I have no idea what the upstairs neighbors are doing.
Over soft-bowing cello, tinny through iPhone speakers, the hum of a HEPA air purifier, white noise of Western Avenue just beyond the alley, bar patrons bantering over cigarettes in the parking lot, and the every-12-minutes clatter of evening-service trains…all I hear is the mundane thud of footsteps across old wooden floors…and rolling.
Sometimes it’s an office chair. Other times we’re sure it’s a vacuum cleaner. The rest of the time, I think I should call the city for the herd of rare skateboarding elephants held hostage in apartment 2.
They’re not keeping me awake. (They have before, but not tonight.) Thoughts rattle around in my head tonight, loud enough to drown out all the background noise, the heavy breathing of my husband as he drifts off to an easy sleep after a long day of work.
Today was the latest in a string of not-so-great days. I am lonely even in the company of others; I am heavy-lidded, restless to the point of twitchiness, slow to smile. And when I do, I often forget why I did as quickly as the moment that inspired it.
I don't not want to be happy. But my darker instincts win out all too often lately, the negatives casting a veil of thick grey fog over even the nicest moments.
Tonight, reeling and listless from bad news on the work front, I ate Thai food until I was literally sick (I am a feelings eater). I capped off my excess with a tiny Milky Way Midnight and a too-small Reese’s Miniature snatched from the plastic Halloween bucket in the restaurant (“Take more,” the server begged).
When I checked my phone around 8:30 after an unsatisfying Roku bender, I saw a text message from Mark promising he’d be home soon then watched his white Avalon (the one without the fuel door) pull into a spot across the street. I unlocked the door and waited for a hug; we were ready to turn out the lights less than an hour later.
From the T-shirt soft cushion of his chest, I tilted my head upward and asked what had made him smile today. Without missing a beat, he answered that seeing me had made him smile. I shook my head, not content with sweet nothings.
He and I vent and complain and moan and groan so often about life’s little frustrations. I wanted him to plumb the depths of his daily memory, remember the little moments that broke up the monotony. His friend’s father is out of the hospital and resting at home after a heart attack scare. He was reaching; I don’t think his brain catalogs tiny joys the way mine is programmed to do. (His brain is far too busy cataloguing sense memories: the scent nuance of whiskey, the fruit and tannins of a Rhone blend, the acid and minerality of a Meursault he tasted 12 years prior.)
The tables turned; he asked what had made me smile. I closed my eyes.
The feeling of the sun on my face during lunch, on a warm day that makes the post-Halloween talk of Christmas music and holiday decorating seem more ludicrous than usual.
At the public library, trailing my fingers along the hold slips running the length of the wall, scanning the shelves of Ws until I found the shiny laminated hardcover with my name on its receipt-paper bookmark.
At Starbucks: a cold-brewed iced coffee for the 70-degree day, a splash of peppermint mocha for the first Central-standard-time Monday of the season.
The breathtaking first chapter of my new borrowed novel, filling me with anticipation and wonder at how I’ll ever put it down.
Even as I write this, the rise and fall of the ever-fattening Brixie’s belly as she snoozes, with the occasional soft snore as she tuck her head into a fuzzy nautilus. I am overcome with love as she yawns, sits up and offers sandpaper-tongued kisses.
Hold on. Let the sunshine burn off the fog. Fake it till you make it. This too shall pass. Tomorrow is another day.
Someone on the sidewalk let out the most pathetic sigh as he walked past. I replayed a version of his day in my head, as I often do; from the sofa pushed against a bank of windows, I hear and see a lot of things I’m not meant to.
I wonder if another first-floor dweller makes up stories about me when I'm caught in a deep sigh, head down, in an occasional moment of candor as I pass by.
Upstairs, my neighbors may actually never sleep — vampires holding those skateboarding elephants captive, then — and right now I’m wondering whether I will either.
Photo: Joel Kraut, Flickr