You don’t know me, but you do.
We’ve never met in person, never stood face to face. I’ve only seen your warped figure through the spy-hole. I did try to meet you once, on one of my rare anti anti-social days. One of your thousands of parcels from Amazon arrived but you weren’t home to sign for it, so I did, and put it on my kitchen table. The temptation to open it was almost too much. Then the thought of you kindly collecting one of my parcels and secretly opening it to discover acne cream or a sex toy or a book about serial killers made me cringe, so I managed to stop myself out of neighbourly respect.
I waited until the evening when I assumed you’d be home from work. I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair, put a little makeup on: tried to make myself resemble a normal human being, a young woman that perhaps you’d like to be friends with. I psyched myself up, picked up your parcel, walked the short way down the hall and knocked on your door. Nothing. I noticed that I was shaking more than usual, clutching the brown box with your name on it. I worried that my knocking wasn’t confident or loud enough, and although I couldn’t hear you moving around inside, I knocked again – a little too loudly this time. Nothing. Embarrassed, I scuttled back to my flat and locked the door behind me. Still holding your parcel, I resolved to try again after dinner.
I really wanted to be friends with you then. I gather that you’re about the same age as me, mid- to late-twenties. I hear you gabbing on the phone to your girlfriends and you sound exactly like my girls, the girls that I called my best friends until I pushed every one of them away and out of my life, with no explanation or valid reason. You order lots of beauty products off the internet. And clothes. And shoes. Never any books, not like me. But hey, I guess that’s what “normal” girls do, girls that I should be friends with. I was proud of myself for reaching out (knocking on your door), for being kind and helpful to a stranger when I could’ve just ignored the buzzer, for actively trying to make an effort to make a friend. I got ahead of myself, imagining you popping in to my flat for a glass of wine after work, us eating Chinese takeaway together, me borrowing your fancy clothes, us watching daft reality shows together, laughing into the night. I thought, “I could make a friend, I could have a friend.” And a “good, normal” female friend, as opposed to the shitcunt men that I currently call “my mates.” About 10pm, I knocked again. No reply. I left the parcel by your door, worried that if it got swiped by someone else in the building, it’d be my fault, but secretly relieved that I didn’t actually have to see you or speak to you, confirming my irrational belief that everyone is stupid, I don’t do friendship and I’m better off alone.
That was then. Now, I’m scared to meet you in person because I think you’ll look at me with a face full of concern, no, worse: a face full of pity. Twice now you’ve heard him kicking off at me. Shouting at ungodly hours. Chucking cans and furniture about, smashing glasses, slamming doors. Punching a hole in my wall. Me pleading with him to keep his voice down. Then you’ve heard me screaming at him, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE,” and throwing his belongings out into our shared hallway.
You’ve heard the “aggghhh” sounds I make when I’m in agony, when all of my muscles are pulled and all of my bones feel broken and all of my organs ache.
You’ve heard the police at my door, you’ve heard the home treatment team calling out my name, giving up on me and shuffling away. You’ve heard someone trying to break my door down after I barricaded myself inside.
You’ve heard me coming home drunk at stupid o’clock, tripping on the stairs, dropping my keys. You’ve heard me accept a takeaway delivery 3 nights in a row because I was too weak and depressed to cook.
You’ve heard me screaming and wailing that I want to see my dad, I just want to see my dad. You’ve heard me crying too many times to count. Sobbing for hours. Banging my head against the wall.
I’ve heard you too. I hear you pacing in the kitchen. Four steps one way, four steps the other. On and on and on and on. Four steps left, four steps right. Four, four. Four, four. Sometimes you pause. I think, “Has she stopped?” Then four again, and four again. I wonder what you’re doing. Constant exercise – anorexia? OCD? Stress? Workout DVD?
I hear you having sex with your boyfriend. Usually between 4 and 5pm on Thursdays. Maybe that’s when he visits. Maybe it’s scheduled. Either way, the sound of you (pretending?) to come makes me feel uncomfortable but in a strange show of sisterly solidarity, I think “at least she’s getting some.” My boyfriend never came round to mine because it’s too cold and cramped and smoky and I don’t have a TV and rarely have food. You probably think I’m single and lonely. (I am now, but I’m okay with it).
I hear you arguing with your boyfriend too. Never as violent as my arguments, never as loud. But I hear your raised voices and I hear you lock yourself in the bathroom, then I hear him leave. I’m too scared to look out of the window and discover what he looks like, because if he ever hurts you, and I know what he looks like, I will hunt him down and kill him with my bare hands.
Last time, when it seemed you and the other neighbours and the rest of the building thought that that one guy was going to kill me, I could hear you banging on my kitchen wall, like you were trying to let me know that you were there and let him know that there’s a witness. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” you shouted through the wall. He finally left. The police never showed. Then, when I emerged from my flat some hours later, there was a note by my door and a big orange gerbera daisy with the stem cut short standing in water in a shot glass. The note said, “Hope ur OK girlie. If I ever see that scumbag round here again I’ll call the police for real. No man is worth ur tears! L (FLAT 21) xoxo” I cried and put the flower by bed and the note in my notebook.
Once I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, psyching myself up to leave the house as I have to do every time, even if it’s just to check for mail. Our bathrooms are connected by the same wall, just as our kitchens are; the layout of our flats are a reflection of each other’s. I was staring and muttering under my breath, when I heard you run a bath. I remember thinking, “You’re home early.” Then I kept on with my pep-talk, putting lipstick on and taking it off, putting it on and taking it off. I heard you turn off the tap and climb in the bath. Then I heard you cry. You were crying softly, but I could hear it as if you were in my bathroom, in my bath. I sank to the floor, wearing my coat and scarf and shoes, with my bag on my shoulder, and I listened.
How sad it was, that two young women, with barely a foot of wall separating them, technically only a metre or so apart, could feel so sad and alone on a Friday night when they should be having the time of their lives. I wanted to hug you but I couldn’t, so I sat with you (but not with you) until the tears stopped and I heard the plug be pulled and the bathwater drain away. Then I cut one of the yellow roses of the bunch I’d been given the day before to a short stem, put it in the shot glass you’d given me and filled it with water. I left the rose by your door with a note saying, “You are stronger today than you were yesterday, and tomorrow you’ll be stronger still! H – flat 20 xx”
I don’t know you, but I do. You don’t know me, but you do. And we know more true things about each other and have been through so much over these 3 years spent separated by a wall than some “real-life friends” may have over a lifelong friendship.
Thank you for being there, next door, and for not being there the day I knocked: if we’d met for real that day we might well have hated each other. After all, you listen to Nicki Minaj in the shower while I listen to Oasis, and I hear you watching Keeping Up With The Karcrashians while you probably hear me listening to true crime podcasts, and you order clothes from posh brands while I only ever buy clothes from charity shops but, without meeting, I know one thing for certain: I’ve got you, girlie.
With love and respect,