Sometimes the things that trigger us can be a beacon to a deeper sense of connection with strangers.
The moaning coming from the room above my bedroom seemed undeniably sexual, forceful and pleading, a steady cadence building toward release.
Okay, I thought. Bully for you, madam. Sexual gratification was as good a way to start the day as any. Fully awakened by this event, I headed to the kitchen for my morning coffee, deciding not to stick around for the Big Finish.
New environment, new experiences
Communal living was new to me. Life in a condo after decades of living in single family homes certainly had its merits. Hello underground heated parking! So long snow-blower! The only real casualty was my privacy. Being home used to mean being away from the clamour of other human beings. Being in a condo meant being exposed to neighbourly clamour at all hours of the day.
But this wasn’t an isolated incident. The moaning occurred every morning at the same time. The idea that someone was engaging in perfectly timed sexual activity struck me as odd. I fanned through other possibilities. An actress rehearsing a love scene? A trick alarm clock equipped with an ‘orgasm’ setting?
The novelty of overhearing another person’s private utterances soon wore off. I was beginning to feel like a participant. As a homeowner, I had been accustomed to waking up to gentle bird songs. Exchanging that for a session of forced intimacy was really too much.
I tried ear plugs. It helped some, but not enough. I tried to refocus my attention elsewhere, to the hum of traffic outside my window, to the sunlight dripping shadows on my bedroom walls. No dice. These evasive techniques were no competition for urgent cries of pleasure. I thought briefly about switching bedrooms, but it would have required the strength of movers. And besides, why should I have to upend my life due to some stranger’s intrusive morning routine?
The answer revealed
It wasn’t until I heard the exact same sounds echoing inside the walls of our parking structure one afternoon that the truth of the matter became clear. The person who I had pegged as a sexual dynamo was really a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair, whose head and arms involuntarily flailed as she tried to communicate her intentions to the driver of the disability-equipped van she’d just exited.
He pushed her toward the elevator, smiling and nodding as she continued to vocalise indecipherably. The plea for pleasure I had been reading into her voice was actually the desperation of a woman with a condition that made communication difficult, and who probably had a hard time waking up each morning just like the rest of us.
So much for my brilliant powers of deduction.
A change of perspective
The next morning, I was less bothered by the noise coming from my upstairs neighbour. My muscles didn’t tense. My mind didn’t cloud over. What changed? The moment was ripe for introspection.
For one thing, I was no longer having a relationship with a disembodied voice. I was now dealing with a fully assembled human being, a person with needs no less important than my own. Sympathy for her condition didn’t much enter into it. Whether she was crying out for assistance or crying out in exultation, she deserves whatever freedom the thin walls here provide. As someone who occasionally screams in his sleep, I can only hope she feels the same way about me.
But there was more to this incident than simply acknowledging the presence of another human being in my midst. It had to do with family.
The family connection
I grew up with two brothers and two sisters. We were constantly exposed to each other’s thumping, screaming presence. We did our homework, played, or read books in a state of passive acceptance of this domestic white noise. You got used to it. It’s what families do.
So how much of a stretch would it be for me to expand my concept of family to complete strangers? We are, after all, members of the human family, a status we may not always want to admit to – what with all our high-minded social identities that serve to distance us from our common roots. If I can extend the boundaries of my tolerance for those closest to me, why couldn’t I offer the same deal to strangers?
Such a leap in logic is hardly altruistic. I’m its primary beneficiary. When the wall of otherness crumbled between my neighbour and me, my rationalisations for feeling miserable came tumbling down with it. I was no longer steeped in righteous anger, shaking my fist at the ceiling and plotting strategies to enforce my right to quietude. I was at peace. The silence I was seeking had come from within.
Really that was my sister upstairs, I finally realised, not some stranger. If she only knew the important lesson she taught me without ever speaking a word.
More stories on his website www.johnptacek.com
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