Dear Neighbor

By Alan Semrow

unnamed (2).jpg

Just the day before, you’d moved into the building—when we must have spotted each other near the front entrance. You messaged me later, “Thanks for your help. We only had that huge mattress to carry up the staircase.”

“Did you see me?” I asked.

“Well, yeah. I was the one in the staircase with the huge mattress.”

“Oh, my bad. Sometimes, I don’t pay attention.”

That was a lie.

Around 2 pm the next day, after finishing my poor excuse for a lunch, you were barging through the door of my apartment. You’d requested that I keep it unlocked. You also requested that I be laying on my bed, wearing next to nothing—only a pair of short blue shorts. So, I did as told. You swung open the door and said that thing you always say so casually:

Hey, what’s up?

You met me on the bed where we wasted no time digging into each other—and, I mean, really digging. It was that one thing you did with your hands—where you grabbed both sides of me, in that one place—that made me feel like I might shoot through the goddamn ceiling. And your grin told me that you loved every minute of it—of the rage in my eyes, of the crude movements of my body against yours. I huffed, you huffed. I growled, you scratched. I said your name and you said mine.

You spent the weeks that followed taunting me and I fed into all of it, because you’d left me lit and wanting more—wanting that fire every day for as long as we could handle. I thought about it. And I mean, I really thought about it—the skyrocket we became.

That one afternoon, I was seated at my desk, working from home, and there above through the window, it was the familiar shape of your body, dressed in your black running garb, doing your little pre-run stretches, right against the wrought iron railings of my porch. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up.

You knew what you were doing and you knew that I knew what you were doing. Reminding me, though I’d hardly forgotten. You texted later:

Did you see me earlier?

You little deviant. You made me want to know the whole story—how you spent your weekends, how you made money, the music you listened to, what a day in your life might actually be like.

How one encounter can make a person wonder these things continues to baffle me. But that’s sort of the point as to why we do the things we do to each other. We’re seeking answers and resolution.

Before barging through my door once again, you continued with your little messages and comments and side glances and smiles in the hallway that said to me, I know how bad you want it, but if I make you wait just a little longer, we might make the entire building topple over the next time.

In my mind, that’s almost exactly what happened. I’d been out for a bit with Jack and a couple of other friends and returned home and then you returned home and then we returned to where we left off. But before doing so, before finding me on my bed in the exact placement you requested, I heard the outside door swing open and then close. I heard footsteps, but not many. You know I’d kept the blinds wincing just enough so that you could be validated in your perversity, which in turn, allowed the same for me.

Once again, I had followed instructions. You re-entered the building, I heard your feet clomping down the staircase, and then you pushed open the door to my unlocked apartment.

Before flying onto me, you said it:

Hey, what’s up? Like some sort of bro that might ask to shoot hoops later.

That night, something happened to us over the course of a little less than an hour—it was whole and complete and I was dying for more. We ended with me straddling your soaked body, looking into your eyes, and asking a few pressing questions, which you were reticent to give answers to. But I learned things. You were a scholar. You weren’t from here. You had a membership at the same gym as me.

I grabbed your hands and put them against mine, like a stupid move you might see in a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy. To the beat of “Patty Cake,” I clapped our hands together and then fell on top of you in laughter. This was what you did to me—you made me wild and you took me far away from whatever the fuck was happening in my life and whatever the fuck had happened before. I wanted to sit with it. I wanted to take a bath in it and think about exactly all of the things we had just done.

So, thank you. And thank you for telling me that one thing I’ll never forget:

My passion is your pleasure.

Somewhere along the way, the fire fizzled, because, to at least some extent, it always does. But before all that, I loved the night when you returned home from wherever and passed me smoking on my porch.

You said, “Hey.” Just, Hey, this time. I looked up and smiled wide and said Hey back. It was simple and casual and all I needed from you—there was comfort in the certain level of familiarity we had formed. The notion that we could actually understand each other, if we decided it made sense to take the time to. You were wearing this blue coat that you’d later tell me was given to you by your host family in Spain. You should know how true it is that I could hardly contain myself and wanted so much more.

And that day at the gym. When both of us ran around it, knowing that we’d quite recently known certain parts of each other but pretending we didn’t (ultimately, we both knew what we were doing). You were wearing earplugs and listening to music, so you weren’t able to hear what I whispered as I walked past to pick up those dumbbells from the shelf. You’ll never know what I said. For that, I’m proud.

I continue to pass you—maybe even once a week or so (Hey, what’s up?). And, I’ll tell you, I get a kick out of still winking at you in the hallway and patting your shoulder at the bar—it takes me back to what you did to me in just a few tiny moments. Reminding me that I’m no angel and that’s okay.