The night after getting dumped, I came upon this scene on the front porch of my apartment: the newly ex-girlfriend and a curly-haired man, pressed against each other, smooching vigorously, arms exploring bodily geography, saliva gushing forth in great torrents, creating a rich marine ecosystem in which manatees and octopi could thrive. I surveyed this mise-en-scène and thought, I am stone. I am unflappable. I am a character in a movie in which this is happening. Carefully, I stepped around them, maintaining rapt eye contact with the door. Behind me, I head the man say, “Oh shit…” but I didn’t turn for fear of exhibiting a deranged facial expression instead of emotional impermeability. I proceeded through the door, up the stairs, and into a box of WhoNus.
This happened to me because I dated a neighbor. When you date a neighbor, you accept the likely possibility the relationship will eventually conclude in a whirlwind of hate, possibly amidst viciousness and cruelty. When that happens, you’ll have to endure this person, this anathema, this Lovecraftian horror, having men/women over, walking by your door, and generally existing in your presence for at least the remainder of your lease. But you deserve no pity. You did this to yourself. You made your bed, and now you must lie in it while listening to her having loud sex below you.
Of course, the appeal of the hot neighbor is impossible to deny; how can you consistently rebuff a lovely visage you see every day on the stairs? Sooner or later, alcohol or a lack of self-discipline will lead you into a licentious entanglement with the neighbor, particularly if you’re an emotional parasite like myself, less a man than a remora fish or maybe a virus. Emotional parasites love dating hot neighbors because they know when she’s at home, at work, or throwing a party, they have ready access to her company without driving or hopping on a train. “Yes,” says the emotional parasite. “I can wrap her soul in Saran Wrap and squelch it slowly over several months. I can drown her in a bathtub filled with love.” It licks its tendril and rubs its proboscis, chirping with anticipation at all the soul energy it’ll soon absorb.
Still gorging on WhoNus in the community living room, the Ex rushed in, searching for her overnight bag. She did not make eye contact.
“Hey!” I said, smiling. I thought, I’m going to be so goddamn nonchalant, she will see me as mature, sensible, and above all this petty high school drama.
“Hello there!” she said. “What are you eating?”
“They’re vitamin-enriched cookies. So we should probably discuss the smooching outside.”
“Well, I think we should at least make a solemn vow not to be awkward around one another and remain friends, especially because you’re the only person I know in Chicago. The only cool person anyways.” I didn’t want to be friends, and I don’t believe you can simultaneously be a cool person and a person who broke up with me, but it seemed like the most mature thing to say.
“Am I being unreasonable?”
“And let’s also commit to not making out with people in front of each other because that seems needlessly cruel. Okay?”
“I’m not going to apologize,” she said. “And it’s really none of your business.”
“I never said it was, m’dear.” She started to leave, and I blurted out, “Where are you going?”
“It’s none of your business!”
I met my neighbor when I first moved to Chicago, where I lived in a rooming house alongside a pornographer, a perpetually shrieking married couple, and a racist “rapper”. Whenever my other neighbors became unbearable (“Hey man, will you listen to my new song? It’s called ‘Slip it in her drink’. It’s about date rape.”), I could retreat down to her room, and we’d watch cat videos together. She introduced me to her entire network of friends, who became, by extension, my friends — including a ubiquitous curly-haired man who didn’t seem important at the time. After our breakup, I found myself not only single but friendless and surrounded by creepy neighbors demanding to know the tawdry details.
Ideally, the ex will vanish after the breakup. Not like Roanoke, mind you, just gone from your field of view — unless you happen to visit that one Jewel Osco she goes to on Southport, but why would you do that? But with a neighbor ex, she haunts your life, reminding you of your inadequacies every time you check the mail (Well, maybe if I had curly Frodo hair and knew what dubstep is…). Personally, I like to imagine all my exes moved to a different plane of existence, somewhere boring and joyless, but the neighbor ex, you can hear her having parties and laughing through the wall. Should I blast the Road to Perdition Soundtrack nonstop during her party? you wonder. Yes, you should.