The Woman in 606
Aftermath of a Stranger’s Death and the Puzzle of Psychosis
Six months ago, my boyfriend and I were watching a movie in our apartment when he looked up and said, "Something's wrong." A moment later, he was pressed up against the front door, listening and whispering, "Something crazy's happening. Don't open the door. Something crazy's happening."
I listened through the door, and he was not wrong: Something crazy was happening. It sounded like a lovers' quarrel—shrieking woman, some man's voice, sudden crashes, doors slamming—and then it became clear that more than one man was involved. The male voices were calm, but the woman's screams smeared into the air, punctuated by adamant, half-heard declarations. Junkies wailing in distress in the hallway wouldn't be entirely unheard of, considering we live at the intersection of two busy streets on Capitol Hill, where junkies wail about their problems all the livelong night, but we're on the sixth floor, and anyway it sounded less like junkies wailing and more like a kindergarten being slaughtered. My boyfriend was worried about us stepping out into the middle of something we didn't want to be in the middle of, but whatever it was, at least one woman was being tortured, and are you going to be the guy who stayed in your apartment while your neighbor was being tortured?
Of course not.
So I vetoed my boyfriend and opened the door.
Half a dozen neighbors were already in the hallway, each outside their doors. I did not know any of their names. When I moved into the building seven years ago, I made it a point to meet my neighbors, but by now all those people had been replaced by strangers. Several looked at me like Where the hell have you been? It was clear no one knew what to do. The noises were coming from apartment 606, 30 feet from my door. The door to 606 was shut. I had no idea who lived there. One of the neighbors standing in the hallway, who introduced himself as Tom, started filling me in. He had been in bed just a few minutes before midnight when he heard the screams. Tom and another neighbor I'd never met, Dharma, who lives on the opposite end of the hall, had been the first to come out of their apartments to see what the trouble was. The woman in 606 had answered her door wearing only her underwear, they said, and Tom and Dharma had talked to her.
Or at least they had participated in an interaction involving words.
What she said didn't make any sense. She told them she was from the future. "I came back to get something," she said. She had covered her body in white powder and she was saying, "The cat's out of the bag," while holding a white sack with a cat in it, which she had stabbed "approximately seven times" with a butcher knife, according to a later police report.
She also said, "I killed it." When Dharma asked what she'd killed, she replied, "Me."
The woman told them to call her boyfriend, Thomas. She said she wasn't leaving without him, even though they hadn't asked her to go anywhere. She gave Thomas's number to Dharma, and then she slammed her door. That's when I walked out into the hallway. Dharma was on the phone with Thomas, trying to explain what was going on, telling him we didn't know what to do, telling him we were thinking of calling the cops. From the sound of it, Thomas was not interested. "Well, I guess if someone's calling the police, the police will handle it," Thomas said, according to Dharma.
So we did what anyone would do if a neighbor started stomping around, shrieking, smashing things, slamming doors, and stabbing a cat.
We called the cops.
Later, some of us would regret calling the cops, in light of what happened as soon as they got there. At the time, my main apprehension was that I'd just been spending some quality time with my boyfriend and my other friend and my bong. But I had to trust that whatever was happening in 606 was going to be more important to the cops than three stoners watching a movie.
Another neighbor I'd never met—a dance student at Cornish College of the Arts, I found out later, named Amy—grumbled as she dialed 911 that this would mean she would have to be up all night. I dashed into my apartment to hide the weed and returned to the hallway to listen to Amy describe the scene to SPD dispatch.
Amy said into her phone, "Is it an emergency? I don't know if it's an emergency..."
It was "insane" she didn't know it was an emergency, my boyfriend said later, but as she said it, I got hung up on the word, too. I sympathized with her language moment there. It wasn't precisely an emergency. It involved one person. It was contained behind a white wooden door. None of the neighbors were in danger. The cat was not having a great day. But by the sound of it, the cat was now moot.
The screaming and crashing did not let up.
Good thing the cops were en route.
Unlike her boyfriend, the cops were coming.
The cops arrived quickly, pounded twice, spoke loudly: "SEATTLE POLICE!" Within 30 seconds, they'd kicked in her door. The sound of it crashing open was so loud I jumped, even though I saw it happening. "I thought I was in a movie or something," Dharma said later. "Is this The Matrix? Do these guys know something we don't know? Why are they rushing to get her door down so quickly? Are they trying to get her before she transports back to the future or something? And if someone was in there having a psychotic breakdown, is that the best way to handle it? To startle them and kick in the door?"
