One day you meet one of the very people. He is shorter than you expected, with dark hair and a syrupy stilted smile. You wanted to make fun of him, to laugh at him and then dismiss him, but you cannot. His is a small and quiet charm, and you are charmed. He apologizes for all the noise from upstairs, shrugging. You think of the string of symbols, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and you can’t help it—somehow animal instinct takes over and it’s as though suddenly you are the star of your own stop action animation video, which if it was set to music would feature a soundtrack persuasive and inevitable, like Superstar by Sonic Youth, and you see the next sequence come roaring out of the future, leisurely and agonizing—before you can stop it a shrug comes out of you too. You almost die on the spot. You’re the girl who just shrugged at the guy who shrugged at you, in an unfortunate call and response shrugging incident. You feel yourself blushing like a Victorian maiden. You hate yourself.
“We probably shouldn’t live in an apartment.” He says this quietly, much more quietly than you expect from living beneath him for fourteen months, very loud, very ugly, very aggressive. He is none of these things.
“That’s okay. I’m sure I’m loud too, sometimes.” You are never loud. You modulate the volume on everything you do, partly out of respect for the strangers around you and partly out of fear of a confrontational social situation, a knocking at the door and a more or less polite encounter with someone you’ve never met before and you’re not even sure if you’ve seen them before either. You are mildly embarrassed that you do not say something to him about his noise, that you do not stand up for yourself more.
“Hey, do you want to come over sometime? I’m sure Carrie would love to meet you.” You knew that her name was Carrie, having heard it shouted by him at 5:45pm on a Tuesday three weeks after you moved in. You also knew his name was Max before he introduced himself—his name has been screeched several times in the middle of the night. This always wakes you up and always makes you uncomfortable. You have, once, masturbated yourself back to sleep. You are positive that he didn’t already know that your name is Kate.
“Yeah, that would be...that would be great.” You don’t know if it will be great, you don’t know if it will be great at all, but you don’t know what else to say to the curly haired man.
“I know this sounds crazy, but how about tonight? We’re having a couple of friends over—nothing fancy, but a little get together. You could hang.” You usually cannot hang, but you do not say this.
“Sure—why not?” This is not like you. You scramble to come up with excuses to avoid spontaneous social events. You do not drop by for a visit unannounced, you do not go out casually in the evening if it hasn’t been arranged ahead of time, you do not ever go see bands play without purchasing the ticket at least three days in advance. You tell yourself it will be a good story for your friends, who are getting tired of hearing your monologues about the very people. You do not tell yourself that you need to replace the mythic people in your head with real people you’ve met before you get any weirder about the whole situation.
“What time should I come by? I’ll bring a bottle of wine.” Just like that, you go upstairs to apartment 42. Just like that, you are invited inside.
Carrie is also not what you expected her to look like. She has an aura of cigarettes and Beatles boots and Bratwurst. She comes off polite but also ignores you. She is wearing tortoiseshell glasses and is short. She is wearing a fake fur coat, cheetah print, even though it is hot enough that the windows are fogged up and you can’t see out. She has brown hair. You guess she’s twenty seven; later you’ll find out she’s thirty one. She takes your proffered Beaujolais Nouveau and retreats back into the kitchen, although she’s not a woman who retreats, or who spends much time in the kitchen.
You walk around the corner of the entrance hallway, the odd sinuous waste of space layout that, of course, exactly echoes yours below. They have a rug and a plant stand with a spindly plant in it where you have nothing. The plant is browned and decrepit, with one brave leaf sticking up as if it’s a drowning sailor groping for a life preserver; this makes sense, as there is no natural light in the hallway. You plumb further into the depths, past their bathroom (green tile where yours is yellow), past their bedroom (mattress on a pallet, but it looks good, very nonchalant and bohemian—not the type of bohemian that’s currently in vogue, but the true, original bohemian of the Chelsea Hotel in the 70’s or Paris in the 20’s—a message is sent of paucity and art and sex), and end up in their living room. It feels both completely foreign and incredibly familiar and you stand there for a moment, enjoying the feeling you get when the world tilts slightly on its axis. It is an afternoon nap that takes you so far out of yourself that you wake up in the gloaming, confused and unsure of your boundaries. It is visiting your elementary school twenty years later, although you have never done this because why would you. It is turning to the person standing next to you and finding a stranger’s dead eyes and blank face. It is a winter afternoon at 3:36pm when you look out the window and try to understand any of it.