The man in the apartment directly below me lives alone. I know this because I live alone, and our apartments are the same size- a two-room studio, where the heat crackles in bubbling steam heat during these cold November days. Our windows face the same brick courtyard, and at night, when he turns his lights on, he is reflected perfectly in the unlit window of the apartment across the courtyard.
A casual glance late at night usually reveals him alone at his window, cigarette in hand, gazing out into the stone courtyard. I can never make out his expressions, only his silhouette, faded grey and almost hologram like. It is well defined by his lit room, and I have come to watch him through my dark nights.
I’m usually seated by my window, smoking while watching Sex and the City on DVD, or reading. . .listening to music. . .doing anything to forget my woes, which are few but painfully clear to me. I, too, often turn to this silent courtyard and wonder, “What am I doing in this big, bad city? How will I make money? What should I do with my life?” In my solitude, I have only found a muted mouth, sometimes tears, and more overdue fines from Blockbuster than are acceptable.
One night, he stood on the fire escape, and began a silent conversation with himself. Soon I realized he was arguing with someone in his head- a past lover, his demons- someone specific. He fought with this other person, gesturing wildly at first, and then becoming firm with conviction. Sometimes he would stop arguing, and begin pleading with the empty courtyard. In between these outbursts, he smoked and gazed at the stars.
About a week later, we bumped into each other at the mailbox. Our eyes met, and I thought- “How strange, that I’ve seen this man at his lowest, gesturing to the night sky, pleading with the past.” I had never seen him up close before, only in shadow. He was about my age- tall, with dark eyes, and in our momentary meeting, he smiled. I smiled back, and that is all we have ever shared.
This is what I believe. I believe we are all alone, reaching for the perfect word or gesture to pull us closer to one another, but that we’ll never get it right. No one will ever know, truly know, who we are at night- our dreams and our failures, our hopes and our fears, or even how much we long for each other.
But we try. During the day, we bump into each other, we catch knowing eyes on the subway, we smile when meeting at the mailbox- we do all we can until we find ourselves alone again. And it is these small offerings that keep us coming back. It is these small gestures that connect us, and help us through the loneliness of the night.
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