Today is the seventeenth day. I didn’t mean to begin counting but after the tenth day, I couldn’t help but notice. It’s been seventeen days since I saw any of my neighbors. In theory, there should be five humans, one for each of the five doors besides ours in this building on the second floor, but of course, it could be more. It might not seem all the strange to you, that I haven’t seen a single soul in the hallway outside of our apartment for seventeen days, but as an unemployed person who spends most of her days going in and out, it’s becoming more and more bizarre. When we first moved in, I saw the man across the hall at least once a day as he was taking his small dog for a walk. He always spoke, or least nodded, and he seemed like a good omen.
But I haven’t seen him or anyone else for seventeen days. I know that I’m hypersensitive to neighbors. A few months ago I was living in the motel my boyfriend was renovating. Our neighbors changed daily; it was important to take note of who was gone and who was still there for personal safety reasons. And yet the upstairs neighbors at the motel, who apparently practiced their WWE wrestling moves before bed each night never left. Even before living in the motel, I was working and residing on a college campus. My neighbors were about thirty 18-20 year-old students of the almost 700 who lived/partied/occasionally studied under my domain. My apartment was smack dab in the middle of their residence hall, so it wasn’t unusual for me to wake up to Ke$ha as an alarm or to hear the steady thump of a bed against a wall. More than once, I had to remind the guys above me that playing basketball in their room was maybe not the most considerate thing to do at 2am.
Living where I worked meant I was always on guard. Who knows how many times I muted a sex scene in a movie because I didn’t want the students to think I was watching porn or worse that I was having sex. I double bagged my alcohol or made early morning runs to my car. It just felt too cruel to walk by them brazenly with my jug of wine when they weren’t legally able to purchase it yet, though I don’t know why I cared when so many of them had really good fake I.Ds. Seventeen days and I’m beginning to believe I live in a ghost town. It’s not as if I don’t occasionally hear other people. The neighbor on the left fastidiously vacuums every other day. I wonder if this is due to a long-haired Maine coon. And the balconies that face the parking lot where I park my car are each their own proverbial botanical gardens. Someone has to be tending all those plants. I know there’s a woman who lives on the first floor, because she sits there all day. Sometimes, she coughs so hard, it echoes and I worry about her chest. Sometimes, I think she coughs to let me know she’s there.
At least so far, none of them have proven to be like my neighbors from my time in the Westminster, a dilapidated building in Browne’s Neighborhood in Spokane, Washington. The least offensive was my neighbor to the right, Tom (a name I gave him), who was always polite in the hallway and had a beautiful and well-behaved black lab. Tom’s crime as a neighbor was based on the fact that we shared an apartment wall, a very thin wall. Our lives were not private to each other, but worse than that was the fact Tom liked to wake and bake. Every day. So every morning for months on end, I would wake in a fug of marijuana smoke. The smell came directly through my closet into the bedroom, and I was convinced I always smelled like I’d just taken a hit.
Worse than Tom, though, were the neighbors to the left who were alcoholics. This is only a tiny assumption. Our windows faced each other, and each morning when I was drinking a glass of tea or orange juice, they were drinking beers. Every other weekend they threw raging parties that went well into the morning. And on the opposite weekends, they were having massive, all-out, knock-down- drag out fights that forced me to keep my windows closed from fear that they might start including me. The cops were called more than once. It might not have been so bad if they had only invited me to one of their parties. But they never did.
Even still the alcoholics were not the worse neighbors from my time in the Westminster. That distinction goes to the Screamer. This neighbor, who lived down the hall and closest to the exit, earned his nickname for his habit of screaming bloody murder for hours on end. It was terrifying. The first time it happened I hadn’t been in Spokane for more than a week, my mother had only been gone two days, and the start of graduate school was almost a full month away. I was alone in a city where I knew no one, and my neighbor sounded like he was being repeatedly stabbed or he was stabbing someone repeatedly. It was never clear. When it happened again, I was less alarmed. No one in the building ever reacted. Over months, it became obvious that this was a normal occurrence in the Westminster, and there was a pattern: silence, then many hours of continuous gunfire from a video game, followed by the screaming. Sometimes I wondered if I was the problem, like maybe if I’d said more to Tom than hello, we could’ve been friends, maybe smoked together.
I guess when I moved to Portland a few weeks ago, I expected to feel like I was immediately a part of a community. After the Westminster, living on a college campus and a motel I felt ready to belong somewhere. I fantasized about taking cookies to each of my neighbors or vice versa. I thought maybe we could start a game night, switching hosts weekly. I had visions of evening dog walks, and drinking sangria from a pitcher on the stairs (the latter was out immediately because the stairs are covered in pigeon droppings). Maybe, it’s still possible. We haven’t been here long. Maybe, it’s not ever going to happen while we live in this particular apartment complex. And maybe, all I can do is leave one handwritten note on each of the five doors that says, “Hello. My name is Monet. I’d like to be a good neighbor.” And see what happens.