The cops raced in to face whatever demons were in 606 and then, not five seconds later, raced right back out.
Two blurry cops passing right back through the doorframe.
Which made no sense.
They tracked out white powder onto the red-and-gold carpet.
The white powder she'd covered her body in, she'd covered her apartment in, too.
As the cops ran through the hallway and down the stairs, one of them said either "She jumped" or "We got a jumper," depending on which neighbor you ask.
According to Officer Adley Shepherd, who wrote the police report, when he entered the apartment, he "observed a lone female seated on the ledge of the wide open window facing northbound. The female, later identified as subject Alyssa Rosado, looked at me and said something undecipherable while at the same time bowing her head and falling out the six-story window. I sprinted toward Rosado, but was unable to get her before she fell."
Rosado landed facedown in a concrete alley behind the building—and not a proper alley but a dead-end between buildings, part of the fenced-in area where the trash and recycling bins are. Part of her body hit an air-conditioning unit that refrigerates an American Apparel.
According to the police report:
Officers sprinted down the stairs to provide aid to Rosado. To get to Rosado, officers had to breach the chain link fence by cutting through the links with wire cutters. SFD responded and attempted to provide Rosado with medical care. SFD was unable to treat Rosado's mortal injuries.
Officers returned to the apartment and discovered an injured white cat that was wrapped in a white sack and tucked away in a basket on the bookshelf...
A six-story fall could go either way, but we weren't about to go downstairs and get in the way, so for a period of time, none of us knew what happened. I knew I could call SPD in the morning to find out, and besides, we have a view of the street from our apartment, where the sanguine glitter of emergency vehicles had gathered. I figured I could watch the gurney go into the ambulance and get my answer based on whether she was covered in a white sheet.
The ambulance sat there with its doors open. A few ambulance guys stood around, waiting for the gurney to return. I could tell from the casual way one of them was standing, the way he rocked back and forth, or did a dance move, or whatever it was he was doing, that this was not tense for him, that there was no urgency. My boyfriend was sobbing into his hands and saying repeatedly that he was having a panic attack. As I was comforting him, I looked away from the view of the ambulance, and when I looked back, the doors were shut and the ambulance was rolling away, in no apparent hurry, with its lights out.
The friend who'd been over watching a movie with us, Chris Parks, is an off-track snowboarder who'd recently survived two avalanches. He started shaking uncontrollably. He held out a hand to show us. Coincidentally, Chris was the building's maintenance guy seven years ago when I moved in. We became friends early on because my apartment needed a lot of maintenance—there was no kitchen sink, the shower never fully turned off—and even though he left the building years ago, we've stayed in touch. It was Chris's job to repaint the apartment of a young man down the hall who shot himself in his kitchen shortly before I moved in. Three elderly people died right around the same time, also on the sixth floor, including a woman who had lived in my apartment for some 40 years, and it was Chris's job to clean and repaint all four apartments—make them nice for the new tenants who didn't know, like me. He hadn't been present when those tenants died, though, so it felt different this time, he kept saying. He said he felt paralyzed, but he was pacing.
It was Chris's idea to invite Tom over. Chris knew Tom from way back, because Tom is another longtime resident of the building—he used to live on another floor. Chris said Tom was out in the hall kind of blubbering or staring at the wall or something. Unlike us, Tom had interacted with Rosado—had been one of the voices in the hallway trying to calm her down.
So we invited Tom over and the four of us drank.
I had that blood-drained feeling in the head, that throb of blankness that violence emits. Pouring and repouring vodka, I went into reporter mode, feeding Tom question after question.
There were so many things to wonder about.
What was all that white powder? Tom kept saying the white powder must have been drugs—must have been cocaine or meth—but the more we talked, the more it became clear that Tom's experience with drugs is not extensive. She'd coated the place. It seemed highly unlikely that she was sitting on that quantity of drugs.
It turned out to be flour. According to an SPD spokesman reached by phone the next day, she'd punctured a bag of flour and poured it everywhere.
