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Sing Like No One’s Listening (Except When People Are Listening)


There is a wall in our bedroom that separates our half of the duplex from the neighbor’s half. Our units are mirror images of one another, with the shared wall acting as the mirror. That means that he sleeps right alongside us on the other side of that wall.

Now, to say that the wall separates us might be giving it too much credit. It separates us in the way that it makes passing a cup of borrowed sugar through it pretty darn hard, but that’s pretty much it. I am convinced that it’s not actually a bona fide wall made of bona fide wall materials but that it’s constructed from a very thin layer of papier mΓ’chΓ©. One day I will forget and roll over with too much emphasis, breaking through it and falling out on the other side on my neighbor’s bed.

There is no way it is anything but papier mΓ’chΓ© because we can hear everything. For example, I know he likes county music. So much so that that is his preferred genre to wake up to. I know this because one long weekend he forgot to turn off his clock radio before leaving town and for three days I, too, woke up to country. I also know there is some strife in the family caused by a “punk ass little brother who deserves to get his teeth kicked in.” I know because I heard him on the phone as I was washing dishes in the kitchen while a man mowed his lawn across the street. In the early mornings, before the truck depot next door roars to life, I can even hear him tinkle.

One of the most annoying things about the wall is that we both have to pretend like it’s there and that it properly does all of its wall duties. One day we both arrived home at the same time and after the usual hellos and how do you dos, as we both stood unlocking our doors, I found myself wanting to ask, “So how’s that kid brother of yours?” Maybe I could say it in a Boston accent, a South Boston accent. That would feel right. But as soon as that thought flew into my head, I remembered I had learned about this kid brother through way of The Wall, making it an off limits topic for discussion.

As I can hear his every move, I am pretty sure he can hear everything we do too. He is probably thinking Again? More of The Wire? How many episodes of that show are there?? So because I’d like to be a nice neighbor and because I was raised to believe that neighbors should be good to each other, Alan and I live as though we have a third roommate to consider. Just because he can’t be seen, only heard, doesn’t mean we should keep him up late with our TV shows and music and gossip. So after 10 we take things down a few notches. It is not very fun, but that is what we are willing to do since he is such a good neighbor himself.

On Saturday afternoon, the neighbor came by to tell us that he was going out of town on business for a few days and that we should park in his parking spot. When he left I beamed with excitement. This meant that we could watch The Wire loudly and all night. What a treat!

Monday rolled around and Alan asked when the neighbor would be getting back into town. I shrugged, I think he had said something about Tuesday.

After getting out of the shower that night, I decided to — oh, what the heck — take advantage of our last night of audible freedom. I did the only thing one could do in a situation like that: I got on my laptop and played Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” full blast. Have you heard this song? How can anyone not like this song?

Alan finished brushing his teeth and came out of the bathroom. He took a step and stopped.

“What is this?” he demanded, bewildered.
“What do you mean? It’s Taylor Swift!” I said happily.
“It’s so cheesy!”
“No it’s not!”
“She’s on the bleachers, I’m cheer captain?” he quoted from the song.
“That’s not what she’s saying,” I retorted. And then, in the most obnoxious, teeny-bopper voice possible, I began belting out “You Belong With Me” to prove Alan wrong.

I had my eyes closed I was so into it, and I had just gotten to the third verse — was preparing to hit the high notes — when all of a sudden, loud, disturbed disgruntled rumblings came from next door.

I stopped singing and opened my eyes.

“I think someone is in the neighbor’s place,” I whispered, afraid there was a burglar on the loose.
“Oh yeah, he’s home. I saw his truck pull up earlier,” Alan said.

And then I pictured him lying in bed, sound asleep, being abruptly awoken by my terrible, really bad singing. But I wasn’t just singing, I was pretending to be Taylor Swift, twang and all. I even had my eyes closed. And then I pretty much wanted to curl into a small ball and die. Today we pulled up at the same time after work, and truth be told, I could not look the man in the eye.

Last modified: January 10, 2019