartment. “It was clean. Sparse. He’d decorated it with pill bottles he’d spray painted black, and little plastic flowers in them. His fridge had nothing but a couple unopened bottles of Coke in there. They’re in my car.” “I hope you’re kidding. I am absolutely not drinking that,” I’d responded. Unreasonable? Probably. Don’t care.
A month later. Friday night. I send Michael out to fetch some pizzas. We used some newfangled text-only coupon and I’d forwarded it to him and apparently the pizza parlor guy got all huffy about not using the coupon correctly and that’s why it was taking so long, Michael said over the phone. “But he got over it and in his confusion, threw in a couple of bonus Cokes! Two whole liters! Let’s have a pizza party!” He gets home, we’re all excited, I start filling the glasses up with ice. “Why are these bottles so warm?” I ask. “They were sitting on top of the pizza boxes,” he says as he grabs a glass. “Cheers!” he says and we toast and I take a thirsty gulp. “To Darin!” he exclaims triumphantly with that sh*t eating grin as I spit it out everywhere.