A Mummy in Chicago

Eugene Davis could never have thought he would end up like an Egyptian. Mummified. This citizen of Blue Island, 17 miles south of Chicago, was found dead last May 22 on the floor of his home, near his bed, mummified--without being embalmed. According to the coroner's report, Davis would have died from cardiovascular disease, due to natural causes. But how could Sonny (as he was called in the community) die forgotten, in a house where he had lived for decades, to the point of being found in a state of mummification?

Water and electricity had already been suspended for several months. There was no more room in his mailbox so the postman stopped delivering the mail. Weeds had grown almost three feet. Was it that Davis had no family to check on him? Some reports say he was estranged from them. Didn't he have friends who would miss his presence in the neighborhood? His neighbors say he was a lonely man but "very friendly."

When I learned about these events I could not help but remember something that happened to me almost four years ago. I had been working for two years in Chicago, living in the same condominium for almost a year and a half. After 10 years in the United States, I was already accustomed to living away from my family. But I had never experienced what it was like to have limited mobility and need for care while living alone.


You grow up thinking you're a super man who needs no one. But after hernia surgery in the lower back, the result was immobility and difficulty in moving around by myself. How do I prepare my food? How do I clean the house? Simple tasks like those had become challenges. After the operation, I came back home with surgical stitches in the back, a lot of pain and clear indications of absolute rest. Just walking to the bathroom was a challenge. I spent two long weeks lying on the couch in my den. I watched all the episodes of Law and Order that were able to fit in those 15 days. I ate bread and canned soup for lunch and dinner. During that time I received few calls, enough to count with the fingers of one hand. I got a few emails wishing me a speedy recovery that ended up saying: "Let me know if you need anything." I asked myself: "They know I can hardly move and I am asked if I need anything? Are you kidding me?" Of course I needed help. "Go to the supermarket, clean the house, do my laundry," I felt like answering. Was this an honest offer or just something to say like "have a nice day." I never knew, because I did not take the offer.

I survived, of course. I had plenty of time to reflect on my life, the value of friendship and the human condition, while Oliva Benson and Eliot Stabler continued solving crimes on TV.

Months later, when I was still recovering, during a long distance telephone conversation I told my mother: "Mom, you can die here and nobody would notice it until the smell is so strong that the neighbors would wonder if an opossum has died in the building."

Even after that experience, the lonely death of Sonny still catches my attention. He had lived in that house for almost all his life and was friends with his neighbors. Why the indifference?
I can observe the cultural differences very clearly. In other countries, I would say that people would act differently, if by any chance someone known disappears. It could be because people's gossiping, as common as it is in Latin America to be watching other's lives, at what time the neighbor got home, left, or what he is doing.

But life in these parts of the world is more independent, solitary and emotionally detached. Everyone is proud of being so self-sufficient. Not that Americans are antisocial or unloving, but certainly more distant and guarded, to the point that in some cases you might end up dead in loneliness and become a mummy.