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I don’t know most of the neighbors in my four-story apartment building, but I can hear them. Often, these sounds are annoying: doors slamming, the incessant beep from a neglected fire alarm battery, a family quarrel in the hallway, overhead thuds that wake me up at night.
For the most part, we stay out of one another’s way, save for the perfunctory greetings and nods in the lobby. Normally, I like it that way. But my feelings changed when New York City became a hot spot for the coronavirus. Suddenly, living alone seemed life-threatening.
I’ve spent six out of my 13 years in New York living alone, in neighborhoods including Long Island City, Washington Heights, Harlem and now Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. During that time, I’ve preferred my own company: My home is my retreat, it’s my work space, it’s my little art haven away from bustle and noise.
But now, being locked in for days on end with only the sound of my own voice (apart from virtual hangouts with friends) as company feels stifling.
When a new neighbor moved in next door a few months ago I found myself annoyed every Saturday night. Starting at 8 and extending long after midnight she would play music, loudly, and sing along with it. She blared Boyz II Men, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Charlie Wilson, Beyoncé, Ja Rule, Marvin Gaye, Dr. Dre. Her music poured in through my kitchen ceiling vent and rattled my wine cups in the cupboard.
One night in January, I couldn’t take it any longer and yelled out my front door, “Turn the music down, dammit!” A minute later, she did.
The next day, I saw a piece of standard printer paper attached to all the apartment doors on our floor: “Sorry about the music last night. xoxo.”
Now it’s me who needs to apologize because it’s that exact thing — hearing her music and her voice waft through my kitchen — that is keeping me sane.
As I confine myself to my apartment for the third week in a row, my already anxiety-prone mind has churned over the same questions: If I get sick, what would I do? Where would I go for help? My parents, in their mid-60s, are self-isolating in their retirement home in North Carolina. Reaching out for family support isn’t an option.
So I stay at home. And wait. And listen.
I want to tell my neighbor how her voice is the most comforting force right now in the city. Yet even slipping a kind note under her door seems irresponsible, because that, too, could spread the virus. I’ll have to tell her once all this is over.
Right now, I can hear my neighbor laughing and arguing and singing bluesy falsetto notes. She sings songs I’ve never heard before but want to hear again and again. Her voice fills the shadowy corners and lonely hours of this apartment with play and lightness and song.
The sound of New York City’s human resilience is louder than all the sirens. And when all this is over, I hope I get the chance to tell my neighbor how much I appreciate her.