The first time I met Ms. Jessica she was carrying her grocery bags upstairs and I offered to help her. I had secretly made a rule with myself not to get friendly with my neighbors after my experience with the creepy boys across the hall in college who had taped Scrabble pieces on our door spelling out “Wanna play?”
But, as soon as I saw the magical treasure cove that was Ms. Jessica’s apartment I decided it was OK to accept her invitation to hang out that night. Ms. Jessica is in her 70s and has lived in my apartment complex since 1974. In those 40+ years she turned her apartment into a tiny West Hollywood museum from her closets of clothes she sewed as a seamstress to her collection of records, the majority of which were recorded by her friends in the music industry.
The night I met Ms. Jessica I was going through a sort-of tough transitional period and was just starting the first month of my lease. I really was unsure whether or not I wanted to live in my one bedroom on Hayworth Avenue. That night Ms. Jessica and I played dress up with her old clothes, and she taught me about moon signs and sun signs and read me the astrological profiles of my ex-boyfriends. She told me that she would watch over me, and in that moment I realized I belonged right where I was.
Over the next year, Ms. Jessica would go on to meet my dad and my boyfriend and even gift me one of the silk dresses she made that magically fit me perfectly. She even got me to break another secret rule for myself- my distaste for cats. Ms. Jessica has an enormously fat cat named Emmitt, and for some reason I love him so much that I made a new rule that no matter how late or in a rush I am, I must stop to say hi to Emmitt if he is outside.
This past Thursday morning at 3 a.m. Ms. Jessica awoke to the sounds of her glass windows exploding from the heat of the fire that would soon engulf her entire apartment. We are unsure exactly what started the fire, but by a miracle both Ms. Jessica and Emmitt survived. Emmitt was for the first time saved by his fat — when the fire started he tried to run away towards Laurel Avenue but got caught in the fence, and it took two neighbors to pull him out.
That night Ms. Jessica lost all of her material possessions, from her prized collections of pictures and postcards to her car keys and the medicine for her degenerative arthritis. That night we all learned how fleeting life can be and how everything can be gone in almost an instant. I learned how powerful the love and support of your neighbors can be.
Ms. Jessica is currently staying with family and ideally we would bring her and Emmitt back, but it is going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars and at least a year to rebuild. In the interim, her niece has set up this GoFundMe page to help ease the cost of repurchasing the necessities she lost in the fire . We hope you will help.
We should all reasonably and judiciously look out for our neighbors. Bless you Stephanie for doing so and letting us all know about the circumstances that could befall any one of us. Many folks just won’t ask for help because they don’t have a sense as to how much they are at risk. This fire is an extreme situation but normal circumstances require attention. Several years ago I met up with a dear lady of 88 while receiving aquatic therapy at the Hollywood YMCA. After 6 months of chatting with this clear and articulate lady I learned that she had… Read more »
Thanks for the great story
Very engaging story. Unfortunately I couldn’t help but think that there will most likely be no more Ms. Jessica’s living for decades in their West Hollywood apartments. She is exactly the kind of wonderfully eccentric individual that used to make up so much of the population of this neck of the woods. She embodies the charm that used to permeate West Hollywood.