It felt a bit creepy; walking up the outside steel and cement staircase to what I hoped would be my friend, Laurel’s apartment in Austin Texas. The winter sun was warming in spite of a cool breeze, but the building and the large complex felt cold and isolated. Though it was the middle of the morning, no one was in the parking lot, no one answered my knock on her door, or on the door of the apartment below, (the one whose door mat bore the message, “Go Away.”)
My next stop was the leasing office where I hoped to find a way to reach her. The man in charge reported that she had moved out the middle of last week. He stated he could not give me any other information due to the complex’s privacy policies. I explained that I was in town just for the weekend, and that a couple of weeks before coming, we’d been in touch through email. But in trying to finalize plans to meet, I’d gotten no response in the last ten days, which had caused me to worry. The phone number I had was no longer in service.
I asked if he could telephone my friend through the number he had for her and get her permission to give me her contact information. He insisted that he could not be a “go-between” as this too would violate the policies and put him at risk to lose his job. I tried to be sympathetic but when he suggested I could be someone hired by the Austin Apartment Association to test his ability to adhere to their privacy policies, I realized we lived in totally different worlds.
In an attempt to enlist his help in problem solving the situation, I mentioned that since my friend had been ill last fall, I suspected that she may have had to move to an assisted living facility. If that were the case, of course I would want to visit her there. His response, “that was my impression,” told me he visits, on occasion, the world of human community and compassion where most of the rest of us choose to live.
After one more visit to the building where my friend used to live and a few more knocks on a few more doors, a young man opened one of them. Though he didn’t have the information I needed to contact my friend, I felt a small sense of encouragement in his comment, “Yes, I remember her. The older lady with the dogs.” His suggestion: “Try reaching the office by phone. Maybe you’ll get someone who will help.”