So did the flour have anything to do with her cat, who was also white, although probably less white after those seven stabbings with the butcher knife? Was she trying to make the cat white again? Was she trying to make the white sack the cat was in white again? Was she trying to make herself white? In the only Facebook photo of her I could find, which was just a thumbnail image—and is not online anymore—she appeared to be a dark-skinned Latina. Was covering herself in white a race thing? Was it a virginity thing? Did it have anything to do with that thing about being from the future?
Actually, the virginity thing didn't occur to me until a week later, when I got the unredacted SPD report. Officer Shepherd writes in his report that he spoke to someone on the floor who "claimed to have attended high school with Rosado but said she did not really know her." This unnamed person "later accessed Rosado's Facebook account and showed Officers several recent comments that she posted." The police report quotes two status updates on Rosado's Facebook page posted a day and a half before she died. Here is the first:
Thanks Everyone for your concern! I had a rather emotional breakthrough regarding molesting that happened in my past, I've dealt with it now and you should hope to see really great things from me.
- posted wednesday @ 1:39 pm
One minute later, Rosado wrote:
My profile is public, if you've been molested or experienced something traumatic in your past, please confide in me. I understand and can help give you the tools to cope. You can message me privately, or if you'd like to be free, please post your pain in the comments :)
- posted wednesday @ 1:40 pm
Please post your pain in the comments.
I showed the police report to a psychologist who works with psychotic patients in one of the hospitals Rosado might have been taken to, had she survived. She requested anonymity because she was commenting on the mental health of someone she'd never met, which psychologists are not supposed to do. "If you're going to have your first psychotic break," she said, and then her voice trailed off. "Lots of people are isolated. They're cut off from their families or have some kind of compromised relationship with their families. And if you have just realized that you were traumatized, and you're trying to process it, you would need a community around you—you would need a context in which that was validated, even if it was just a symbolic experience. I think it's kind of interesting culturally that we're still unable to speak about molestation and abuse in an open way, in a way that addresses what it does to human development and human minds. Because we don't, really. I don't know what her experience is, but she wanted to have her witness borne. The cop who wrote the report bore witness to her. She came out of her apartment in her underwear because she wanted to be witnessed."
She was "asking for help in a bunch of ways," the psychologist said, explaining why she might write those things on Facebook. "She's looking for people to connect with her on it. She's looking for someone to help her make sense of the confusion and secrecy and pain of it. The way she was doing it on Facebook? If I just discovered I was molested, I would not want to broadcast it to the world. On a Facebook page? There's a weird thing with people with mental illness and Facebook. With all people and Facebook. Because it's fake intimacy. The idea that you're intimate with people by making confessional statements. It's really very impersonal. You're writing something to your high-school graduating class as if you had an intimate relationship with everyone. You know that's not intimacy, right? Why would you think you have a connection with them? I think Facebook can encourage delusions and psychotic processes. It encourages a sense that everyone's a star and that everyone cares what you ate for breakfast."
Six months before her death, Rosado was fired from Castle Megastore, a sex-supply emporium, according to someone who worked with her. According to the employee, Rosado was from Alaska, and she and her mother were estranged: "Maybe emancipated at one point. You can emancipate at a certain age, like getting divorced from your parents." Asked about Rosado's personality, she said, "Extra playful. Extra chipper. Goofy, friendly, sweet. When you look at it in hindsight, you think, 'Oh, maybe it was a cover.'"
After Castle, Rosado got a job at Pagliacci Pizza in Lower Queen Anne and a volunteer gig at the Apothecary, a medical marijuana dispensary in the same building as Castle. In the weeks before her death, according to people at those companies, she was fired from both of those positions.
The psychologist went on, "For me, the test of civility is whether we protect people in a state like that, in a psychotic state. I think that's a pretty vulnerable state. I can't think of a more vulnerable state. It's like someone who's just been in an accident and is coming out of shock. A woundedness. Psychotic to me is a kind of state that's more symbolically wounded. It's an old, emotional, ineffable state that's surfacing but can't bear the intensity and burden of itself. Some schools of thought deal with a hallucination and say it has no validity at all. There's another school that would say there's a communication in the hallucination. If she just stabbed her cat, that would mean one thing, but because 'the cat's out of the bag' has meaning, the hallucination is also an attempt to communicate something. So what is being communicated?"
