It’s been a busy week. I went out for dinner with some girls from work tonight and came home to watch a film. Instead, I watched Dreams of a Life, a documentary I’d found on Netflix. It was shown on Channel 4 last night and I thought, I’ll watch that instead.
Its about a woman who lived in London, Joyce Vincent. She was beautiful, sociable and had a full life, meeting amongst others, Nelson Mandela, Isaac Hayes and Stevie Wonder. Yet she died aged 38, alone in a bedsit in Wood Green. And worse, her body was undiscovered for three years, lying on the sofa with the tv still on, surrounded by wrapped christmas presents she’d bought.
I remember reading in the paper in 2006 about this and thinking, how on earth could this happen? How could nobody notice? Her friends? Her family of four sisters? She was discovered by bailiffs due to unpaid rent. Her neighbour attributed the smell to the communal bins. It’s crazy and very, very sad. The documentary was contributed to by ex colleagues at Ernst and Young, a major global financial company where she worked for four years, old friends and ex boyfriends. And none of them could believe the effervescent girl they knew could have ended up like that, with a cause of death unknown due to extreme decomposition and only being able to be identified by comparing her teeth to an old photo.
I know this is an extreme case, but it’s so shocking to me. I’d like to think that could never happen to me, or any of my friends or family. That I’d know if someone I cared about had died, let alone lying dead for three years. There are people I’ve fallen out of touch with, it’s a part of life for majority of people, but the thought of it makes me feel sick. I don’t understand how in today’s society, something like that could really happen. It’s stranger than fiction. By all accounts, the documentary revealed a woman shrouded in mystery, who never revealed much about herself, a chameleon who fixed herself into the lives of the men she dated. Clearly she had some demons but then, we all do. And that’s what makes me so uncomfortable. That could be any one of us or someone we used to know.
When I was with The Ex, we used to go to Wood Green all the time. We’d go shopping in the centre adjoined to her block of flats. We’d sit in the car literally metres away from her block while he and his mates got stoned. It wasn’t until I watched the documentary that I realised just where she was, and while she lay there, decomposing, everyone went about their daily lives, walked past her door, without knowing what happened.
Its left a bitter taste in my mouth. The pictures of her and the video footage of her at a speech given by Nelson Mandela are on repeat in my head. In this age of social media – twitter, Facebook, blogging – it’s so easy to just write a message to someone instead of picking up the phone. You think, I’ve not heard from so and so in ages, but when they don’t write back, we just attribute it to our busy lifestyles. One of the boys I grew close to before I moved back to London was a friend I’d speak to every day until it petered out after I moved. I last saw him randomly on a night out back in my hometown and he looked great. We became Facebook friends, probably around 2008. Then, when I logged into Facebook one day, I was reminded it was his birthday. When I went to wish him a happy birthday, I learned that he’d died from aerosol abuse. He was the same age as me. He was my friend. I’d partied with him, cried with him when I was dumped by his best mate, stayed at his family home when I went back to visit – yet I didn’t know he’d died.
The world is a strange and sometimes fucked up place. Bonds can be formed so easily with people thousands of miles away, while those who live down the road fall by the wayside.
All I can think is, how sad.