Normally, I avoid domestic disputes, but this girl is standing in the middle of my hallway, and she's hitting herself in the head. With her own shoes. I could turn around, take the elevator back down to the lobby, and notify the doorman. But Omar knows I'm a cop. He'd send me right back up here.
She's my next-door neighbor, unit 1612. Her name is Katie or Kathy or something cute that doesn't quite fit, especially now. She's a small girl with a lot of blond hair and a mouth even worse than mine. She lived here by herself when I moved in two years ago. The first time her late-night partying kept me up, I tried to be reasonable: I slipped a friendly note under her door. The next few times, I made official complaints to the Association. The last time, about a year ago, I invited my co-workers over. They busted her snorting coke with a couple suits from the Board of Trade. Since then, she never says hello.
"You'll be fucking sorry when I'm fucking dead, you fucking asshole," she yells, the profanities accentuated with a swift heel to her head. A forearm full of gold bracelets clinks, echoing her swing. I figure she's high, but when she sees me she pauses, her arms midair, and her eyes are clear with conviction. I try to think of something to say. "Excuse me" doesn't seem appropriate. I feel like I'm in her way.
She takes a step back, politely allowing me to pass, like this is an everyday thing. I stand there like an idiot. How can she be so serious when she looks so ridiculous? When I don't take the opportunity to make a break for my place, she turns her attention, her yelling, and her shoes to the door.
"Did you hear what I said, you son of a bitch? Do you even care if I die?"
The door couldn't care less.
I've heard her arguing with this guy through my adjoining living room wall for a few weeks now. Senseless, hurtful arguing. Arguing about arguing. One night after a double shift I thought I could sleep for a week and I didn't sleep at all because I could hear them. What did you just say? Say it again. I dare you. I felt like a kid back home with my parents in the next room. And just like when I was a kid, I tried not to listen. I closed my eyes and tried to think about other things. I told myself it wasn't my problem to solve. Back then it became my problem. Now, it's right in the middle of my hallway.
"You think you can find someone better than me?" the girl asks. "Besides your mother?" Ouch.
When the girl gets no response, she starts assaulting the door with her shoes. I'm comforted it stands between them.
I look both ways. There's no one else around, though I'm sure they're all listening from inside their condos. Granted, that's where most of them solve their own crises.
By now, the humor of the scene is wearing thin, even when one of her French-manicured fingernails pops off. It just adds insult to insult.
The girl keeps at it, and part of me wants to join her and yell at the guy too. I'm sure he's guilty of something. I work with men. My best friends are men. I know how they operate. The guys who play games can go play them at a bowling alley as far as I'm concerned.
On the other hand, this girl hasn't exactly worn a halo since we've been neighbors. It might not be my best move, but I decide to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. I get behind her and grab her arms to stop her from whacking me in the head. Surprisingly, she doesn't resist me. Maybe she wanted me to stop her. The shoes slip out of her hands and into mine. Maybe she's tired. Maybe she's ready to talk.
Or maybe she wants me to hold her shoes so she can bang her head directly against the door.
In her defense, I know sometimes there's no reasoning with a woman in love. My dad ran around with every woman from here to Gary, Indiana, and my mom always accepted his lame excuses. No matter what he did, she'd always take him back. I guess the good times must have been good enough for my mom. Of course I haven't discounted the possibility that she stayed with my dad just to make him miserable. I'm the first to admit she might have been a little nuts. To her credit, though, I never saw her yell at a door.
"You better let me in, Jerry, or I'll do it!" the girl in the hallway yells, and to this, she gets a response. The door opens, and Jerry, a surprisingly calm-looking individual, tosses a bottle of pills at her. He catches her off guard, and the bottle ricochets off her rib cage like a poorly lobbed whiffle ball. It doesn't make a sound when it hits the carpet.
"Do it, then," he says. "You're crazy." Then he acknowledges me with a neighborly nod and closes the door as quietly as he opened it. The lock clicks. She looks over at me like she wants to confirm we just witnessed an atrocity, then snatches her shoes from my hands.
I pick up the pills. They're alprazolam, a generic anti-anxiety drug. When the girl resumes her raucous battle of footwear versus door, I think Jerry might be on to something.