And what could she be trying to communicate through all that stuff about being from the future? I asked. What about the flour she poured everywhere?
"A person in a psychotic state is trying to push their reality back into the environment," the psychologist said, describing a theory from psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. "In a sense, you're holding it because she pushed it back out of herself. She put it back into your environment—whatever she was trying to express. So you're left with it as a mystery. Everybody in proximity is left with it. Everybody who witnessed it is holding it. So the cop has to hold it. You have to hold it. Your boyfriend is trying to hold it. And it's her trauma. It's her experience of trying to communicate a trauma, while not necessarily being able to process it herself. So when you work with people who are psychotic, the challenging thing is you're dealing with unspoken, often preverbal trauma that they're not emotionally processing, so you end up holding it for them. It's almost like they scattershot their reality at everyone. You're left with the mystery, right? What was the powder? Why'd she go out the window like that? What's with the white cat? We're still in her dream with her. So in a sense"—the psychologist stopped for a moment, watching me take notes—"so in a sense, you're writing about this because in a way she left you with all these mysteries. She left you with an unfinished dream and you're trying to finish it for her."
It's impossible to know what was happening in her mind, but it's also impossible not to wonder. Five months after her death, I finally got in touch with her boyfriend, Thomas, who'd known her for three years. "I talked to her like 10 minutes before she died," he said. "But she was incoherent and didn't know who she was talking to. She ended the conversation with 'Good-bye, I have to call my boyfriend.' It was pretty weird. I had no idea what was going on." The reason Thomas wasn't there the night she died wasn't because he wasn't interested; it was because he lives in Yakima, a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. He told me she was 23 years old, her father was out of the picture, her brother was in jail, she was under a lot of stress, she'd developed odd mannerisms like "taking down a lot of notes" and "saying things that didn't always make sense," and her marijuana use was "very, very frequent" around the time of her death. The county would not release a toxicology report to Thomas—or to me—citing privacy laws. But when the cops walked into 606, they found "a strong odor of fresh burnt marijuana lingering in the air," as well as 3.5 grams of pot labeled Pineapple Express and 4.7 grams labeled Crazy Train. No other drugs were found in her apartment.
When I asked the psychologist what she would have done had Rosado survived and been admitted to her care, she said she would have put a stop to the marijuana right away. When I asked why, she seemed surprised I didn't know. "If someone has a tendency toward bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or any schizoaffective disorder, marijuana isn't good," she said. "It can cause someone to go into a psychotic break. They would have to use it for a while, but it is not ideal for anyone with any kind of psychotic tendencies."
It is an article of faith among marijuana activists (the sort of people Rosado was surrounded by at the Apothecary) that marijuana is harmless, that anyone telling you that smoking marijuana can lead to a psychotic break is spouting some Reefer Madness bullshit. And it's true that for the vast majority of adults, smoking marijuana does not cause problems. Scientists disagree about whether very heavy marijuana use can cause psychosis in people who would not otherwise become psychotic. But even a hardened skeptic like Dr. Mitch Earleywine—a psychologist on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the author of Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence, and the star of at least one YouTube video passionately poking holes in studies that say marijuana can cause psychosis—says, "If you've had one schizophrenic episode or even something more modest, and then start smoking pot heavily afterwards, you're going to be more likely than not to have a second of those psychotic episodes." Moreover, marijuana will make a psychotic episode worse than it would be otherwise. "I think it's fair to say, if you're psychotic-prone, cannabis is not a good idea," Dr. Earleywine said. "Certainly anyone who has a twin with schizophrenia, a sibling with schizophrenia, a parent with schizophrenia would do well to stay away from the plant." People with bipolar disorder are also prone to psychosis and should only use marijuana "with extreme caution."
One afternoon recently, I met Dr. Roger Roffman, professor emeritus at the University of Washington's School of Social Work, in his office up on Roosevelt Way. He has a calm demeanor and a cozy office set up for counseling sessions: He has been studying marijuana dependence for nearly 30 years. I had sent him the police report about Rosado in advance. He offered me some tea and then sat on the couch under his third-floor window and said, "The research would tend to indicate that she was loaded for an explosion."
The moment he began to speak, it began to rain.
