Monday, April 15, 2013

Do you know what happens next door?

Have you ever thought about how little we know about our neighbors? You know, the people we meet by the mailbox or wish a good day to, yet often don't even know their names? Sometimes after time passes it's even embarrassing to ask or introduce yourself. They move in, you exchange basic pleasantries, then you assume they moved away because they don't seem to be around anymore. I don't how many times I've had a person come up to me and say: I know you, we lived in the same complex! Other times with those I actually recognized would tell me that while our paths used to cross for a smile or a hello, that brief second you make a human connection they had not lived there for months, a year or two. And I didn't even notice they were gone. I guess time truly flies. But in all those cases, as friendly as you get, it never got beyond a few lines, a joke. The guy with the take out box I shared a few laughs with or the man with the big black dog I jokingly called a horse. We were never friends, although we were friendly. And given how nice and open everybody is, you never really wonder who they really are. You share a living space but you know nothing about them.  You base your opinion on blink of an eye impressions, assume the best and try to see the best in people, yet you can't possibly know what goes on behind the closed doors.

On my way out to the bus stop every day I would pass by an apartment undergoing some serious reconstruction. The management found a dead house cat inside after the tenant moved away. I remembered the kitty- she would always sit on the window greeting everybody that walked by. It took them a few weeks just to get the smell out, they were ripping out the floors, replacing the cabinets. Day after day, the maintenance would drill and hammer working on something inside. For a while you could see the refrigerator pushed out to the middle of the living room. Apparently it was filled with maggots when they inspected the unit and they were looking for a way to sanitize it. Even to let stand and breathe before anyone came by and cleaned it. The floors were covered in trash left behind- paper cups and pizza boxes and wrappers. I don't consider myself the cleanest person by any means but this was beyond explanation. The complex expects to restore the apartment to the move out condition within reason. Every stain, a coat of paint, an item of trash means additional charges. That apartment required work beyond simple cleaning and it made me wonder, how can people live this way? The tenant seemed to have left behind most of their belongings, clothing and trendy electronics, perhaps as a way of set off    for the obvious debts they would face. We never understood what happened. Did they have a mental breakdown that nobody caught in time? We've met. Seemed like such a nice person. We shared a few hellos and a few smiles. And as the news spread throughout the complex everybody said: We would have never believed it,  such a pleasant neighbor! It really got me to think about how little we know about these who are often the closest to us in proximity. We assume we can understand them, because they feel like everyone else. Yet we can never know what a person thinks, what's hiding behind  a smile, what goes on behind closed door.

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