The Not-So-Secret Lives Inside New York City Apartments
No matter how hard we try to keep our distance, confrontation is sometimes unavoidable
When people think of New York City, many often recall specific movies or television shows that cast Manhattan as the center stage — the bright lights, the mile-high skyscrapers, the clusters of apartment buildings, the herds of people constantly filling the sidewalks. People often think of the hustle and bustle that’s portrayed on our television screens. And for those who’ve never visited or seldom visit New York City, one may wonder if that’s what it’s really like each day.
Well, in my seven years of living in New York, I have to admit that it really is as it’s portrayed. And after those years of living here, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the manner in which New York City residents are able to live and coexist amongst one another in such close quarters, yet never actually get to know the people around them.
New Yorkers tend to keep to themselves. We’re always in a rush, always have somewhere we need to be, and always on our own agenda. We’re good at moving quickly, keeping a straight face with our eyes locked forward, and ignoring the people around us. We can easily go along our merry way without ever acknowledging the outside world.
Then, at the end of the day, we eventually return to our isolated living quarters just like the millions of other people in the city. We’re okay with not saying hello to a passing neighbor. We have no issue dodging conversation — or if conversation is engaged, quickly finding a way out of it. We’re okay with keeping our distance. But, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned after being here as long as I have, it’s this…
No matter how much we try to keep our distance, confrontation is sometimes unavoidable.
I’ve lived in the same apartment building for almost four years now and even I can say that I don’t truly know my neighbors. Similarly, I’m sure that they would say the same exact thing about me. However, as detached and distant as we may be, living in New York does have its gaps in secrecy. Living in an apartment building shared with multiple units, multiple families, many people, you could say that it’s nearly impossible to not see or not overhear certain things when there’s someone living right above your head. As much as we want to detach ourselves, we can’t help but be somewhat involved.
I moved into my current apartment building in the Summer of 2016. Despite how stressful and tiring moving can be, it’s always refreshing to have a new start. It’s exciting to be in a new neighborhood and explore new places around you. When I moved, I loved my new living situation. I felt safe, happy, and secure. That’s how it was for a good portion of the initial years living here…up until my across-the-hall neighbor spontaneously blew up on me one day.
One day last year, I was returning home from a weekend brunch in Manhattan with my friends. It was almost dinner time and I had just walked through the front door of my apartment building. As I reached the top of my stairs, only inches away from turning the key to open my apartment door, my across-the-hall neighbor approached me with a tone of rage and fury. I was caught completely off guard, like a deer in headlights.
She began suddenly shouting at me. Out to pure shock, I was left speechless. I couldn’t find a single word to reply back and frankly, I had no idea what she was shouting about in the first place. Then, after a few minutes, it dawned on me — I was being shouted at for something that I didn’t even do.
This past Summer, a new tenant moved in upstairs — a woman, likely in her twenties, maybe even early twenties. I never officially met her, never even exchanged a single word. All I knew of her was the sound of her footsteps above me. And all I really knew about my across-the-hall neighbor was that she has a husband and daughter and that she’s a smoker (In terms of being a smoker, I knew that because I’ve physically seen her smoke and the smell of her cigarettes overwhelmed the inside of my bathroom sink).
A few months after the new tenant had moved in, I received a phone call from my landlord’s son asking me if I had been smoking in the apartment. I told him “No, I don’t smoke.” Period. The day that I came home from brunch, the only words I was able to interpret from my neighbor’s constant shouting were, “If you have a problem with my smoking, tell it to my face” (or some derivative of that).
That’s when I realized that I was being falsely accused of making a complaint that I myself was also interrogated about. After her initial rampant bursts of accusation, she then began calling out other issues that she apparently had with me —that I cough too much, that my fiancé plays bass too loudly, basically that I’m an overall unpleasant neighbor (which I had thought the complete opposite).
After nearly four years of living in this same apartment complex, all of these issues were somehow surfacing only now? I was in complete awe. And I just stood there, dumbfounded, until her rant finally came to an end. My only reaction was to apologize. Then, I closed the door, sat at my kitchen table, and sobbed.
Minutes later, there was a knock at my door. My fiancé answered. It was my neighbor again. She apologized to him and to me, while I sat there and continued to cry at my kitchen table. After that moment, I made sure to be conscious of every single move that I make even to this day, knowing that she or any of my other neighbors could possibly be listening.
I never realized how much of what I was doing was transparent to those around me. It was an eye-opening experience — to know that when I’m minding my own business in the comfort of my apartment, it’s not at all in silence nor in secret. And that’s the thing about New York City. No matter how much you think that other people aren’t paying attention to your actions, more often than not, there is at least one person who actually is.
No matter how far you may think you are from other people, people are surely not far away from you. Although we try to keep our distance, confrontation may be right around the corner.