He said what loaded her for an explosion was being sexually abused as a child and then using marijuana heavily and then experiencing psychosis. Citing data from UK researchers published in Psychological Medicine in 2011, he said, "In some case examples where forced nonconsensual sex occurred during childhood, there was a risk from that experience for later psychotic illness, and that risk was exaggerated, made even greater, if the individual used marijuana." In the data, researchers found that if an individual's sexual trauma and marijuana use both began before the age of 16, their chances of being diagnosed with psychosis later on was "over seven times" greater. The researchers wrote that among other stress factors thought to contribute to psychosis—like ethnicity, employment, drug use, and family history of mental illness—sexual trauma was one "few researchers had acknowledged."
While reading through another piece of research Dr. Roffman gave me—a case study from Colorado about a young woman's two suicide attempts following two periods of heavy medical marijuana use—I came across this sentence: "Medical marijuana systems should attempt to identify not only people who might benefit from medical marijuana, but also those who might suffer from its abuse." Seems obvious, right? But as it stands, Washington State has no "medical marijuana systems" to speak of, certainly none to educate patients about potential risks. The industry, though lucrative, doesn't invest in that stuff.
In Washington State, information about the risks of marijuana use ostensibly comes from the provider of the authorization—a physician or naturopath—but most patients don't interact with that person again after their initial visit. The authorizer isn't even allowed to recommend a good dispensary. The patient then brings their authorization to a dispensary and interacts with whomever happens to be behind the counter. It is not their job to understand the medicine, and many of them aren't trained to.
At one Seattle dispensary that prides itself on training its employees, I mentioned the decades-old scientific association between marijuana and psychosis, and the guy across the counter said he hadn't heard of it. I talked to the owner of another dispensary who had never heard of an association between marijuana and psychosis, either; when I mentioned I had copies of several studies in my backpack, he asked to Xerox them. When I asked the owner of the Apothecary, Cass Stewart, if he knew anything about the association between marijuana and psychosis, he said, "I don't." I told him that marijuana has been shown to aggravate psychotic tendencies in people with certain disorders, and he said, "I never heard that." I reiterated that for anyone with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, marijuana can be dangerous, and he said, "Are there studies on that?"
When I asked what he remembered about Rosado, Stewart said, "She only volunteered a very short time, so I would want to make sure that's clear. We don't really have employees. She volunteered maybe three or four times, a couple weeks maybe, so it was pretty limited. I had a conversation with her sort of early on. I couldn't tell exactly what was going on with her. Her work ethic and some of her thoughts—it was a red flag for me, to be honest."
An Apothecary volunteer named Casey told me Rosado "seemed very unstable." Casey had never heard of a link between marijuana and psychosis, either. When I asked how he keeps informed on developments in marijuana research, he said, "I scour Facebook, and there's tons of different blogs and tweets, and I do see all these studies on PTSD, anti-spasmodic, autism, any sort of seizure..." he said, slipping effortlessly into the sales pitch. Asked what kind of information the Apothecary provides about the possible risks of marijuana use, Casey said, "People drop information off here all the time. We pass on information and get other information from other patients. We never claim to be scientific or 100 percent accurate."
He also said, somewhat defensively, "My opinion on her—obviously, what went down, it wasn't because she smoked a joint."
After decades of propaganda exaggerating the risks of marijuana, not to mention the unconscionable disproportionate incarceration of minorities for marijuana-related offenses, the skepticism that prevails at marijuana dispensaries about the harms of marijuana is understandable. The rhetoric is polarized in both directions: The government tells you it's an insidious evil, the activists tell you it's merely an herb. But like with any substance, there are risks—for drivers, who show impairment at certain levels of THC; for teenagers, whose frontal lobes are still developing; and for people with mood disorders that make them prone to psychosis. For all the sanctimony espoused by medical marijuana establishments about the patients and the medicine, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of concern for the science. When I told Dr. Earleywine that I had been to many medical marijuana dispensaries and had never been told anything about marijuana and psychosis—that I'd never heard of the connection before working on this story—he said, "It would make a really informative four-page handout. How hard would this be to get across?"
