My neighbors are at it again. Through these cinderblock walls, I’ve come to learn they’re a family: a mother, her son, and his girlfriend. They yell everyday about something, usually involving the son telling the women to shut up. The mother desperately wants the son to move out on his own because, frankly, it’s about time. He must be around my age. Today there are all sorts of shrieks and thuds, frustrated moans of “Shut up! You women never shut up!” and a high-pitched wail, “I’m a liar! I’m a liar! He called me a liar!” on behalf of his girlfriend. Sobbing follows, then accusations that I can only imagine are punctuated by pointy fingers and squinty eyes.
For this reason alone I am thankful I was raised an only child.
I can’t help but push my ear against the wall hoping to catch the context of today’s disagreement. I hear complaints of how he was brought into the world and raised not by his choice, how he’s stuck in the apartment, how he would love to move out of the house, and no, he’s not blaming his mother. I can make out a Spanish accent in the mother’s voice and I imagine her sitting at a glass-topped dining room table, a lace doily adorning the center of it, bills and magazines scattered on its surface, and she is drinking a glass of ice water. The glass is sweating in the heat of the argument, tearing down its sides into a pool. The mother has her chin resting in her hands watching the young couple writhe in blameful words, and I think she is probably weary. I am weary listening to them through cement. To share a room with their complaints would seem to be a deafening, wearisome experience.
You need to break up, I would tell them. This isn’t good for your health. It isn’t passion, it’s ridiculous, I’d say, after knocking on their maroon door and introducing myself as their neighbor who, thanks to their regular disagreements, can offer them advice based on the intricacies of their relationship. Are you really happy, I’d ask them. Because it’s not often I hear truly happy people throw insults at each other like kisses.
But most of it is muffled frenzy. It comes in waves through the walls, as if the cinderblock is able to filter through most of the nonsense at a consistent volume, but that which escalates to heights beyond what the walls are capable of concealing, pierces through the material and appears in my living room and I’m helpless to do anything but listen.
Otis seems unaffected by their anger. His method of coping with this kind of annoyance is to lick a sock filled with catnip and to lie down spread eagle on the wooden floor. I tried it once myself but couldn’t get past the feeling of dry cotton on my tongue. Instead I resort to pressing my ear against cold concrete hoping to make some kind of sense out of their sad story.