I was sitting at my dining room table when the voices on the other side of the wall went from a murmur to a sharp, clearly audible argument. In this apartment complex the walls are made of kleenex and spit, which means privacy is often at a minimum, especially if you’re unselfconscious in your own home. Which really, you should feel you can be. But the reality is that builders use cheap materials and what you’re doing and saying next door may be on aural display for your neighbors. In three of the many places I’ve lived as an adult, fights have erupted on a consistent basis on the other side of a shared wall. In one spot the walls were thick and it was the routine slamming of doors, kitchen cabinets and drawers that served as an indicator. In another place it was the shrieking of accusations by a woman to a man with a low voice, altercations that always ended in her bitter weeping.
Yes, I listened. I listened because I wanted to be sure there wasn’t physical violence, that I would be in a position to help if someone was facing a violent attack. And honestly, I listened because I’m a voyeur, which, if you’ve been in Candid Uprising’s readership a while, you know. I’m curious about peoples’ lives and how they interact with each other. I didn’t grow up in a home with yelling, and I seek understanding. I’ll admit that on this occasion I went and sat on the stairs to be closer to the wall, listening for signs of a scuffle, listening to the way others conduct themselves when they believe they’re alone. (I’ve changed details to protect some semblance of privacy, and besides, I have six sets of neighbors with whom I share walls so you don’t know them anyway.)
“Oh yeah fucking right,” she was shouting, “you just can’t let go of those hos you used to work with!” I was essentially in the room with them, able to clearly hear everything she was saying, while his words, because of his voice’s lower register, and his proximity to the wall was mostly unintelligible, though heated just the same. Because she was reacting to what he was saying, and repeating his words back to him, it didn’t really matter that I couldn’t make out his side. “I’m a bitch? No, YOU’RE a bitch, you motherfucker!” she panted, struggling to catch her breath. “You told me you wanted a family, that you wanted to settle down and now you’re reaching out to hos on instagram!” He said something muffled and she shrieked, “I saw you erase it, you did it right in front of me! I asked to see your phone and you wouldn’t. I saw you deleting the evidence!”
When you hear the phrase “hos on instagram”, and you understand the altercation isn’t physical, but harsh, cutting words, you decide to stay and listen a while longer. I don’t have cable, I don’t watch reality TV. And who needs to when reality is happening on the other side of the wall on a weeknight? Their most recent (audible) fight had been on Christmas eve when, at around 7 p.m. it was decided he would be sleeping on the couch after she screamed, “You weak-ass bitch!” and slammed a door. My heart went out to them that night, a holiday when everyone’s supposed to be reveling in family closeness and joy, which many of us know in practice is often about anything but. I was beginning to understand that these vicious fights were their way, and that we all do it differently. Some peoples’ “weak-ass bitch” are others’ frozen silence. We all get low with our partners, let’s be real. We all know the surest ways to press the buttons, cut to the core.
“I will leave you, I will do this on my own. You’re a liar, a fucking liar and I don’t want a future with you.” At this point he was loud enough I caught his side, “then you can leave. Get out. If that’s how you feel, fuck this. You don’t have to live here.” I cringed as she shouted, “I see how it is, you want to throw me out of my own house? I don’t think so!”
They seemed to be dealing with the modern dilemma–relationships and the perceptions of as caused by social media. So she had found something objectionable on instagram, perhaps he had liked the photos of women he said he wasn’t following, or was exchanging messages from former female colleagues with whom he said he was no longer in communication, or they were liking his pics. Something that occurred on that particular social media platform between him and another woman, a woman from his past, and it had torqued her, and now she was threatening a future without him. Even as grown adults, social media holds the power to wound us like we’re teenagers.
“You’re a child, motherfucker! And don’t try and tell me they aren’t hos. Yes they are. Except they give it up for free. See, the people I know get paid to use their pussies, and the people you know aren’t even honest about that!” she exclaimed. OK, this was going way out, a new wrinkle about sex work and what constitutes honesty in sexual relationships. Was she accusing him of cheating? And it was less acceptable because it wasn’t paid sex? Juicy was hardly the word. I wondered if they had an agreement where they could engage paid professionals for sex outside the relationship, and he had broken it by giving the appearance of having sex with a non-pro. Fascinating.
I knew her to be in a temporary medical condition that was causing the shortness of breath as she paced up and down the room, hurling loud insults and accusations in his direction. I felt for her laboring to breathe as she got out her rage. “And look at you, you know I’m in this condition and you’re still arguing with me like a fucking bitch. Fuck you. How dare you. How dare you go through these medical treatments with me when this is the kind of shit you’re going to pull?” she admonished, her words a rapid fire. “I don’t fucking need you, and don’t you dare try to come to my appointment tomorrow. I’m done with you, done with all of this!” Another gasp for breath.
Eventually a door slammed, causing my apartment to shake (like I said, shoddy construction) and the argument to end. I waited to hear footfalls on the stairs outside, but none came. I knew I would see them around again soon, and I would wonder if anything had resolved, whether they were separating, or if this was simply part of their process. I thought for a long time about whether I should make this episode part of the “Overheard” series, wondering if you would think me gross for exposing this conversation, accuse me of going too far. Have I?