Which is why it's a little hard to swallow medical marijuana dispensaries' vocal and almost unanimous opposition to Initiative 502, the November ballot measure that would legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of marijuana to any adult in Washington State. I-502 would generate an estimated $2 billion in new tax revenue over five years. Annually, $44 million of that would go into educating the public with scientifically accurate information about the benefits and risks of marijuana, stepping in where the medical marijuana industry has failed. Another $4.4 million would go into research at the University of Washington and Washington State University about marijuana's long-term effects, which might finally answer the vexing questions about causation in the marijuana-psychosis link. That's not even mentioning the $22 million for community health centers, the $67 million for youth substance-abuse-prevention programs, and a whopping $222 million going into basic health. Again, every year.
"We're against 502," Apothecary owner Stewart confirmed.
Dr. Roffman, who has incensed marijuana activists by pointing out that marijuana can be harmful, happens to be a sponsor of I-502. "It took me a while to decide I wanted to do it," he conceded. "But as the initiative was being drafted, it was turning into a major instrument to enhance public health and safety." He added, "When you first called me, you said, 'I've never heard marijuana could be associated with psychosis.' And I wanted to say, 'You're damn right you haven't, because we've done a very bad job of educating the public about marijuana and its benefits and risks.'"
The morning after Rosado died, my boyfriend and I walked downstairs and behind the building to pay our respects. Everything had been cleaned up, but one side of the air-conditioning unit was dented and there were still traces of bright blood in the moss on the concrete walkway. There was also a pile of flowers left by neighbors. Two and a half months later, I had coffee with one of those neighbors, Amy, the dance student at Cornish, the one who'd grumbled about having to stay up all night as she was calling the cops. She told me, "That night is when my whole life started turning."
Three days after Rosado's death, Amy learned a family friend had died suddenly. In the aftermath of that news, she had a screaming argument with her next-door neighbor over whether Amy should have extended her condolences to the relatives who came to clean out Rosado's apartment—Amy had held a door open for them but said nothing—and the argument "shattered" their friendship. Then a coworker of Amy's at Starbucks freaked her out by saying, "They come in threes, you know... Deaths come in threes." And then six weeks later, Amy's boyfriend, also a student at Cornish, killed himself. "He had a history with depression but he was doing really well. And he really suddenly took his own life. And after that happened, I just broke down," she said. "It's a victory when I dress myself in the morning."
When Amy and I met for coffee, it had been a month since her boyfriend's suicide. She'd had trouble getting her shifts covered at Starbucks because her coworkers didn't really believe her increasingly depressing stories about why she couldn't come in. "When I sent out all these notes saying I need help covering shifts because I'm not okay, I got, like, 'I'm going shopping'... I had to quit my job because they wouldn't give me the time off... I was amazed at how little support I got from my coworkers."
And then there were the footprints.
During the first two weeks after Rosado's death, neighbors piled flowers outside Rosado's door, just as they'd piled flowers outside. But a ghostly smattering of white footprints kept showing up on the carpet outside of 606 as well. Whoever was cleaning up 606 kept tracking more flour out and leaving it there overnight. Amy said that after a few weeks of seeing "the flowers and the flour" whenever she was getting out of the elevator, she decided to move out. "I feel like that building has ghosts, and part of those ghosts are mine... I still have nightmares. I still can't sleep, since Alyssa. I would hear screaming that didn't exist," she said. She conceded that the screaming might have been coming from the Highline, a vegan hardcore club next door, in the same building as Castle and the Apothecary.
Amy happened to mention that her late boyfriend had been a pot smoker and that he'd struggled with mental illness. When I asked if she knew about the known risks of marijuana use for people with mental illness, she said, "I've never heard that before in my life." When I mentioned the link between marijuana and psychosis, she said, "Wow, I had no idea. That's really interesting... I know he was smoking a lot of pot before he died."
Truthfully, if Rosado hadn't called so much attention to her departure from the world, most of the neighbors on the sixth floor never would have noticed. It's an 88-year-old brick building with rodents and high turnover. People in the building "have their blinders on," Amy said. "I almost feel like I'm intruding if I try to have a conversation. You could say that's just Seattle, but I kind of feel like that's just the building."
The guy who shot himself in his kitchen down the hall seven years ago, shortly before I moved in, craved attention from his neighbors, at least according to the notes he wrote all over his walls. About one neighbor he wrote, "What a cunt. I had a 10-hour conversation with her nearly a year ago—I just wanted to be friends—and, for reasons I'll never know, she ignores me the next week." On a white door, he wrote, "I feel excruciating pain. No friends. No girlfriend. No job." On a wall next to the door, he wrote, referring to the Jewish god, "I sometimes think YHWH has forgotten me. Or doesn't care about me. YHWH is all I have in the afterlife. I've had a difficult and lonely life. I pray that He loves me and the afterlife is a lot easier to cope with."
