Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mining life for class


When I decide to direct the movie of my life, my neighbours won't be in it. Their rotating arsenal of suspicious-looking guests will be glossed over as garden-variety trapeze artists performing for the poor. The midnight dry-heaving contests will be re-imagined as weekend games of hallway ring toss. And what of those 2 a.m. escapades that eventually lead to, "Lily! Open up. I haven't been drinking. I just want to talk to you"?

"Surprise package for the special gal next door!" the script will no doubt revise. Well, goodness me! Come on in. Don't act like we're strangers now.

It's not that I don't like my neighbours, mind you. Just one of them. The moodier of the two, the one helpfully named "Moody." Hair styled like Diana Ross, more bags under his eyes than an airport terminal, the man is a lightning rod for possessive women wanting marathon sex for two.

Moody was again having issues with his girlfriend one day which developed into a menagerie of predictable patterns. What began as something tolerable morphed into Dynasty for Dummies, replete with teased hair and running mascara smudged for killer effect. Her: A petite Italian with a penchant for stretchy pants and a temper just as flammable. Him: Pink shirts, gold chains, a seniors craft night project under the right lighting conditions. So I'd be lying if I said I didn't get some glee out of the inevitable fist in his face as she tore into her familiar spiel:

"You can't treat me like this!" she screamed by the elevators after having just been locked out. "I love you! I hate you! I hate you 'cause I love you! Baby, baby, baby - please don't do this to me!"

Of course, he yelled back and she fought back, until they both fizzled out at dawn, having exhausted their limit of Arabic profanities for the day in typical melodramatic fashion.

It was clear that they were exhibitionists. But I had become the voyeur.

I followed these quarrels outside my door and concocted fanciful narratives until speculation turned into profound sympathy when the arguments grew to be more frequent. Sometimes booze would be involved, but more often if would only appear that way (what with the remote controls and laptops being thrown, dropped, and hurled with not a drop of concern). I could hear her crying through the crappy thin walls; there was something bitterly familiar about them. She'd make accusations and he'd deny them, over and over again.

It was at this time that my (loosely defined) ex dared to show his face again. There had been no closure between us, no apologies, he simply vanished to date someone else. Resentment was finally dissipating, I was ready to fully let go, until his timely return brought with it more games of validation than the illusions of celebrity plastic surgeons. I hated him, yet I could only be gracious even as he tried by patience like before (since taking the high road is what the scorned do best and anything less would have been unsightly). So when the ex wasn't making a statement to get a rise out of me, Moody was there to take the evening shift. My curious involvement in the couple's distress was really a reflection of my own.

Their nightly kabuki-style performances highlighted what should have been, for me, more obvious: mutual respect wasn't supposed to be that hard to come by. What failed to materialize between the stonewalling and the sarcastic quips was our utter incompatibility of the heart. I'd curtail his ego and he'd ignore me for days, and what I saw in Moody, I always justified in him: qualities deemed cute only by the masochist, pettiness explained as if it was playfulness.

I still see the ex sometimes and he still plays the martyr. Moody still argues with his girlfriend even as he searches for someone new. But I have yet to stop to listen in when they go off like bad food in the dumpster. Now I simply leave a message on their front door written on Post-Its of purple and blue:

IT'S 4 A.M.



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