At this point I decide I'm going to stick with my first instinct and find an acceptable way out. When we get a domestic violence call, the guys usually want me to deal with the woman, like we have some allegiance. It generally doesn't work. In fact, I tend to make women more hysterical, and that's about the last thing this girl needs.
I know I should keep my mouth shut, go home, and get ready for my date. I don't.
"Maybe you should take a break. This whole hysterical thing isn't getting you anywhere." I shake the bottle of pills like a maraca.
She tucks the shoes under her arm and takes the bottle from me. "Asshole," she mutters as she reads the label. "These won't kill me."
"He knows you're not going to kill yourself," I tell her. "You want him to respond to you? You put those shoes on your feet and walk away."
"This is my place. If I kill myself, he'll have to move out." She's clearly not listening, but at least she's talking herself out of it. "He can't afford the rent." She smacks the door a few more times before she runs out of steam and slumps to the carpet.
"Do you have somewhere else you can go?" I hope she says yes.
"Why should I have to leave? He's the one who left the goddamned tickets in his pants pocket. He expects me to be psychic. I spend all day at the Laundromat while he's God knows where, and when he comes back he acts like I deliberately ruined his big plans . . ."
Wait a minute. "You're threatening suicide over a load of laundry?"
Her answering glare is as close to a fuck you as you can get without saying it.
I am really no good at this. If I ask about the tickets, I'm acting like a cop. Actually if I ask her anything she'll be defensive. What I really want to do is tell her to take one of those pills so I can get on my way. I can see my door from here, and I can hear my phone ringing. I'll bet it's Mason, wondering where I am. He's not going to believe this.
I stand there and stare at the wall, waiting patiently for her to make the next move. I notice a subtle leafy pattern in the wallpaper. Did they remodel? This is the longest I've ever spent in this hallway.
"Do you have a cigarette?" the girl asks me, though she's not really asking. She knows I smoke. She also knows I'm a cop. And she thinks I owe her.
I hand her my pack of Camels and a lighter.
"I can go get Omar," I offer.
She hands me one of my smokes like she didn't hear me. Great. Two years of successfully avoiding each other, and now she wants to bond.
"Have you ever been in love?" she asks me as she reaches up to light my cigarette.
I make the first drag of my smoke a long one. I'm deciding if honesty will be helpful or the beginning of a conversation that'll have me stuck here all night.
"Yes," I finally answer. I sit down next to her. I knew I'd feel guilty for busting her someday. If I can make sure she's not going to off herself right here, though, I'll be on my way after this cigarette with a clear conscience. She looks so vulnerable, sitting cross-legged in her pink socks. I wonder if they're supposed to be that color. Maybe she screwed them up in the wash, too.
"Are you in love now?" she asks.
"Yeah." It feels good to admit it.
"Does he lock you out of your own damn condo?"
"No. But I don't do his laundry."
"Does he make you think you're crazy? Like everything's your fault?"
"No." There's something so childlike about the way she looks up at me, anticipating the rest of my answer. I give it some thought. "You know, you should think about why you two fell in love in the first place. Was it the way you folded his T-shirts? Or how you cook spaghetti?" I've smelled things burning over there, so I say, "I doubt it. You probably devoted every free minute you had to each other. But now you live together, and everything is reversed. Instead of anticipating what could happen next, you expect things to happen. Instead of making an effort to be together, you resent the time you spend on the couch. And love gets lost in the details. In the bills. The dishes. You take that stuff away, and you still love each other . . ." I'm even impressing myself with this theory, and I think I can get through to her, but then I smell something else burning, and I notice she's using my lighter to singe her arm hair.
Jerry's right, this girl is crazy. I take away the lighter and she starts to giggle. I can't tell if she's laughing at me or at the fact that she's burned off a lengthy trail of hair. Childlike is right.
"Good luck." I give up. I get up.
"Can I ask a serious question?" she asks before I can take a step past her.
I wait for it.
"How do you do it? How do you make it work?"
Just then, her door opens about six inches and hangs there. Looks like Jerry has had a change of heart.
The girl jumps up, leaving her shoes and her pills, forgetting all about me and how I make things work. The funny thing is, she wouldn't believe me if I told her. She'd think I was crazy.
The door closes behind them as I approach my place, feeling smart, and also regretting the fact that I've never given anyone the power to lock me out.
Copyright © 2005 by Theresa Schwegel