I live in a small one bedroom apartment in a reasonably nice neighborhood. It isn’t my apartment, I don’t pay any rent, I sleep in the living room. The apartment is attached to a house, and it is rented by my friend, who is kind enough to let me share her space.
We smoke, but we don’t smoke inside. We sit on the stairs of the porch, chainsmoking and making noise. We stare in the open windows of the house next door. We watch the boys that live there play Dungeons and Dragons into the wee hours, and we feel sorry for them, even though they seem happy. We are judgmental this way. It is not unlikely that they feel sorry for us with our beer bottles and our cigarettes and our too loud laughs. They are not who we want to be and we are not who they want to be and we all make the mistake of thinking that this must mean there is unhappiness on the other side.
One of these boys that we turn into one dimensional line drawings in our heads and our jokes has found a girlfriend. She’s oddly beautiful, and it makes me think there is something wrong with her. I sit on the stairs and I smoke and I watch them cook. Occasionally I remember to pretend not to watch them, but for the most part I stare openly, I Jane Goodall at the apes I make them unabashedly.
Usually when I watch people I write their conversations in my head, but I am too fascinated by their kitchen dance tonight that I can’t even do that. He dips low on his giraffe neck and kisses her awkwardly. There is no fluidity here, there is only an attempt at easiness. She is tiny and asian and he is always too tall for her, even when he ducks his head and hunches a bit. His glasses slide when he does this and he has to catch them before they fall – he clearly thinks they’ll break and he might be right. He’s always wearing the same shirt, a jersey for a European football team. I’ve noticed before that he is always wearing this shirt, I’ve wondered if maybe he has 5 of them in his closet, all lined up and then I’ve decided that no, he is not that kind of boy at all. He is instead the kind of boy who does not realize that shirts need to be washed and so wears the same one until even he notices the smell and then he wonders what to do while it’s in the wash. It is a good thing he does not have breasts. Still, for her, I would have thought he’d find a new shirt. Maybe he washed this one in her honor. She’s awfully new for him. It makes me angry that I can’t read the name of the club on the jersey. The glass distorts the lettering just enough, and I feel like I should know just from looking at it but I do not, and I can’t decide whether to be angry at him or myself. I want to go pound on the glass and insist that he tell me, but first they were making dinner and then they were having dinner and now they are watching something on his computer and it never seems like the right time to make a lunatic’s demand, so I don’t.
We live on the edges of the University District, and there are several of these interchangeable boys that live in the house next door, and so I am fairly certain they all go to school, and every once in awhile I remember to wonder what they are studying, but mostly I am studying them and what they are studying doesn’t mean much to me.
They get up to clean and she is less beautiful than I thought she was. She puts away The Joy of Cooking and he is wearing a wrist brace I hadn’t noticed before and I think he injured his wrist before he met her. He seems like the kind that would have an asian girlfriend. I can’t help it, that’s what I think when I look at them. It is what you would think, too.
They kiss again and this time her arms are wrapped around him. This causes him considerable trouble with his glasses but she doesn’t seem to notice. Maybe she just doesn’t care. She knows what she is to him. Their relationship is unbalanced in these quiet moments. Pieces of both of them know this. Pieces of both of them are devoted to hiding this knowledge from each other, and still other pieces are devoted to hiding it from themselves.
In one tiny instant as she turns away, he looks directly at me and I know he knows what I’m doing here. In that same instant he reminds me of someone I knew when I was younger, and I hate them both for making me aware of all the time that’s gone by and all the ways I am not who I was. I consider setting fire to the house, but that’s only a passing fancy and I am not really bitter, I do not really want to go back. I’ve learned so much in the time away, and I do not miss me as much as we always believe we will miss the selves we lose.
I hope we never make eye contact again. There’s too many layers of glass between us for anything to make sense, and I suspect that after the glass there’s just more confusion.