Lately, I’ve been wondering how come people who live in a country that left its footprint on Mars can’t find a decent apartment surrounded by walls thick enough to block the sounds that their neighbors produce. Because more than once, I’ve found myself hearing activities that I really, really didn’t need to hear.
My problems started when I was living in San Francisco. One night I woke up to the loud noise of a rowing machine. I couldn’t figure out why my upstairs neighbor had decided to embark on an exercise regime at midnight. Didn’t he have to go to work in the morning? Didn’t he know our walls were paper-thin? Why was he so inconsiderate?
I suffered through the night, plotting revenge on the neighbor. My partner, now my ex, covered his head with a pillow and mumbled curses.
The next night we woke up to the sound of the rowing machine, again. We waited to see how long it would take our dear neighbor to tire, but from the noise, he sounded like an accomplished athlete. The rowing went on for so long, I figured that he could have reached New Zealand by morning.
On the third night, my ex, who was usually a mellow guy, finally lost it. He got a broom from the kitchen and, to my horror, started hitting our bedroom ceiling with the broomstick so hard, that he put a hole in the sheetrock. As pieces of plaster and dust rained on the carpet and the bed, the rowing finally stopped. I applauded my ex and eventually fell asleep.
The next day, my ex told me that he had run into our upstairs neighbor.
“Did he apologize?” I asked.
“He asked what my problem was banging on the walls so hard in the middle of the night.”
“Your problem? Did you tell him that his bedroom is not a gym?”
“He said he was having sex.”
I needed a few seconds to let it sink in. Then, I wanted to ask, “With whom?” and, “Who could do this for such a long time?” But why should I care?
I was more than glad that I’d never met that neighbor, and soon afterwards I left San Francisco and moved to Monterey. But my thin-wall troubles did not end.
In Monterey, I learned to speculate about the relationships of my upstairs neighbors based on the noises that came from their bedroom… and… their bathroom. I didn’t want to do it, but they left me no choice.
The first couple who lived above me never had sex. I could hear the man sneeze and cough and snore in his sleep and the toilet flush every morning, but no rowing machines or lusty moans. When the man lost two hundred pounds and moved out, I was not surprised. I knew he was on a mission to find a more accommodating woman.
After the abandoned girlfriend also moved away, a young couple moved in and I found myself spending night after night hearing marathon sessions of silent sex, evident only by the rhythmic creaking noises from my ceiling. This couple did not talk during sex; they did not laugh, squeal, sigh or groan. Nothing.
After a while, it sounded like work.
“Don’t you people want to say something to each other?” I wanted to ask. “Can you please shed your inhibitions and let me know that it’s almost over? Please, give me a clue, before I start freaking out that it will never end.”
The worst part was when I could hear someone get out of bed as soon as the creaking stopped and walk to the bathroom. And again, that flushing toilet.
“Wait,” I wanted to yell from below. “Don’t get up so quickly. Relax. Cuddle. Whisper words of love. Use a towel. It’s all good.” But the people upstairs had their routine, and as soon as the accelerating ceiling squeaks were over, I would hear someone’s feet hit the floor, and my heart would sink in sorrow for the person who was left alone in bed.
When the couple above me finally had a baby and moved out, I decided to move upstairs. Maybe listening to sex and toilet flushing below me would not be as bothersome as when those sounds come from above.
I was very lucky for a while, living above people who did not indulge in sex. Until my downstairs neighbor got a boyfriend, and again, I found myself speculating about other people’s sex lives and relationships.
It is so much better not to know the people who have sex on the other side of your walls. Like when you’re relaxing in a hotel room and suddenly you hear an anonymous couple going ‘ah ah ah’ and the headboard of their bed bangs against your shared wall so loudly that you find yourself thinking more about the risk of concussion than orgasms.
However, when I lie in my bed, I don’t have that privilege. I know too much about my downstairs neighbor, and a lot more than I want to know about her boyfriend.
The guy my neighbor is dating is an unattractive, skinny, tattoo-covered waiter slash bartender, which means that sex starts late at night. My neighbor, on the other hand, has a job that starts at 6 am, so you can imagine the hours they become active.
No sooner do I fall asleep than I awake to the sound of groans produced by a skinny man-child approaching climax. I cannot begin to tell you how un-interesting it is to lie in bed, in the dark, and listen to other people having sex. I know how it’s going to end, so I just have to wait for it to be over so I can go back to sleep. But no, now my brain is working overtime as it realizes that the bed is not creaking.
“What kind of bed does she have down there?” My brain is wondering. “What kind of sex are they having if the bed is not banging against the wall?” And then I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. It’s none of my business. Maybe they are not even on the bed.”
Then another thought creeps in, “Why is she so quiet? Is it because she knows I can hear her? Or is he one of those selfish guys who doesn’t give a damn about how she’s doing so long as he gets his?”
If I didn’t know my neighbor, I wouldn’t be worried about her, but I know how hard she works, and how busy she is caring for her kids, and how happy she must be for at last having a boyfriend. So I want to know that she is happy and having good sex, not this quiet exercise in self-control.
I tell myself, “Go back to sleep. You have to get up in a few hours.” But I have to wait until he finishes. When silence falls on our duplex, I congratulate him and start counting sheep.
Four hours later, I am up again.
Really? Five o’clock in the morning? You didn’t get enough? You think I sleep that deep that I can’t hear you mister waiter/bartender when you start groaning all over again, competing with the birds? And what kind of bed do you guys sleep on?
I want one of those, too.
And so it goes, another night, another early morning, for weeks we are all awake whether we want to be or not. Until she breaks up with him and I can go back to my habit of sleeping a full night without worrying whether that guy knows what he’s doing and whether she’s selling herself short because she is so desperate to share her bed with someone.
Some people say women make more noise than men during sex, pretending they are having fun to boost their fragile egos. I say: What Ever. It’s a lottery. You never know what you’re getting into when you move into an apartment. You can only hope that when it’s your turn to be heard, no one will pass judgment and you’ll be able to pretend that you are all alone in the world having the best time of your life.
Until then, I am waiting for America to colonize Mars. Maybe there, I will find some peace.