Sunday, June 8, 2008

Through bathroom walls

I hear my neighbours fighting when I'm in my bathroom.

In truth, my west-sided neighbours argue far less than those on the other side, who I only hear in my bedroom. But there is something uneasy about hearing those heated voices echo against porcelain in the one room that is supposed to be the bastion of privacy. Their words thrown about, seeping somehow up the drains in the windowless room as I pluck my eyebrows.

This, of course, is the reality of apartment living. There is an unintentional voyeurism about it. Unlike my tendencies for glancing in windows as I stroll by, or creating narratives for those wandering on the other side of the coffee shop pane, these glimpses into their lives are not under my control. They burst in at random intervals, no matter how mundane or ironic the reality taking place on my side of the wall is, tainting this reality with a sense of awkwardness, as though I should hurry up and get out of the bathroom.

This inadvertent eavesdropping never makes for a pleasant depiction of those involved. Unlike the drunken laughter leaking through my windows, it is only angry words that gain the momentum to pass through walls. As such, I know only of the bad in the relationship. I couldn't even pick out their faces in a line-up, yet I know how her speech speeds up as her emotions peak. I don't know what makes either member of the couple with the bedroom along ours laugh, yet I know that they have money problems, and that she is angry at his reluctance to marry her. And, when one of us happens to be locking our doors at the same time, the words "hello" barely inching out of our mouths, those angry words fly through my head, for they are all I know about them.

27 comments:

Marianne said...

I know just what you mean - I've had the half-heard snippets of neighbours' arguments as well, and we had our neighbours roung to tea few times, it was so hard not to ask about something they'd been arguing about! In our new place thankfully we only have audible peeing from above.

distractedspunk said...

I've never heard my neighbors arguing through the wall (gee whiz!) but when I lived in Manhattan, we could see into several other apartments. Sometimes, my roommate and I would sit in the living room and watch.

One night, we seriously considered inviting ourselves to a party in the apartment across the way.

Z said...

Ah, apartments... Luckily for us, ours is very well soundproofed - all I can hear of my neighbors is what seeps under the front doors when I step out into the hallway (which is a loud TV for one, and the sounds of cooking for the other). I often wonder what they hear from ours...

Beth said...

Not only is it disturbing to hear what goes on in your neighbour's lives, I'd be paranoid about anything they could hear from my side!

Nilsa S. said...

Ahhh, community living. There are definite challenges to that kind of life versus a single family home, that's for sure. It's kind of what makes Sweets and I nervous for our next home - how much will we know without ever seeing? A question rarely answered until it's too late.

lissa said...

interesting post. i had a similar problem in my old apartment, which was barely an apartment more like two rooms in the attic of a house. if i stepped into the kitchen or bathroom, i would hear my landlady screaming at her children, endless fights. disturbing for me since i grew up in a very quiet house as a child.

Half-Past Kissin' Time said...

I hope you never have sex in your bathroom! JK Princess, this is a brilliant piece of writing. Terrific.

Hey, I just set up a Google Reader; mind if I pick your brain on a couple of questions?

Your Ill-fitting Overcoat said...

Oh my goodness, this is a really wonderful post.

deutlich said...

WHY do so many women try to force a damn marriage! I DON'T GET IT! If he's not trying to marry you after x amount of years he's either REALLY against the idea or JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU

farkin' eh. move on! a;fkd;lafkj

brandy said...

That really is the worst of apartment living. In my old place I could always hear people having sex, and as awful as that was (and it was awful) I have to say I did prefer it to the yelling that would occur when SHE came home drunk and HE had been worried.

It's a strange feeling when you realize you know the deepest secrets of someone but know nothing else.

Tin Ma'am said...

that's terrible. this si why i hate living in close quarters with people... you never get the whole story, only what you can hear through paper thin walls. This is the only advantage of our country living.

Psychgrad said...

I hear my neighbours arguing when I'm in my bathroom too! Actually, while watching a movie with my neighbour yesterday, she said, "you probably hear us arguing". I told her that I did once in a while and that I cheer for her (instead of her boyfriend). I'm a shit disturber.

Ashley said...

I don't hear anything at this apartment but in my first apartment in nyc we could hear EVERYTHING in all the apartments above us thanks to the pipe that ran through our bathroom. We would hear couples having sex, someone pregnant throwing up every single night, two girls fighting about rent and this that and every other thing.

And then there were the guys above me who i seriously thought killed a puppy. They were always jumping off the bed, making it sound like they were heaving bureaus off their lofted beds from 10 feet up and one day, the dog stopped barking after one bang and people started screaming. I never saw the dog again. Hmm. Gotta love living with a bunch of people.

Bayjb said...

Ouch, that would be hard to listen to, especially because it's about personal stuff. I agree on apartment voyeurism though, I can't help but peek in windows, in a non-scary sense though :)

Alexa said...

kind like reading blog too huh? can't pick a lot of the authors out of a line up yet you know so many of their intimate details. i'm not complaining though : )

Yoda said...

Take this for voyeuristic overhearings.

Often times, I can hear a certain couple having sex through my bathroom A/C vents! I know not who they are, or where they live (these vents snake all around the building!), but I know the woman likes to make three high pitched OHHHs followed by a low pitch one! Ha!

Surfergrrl said...

I'm listening to mine rock out to rock band right now and it's not pretty.

whatlizsaid.com said...

This reminds me of that Will & Grace episode where they get so involved with the life of their neighbors below that they cannot function or go to work.

For the most part I don't like being the unintentional eavesdropper...

..and then other times, it's just... it's better than television.

You've inspired me to write about this.

Crashdummie said...

wow, guess ur getting more info abt your neighbours than you are bargain for.

Thank God I have really nice neighbours whom I hardly hear.. but that makes me think, maybe the walls arent that thick, they are just quite, hence they can hear me... aaaaah thats just freaky!

NamesAreHardToPick said...

To true of apartment life; I am one of the lucky few to have never been attracted to a fellow apartment liver. I can't imagine what it would be like to like someone, develop a crush, and then find out they're a total psycho path.

Katelin said...

well i think i'd rather hear my neighbors argue than having sex, haha.

but i still get what you mean.

Carrie said...

I don't really hear my neighbors much, and I think they both live alone. BUT, my bedroom is right next to the stairwell, so...yeah, people hear me and my boyfriend having sex. What can you do? It's not like we're going to stop just because people can hear.

Matt said...

I have the same problem...and I am not even sure of what my neighbors look like.

Yet I have this idea in my head of what they look like and who they are, etc.

Sheila said...

*Sends shivers down my spine*
My sister once lived in a town house where sounds could be heard through the bathroom wall - the sounds of her neighbor in his bathroom. Sometimes it felt like I was in a public restroom stall.

the frog princess said...

I often hear my downstairs neighbors on the phone when I'm sitting on the toilet. Even though I'm the one unintentionally eavesdropping, it always makes me feel like I'm being watched...

S'Mat said...

"Ever since I drilled the peephole into my floor I've been inadvertently overwatching my neighbours make videos of..."
You people! Funny how everyone here has stories of listening and not of being overheard.
I seem to remember stopping the reading of The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 7 or 8 because I couldn't work out what Strider meant by 'The walls have ears.' It seemed a stupid -if not physically disgusting- image at the time.
But now I get it.

chasinglibby said...

that's so tough. i hate it when people hear me upset...it's like vulnerable side of you is exposed, to someone you didn't realize could hear you.