He underlined "lonely" four times.
Chris Parks, the ex-maintenance guy who had to repaint those walls, took photos of them. As he explained: "It was pretty sad to be painting over the last, final expressions that the guy was trying to leave in the world, and I'm just going to cover them in primer and life goes on, right?" He burned the photos to a CD that he gave me seven years ago, but I was new to the building and too freaked out to look at them, and then I lost the CD. But shortly after Rosado's death, it turned up in a pile of papers. Looking at the guy's expressions of frantic isolation for the first time gave me a queasy feeling. It made me want to run down the hall and introduce myself to everyone in the building. It made me want to go back in time and introduce myself to Rosado. She clearly must have felt like the loneliest woman in the world the night she broke: confined to a studio apartment, estranged from her mother, three times fired, blocked from natural light by a rapidly developing new construction project, separated from her boyfriend by a mountain range, pleading for connection on Facebook. The two-story building that houses Castle and the Apothecary is right on the other side of the alley where she ended her life: She had to see it every time she looked out the window. Plus, marijuana has an isolating effect—that gauzy aloneness of being trapped in your own head.
It could not have helped matters that she happened to live in a building where none of the neighbors talk to each other.
Maybe if she knew a neighbor, she could have asked for help.
Maybe we were part of the problem.
Which is why I've spent a lot of time lately talking to the neighbors.
Even though I'd never met Tom before the night Rosado died, when he came over to drink, we found we have a lot in common. Standing inside his apartment for the first time months later, I was startled to see Rosado's window right outside his. Their apartments are at a 90-degree angle from each other. He said, "I occasionally look out there. I would sometimes look out there and still see the powder on the sill. But that was washed away by the rain eventually." We stop to talk whenever we see each other in the hallway or on the front stoop, and he's come to a few parties at my place and invited me to a few at his.
Dharma, the bicyclist and world traveler, met Rosado's cousin when she came to clean out the apartment, but Dharma then took a long trip to Spain, the Netherlands, and Guinea, so it was months before we ever got to talk. (Dharma gave me the cousin's phone number, but the cousin declined to be interviewed on the record, though she did give me Thomas's number. Thomas did not know how to get in touch with Rosado's mother and said that after the funeral, she "went AWOL.") I sat with Dharma in his apartment and we talked about Rosado, and then we talked about Guinea. "Africa was an amazing, eye-opening experience, for sure. No electricity, except for whoever has a generator. Walk a mile for water. If you want chicken, you're gonna kill it and pluck it. It's just so different, the way of life. All the stuff we have here that we take for granted is crazy."
As for Vera, the acquaintance of Rosado mentioned in the police report (the one who went to high school with Rosado but barely knew her), she answered her door the first time I knocked. She is a student at the University of Washington with beautiful eyes and a Russian accent, and she has lived on the floor as long as I have, yet looking into her face, I had no specific memory of her. She agreed it was strange that we were strangers. In Russia, she said, neighbors know each other. Vera immediately friended me on Facebook, which felt a little false, because we still didn't know each other, although also fitting, because people who hardly know each other are Facebook's forte. I wanted to be face-to-face friends more than Facebook friends, and Vera did, too, so a few weeks later, she had me over for a glass of wine and I met her boyfriend, Christian. They said they'd heard Rosado had covered her apartment in flour because she was trying to see a demon's footprints. Christian, who is Mexican, told me that Dominican people like Rosado usually "believe in voodoo."
It wasn't until I talked to Thomas that I learned that Rosado was only half Dominican—underscoring how little her only acquaintances in the building knew her. She was also half Tlingit, a people native to Alaska.
Eventually, in my conversation with Thomas, just like in my conversations with Vera and Christian and Dharma and Tom and Amy, we started talking about Rosado's cat. Whenever I see SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb, we talk about the cat, too. In spite of being stabbed seven times, the cat survived, according to Whitcomb. He said it with awe in his voice. She made it through surgery and she was put up for adoption.