The Girls Down the Hall

We’d only seen the room over Skype, receiving a virtual tour by Liv who was renting the largest of three bedrooms in her Manhattan apartment. When we (finally) made it to New York, the room seemed like less than the double size we’d pictured it would be, but Maeve and I set straight away to making it our own. We would be sharing the apartment (for the moment) with two girls who were living at the other end of the hall; one who had been there for a few years and the other for only a few days.

We hit the dollar stores and bodegas the first night and got as many cheap cleaning supplies as we could, coming back to scrub the walls and the floors until the sponges and swiffers stopped soaking up dirt. We scoured the kitchen and the bathroom and attempted to figure out if half of what was in either belonged to anyone that still lived there, but by and large most of it didn’t. Anything that was expired or went unclaimed was tossed into garbage bags and there was an impressive amount of stuff in the refrigerator alone that seemed not to belong to anyone that had lived there in recent years.

That night we pushed the new mattress from one side of the room to the other until we found the spot we liked. We slept tangled together, exhausted from the long process of moving from the deep south to New York. That was our first night living together and I’ll never forget the feeling of her in my arms after months of having waiting for it to finally happen.

**

Closest down the hall from us was Kara, who was a nanny and an artist. She was the one who met us so we could get the keys and and drop off our stuff our first night in town. We shared a bathroom with her and learned very quickly about some of her peculiarities and aversions to cleaning. Her on again, off again boyfriend (who’d lived in the apartment before her) would sometimes stop by and watch movies with her late at night, but she kept mostly to her own room if Maeve and I were in common spaces together. I didn’t see much of her unless I was alone in the early days (and again at the very end).

In the third and final bedroom was Harper, who had taken Liv’s room when Liv booked a show out of town last minute. Harper had been sharing it with her boyfriend when Maeve and I moved in, but he also promptly booked work in another city and was gone before I ever even passed him in the halls. Harper grew up not far from where Maeve was from they seemed to form an immediate dislike of one another based solely on that fact. She was only staying a month and it was no surprise when she headed back to the west coast when her time was up.

This was the nature of the place; people were always coming and going. It would be two months before I met Liv in person, even though hers is the sole name on the lease. She’d rented her room to Harper just before we arrived; she was in a play on the west coast when we got to the east and when her contract was extended and Harper had decided not to stay, she got Mia to take it for a few weeks.

Maeve  and I never did get the hang of living together and in the blink of an eye, our relationship was over.  Before the end of second month, I was living in that room by myself, sharing the apartment with the girls down the hall; who those girls were was subject to change from week to week. Kara, Harper, Mia, Liv, Maeve; in the few months that I lived in that apartment, I was strangely the only constant.

For the most part, Kara, Harper and I (the three of us left after Maeve had gone) gave each others space and saw little of one another. We were all going through separation and relationship issues with our partners and soon enough Harper was gone too and Mia took her place

Mia had an energy that was both optimistic and calming. We would stand in the kitchen and talk late at night while we both ate ice cream to fight off the July heat, which rose relentlessly up to our fifth floor apartment. She was only staying for two weeks, but she brought a happiness to the apartment and I really liked her.

Kara was mercurial; she would often leave a room as soon as someone entered if she wasn’t in the mood for company, but if she was, she could seem like fast friends. I liked to let the other housemates test that water first and would come sit with them only after someone else had figured out if she was in the mood for it. I kept largely to my own room unless there was a group in the common areas and I looked forward to Liv coming back, because I had a feeling she would change the dynamic of the apartment for the better.

Mia left on the morning of July 1st and a few hours after, Liv returned. She was colorful and like-able in person and instantly made me feel more at ease in the apartment. Her room was at the beginning of the long hallway and she’d often yell a hello as I  passed. Kara’s room was between ours; mine was alone at the far end of the hall. When Maeve came to get her things, it’s was Liv that arranged to let her in so I wasn’t there; that was the first and last that she met Maeve because they’d never actually lived in the apartment at the same time.

Liv left for another two week trip at the end of that first month back, leaving Kara and I alone this time in the apartment which felt too big and empty for just two people. Kara was taking a break from her boyfriend (again) and all my attempts to reconcile with Maeve had been unsuccessful, so in the empty nights, we commiserated and slowly became something that I thought resembled friends.

My short term lease was ending at the end of August and Kara had been encouraging me not to stay, saying that she thought it would be healthier to get a fresh start someplace else. She told me that she herself was considering moving in a month or two; she just needed to save up a bit of money first. When Liv came back, I only saw Kara when she would pop her head out as I walked past her room to talk to me as I came and went. She spoke quietly to me in the hallway about a painting commission that she said might take her out of town sooner rather than later. Within a week she left in the middle of the day, apparently not having paid the rent she was consistantly behind on. I still don’t know why she suddenly befriended me just before leaving or if I’ll ever see her again, but just as mysteriously as we’d become friends, she was gone.

Liv and I became close over the next few weeks, working together to put the apartment in order because she needed to rent out both rooms to fill Kara’s place and mine. We cleaned and painted and went shopping for plants so that when it came time for her to find new roommates,  the place looked more like a home than a stop on the way to someplace else.

At night she would play piano and practice singing for auditions and I’d lay on the couch listening, learning the words to the songs while she worked through them. She stopped the piece she was practicing one night and switched to something else in French instead, singing something that was familiar to me. I struggled to keep up with translating the lyrics, losing myself in the beauty of her voice and the emotion in her singing, but I picked out these words and I’ll never forget that moment.

But who is it that told me that you always loved me?
I don’t remember anymore, it was late in the night
I still hear the voice, but I don’t see the traits
“He loves you, it’s a secret, don’t tell him what I told you”

(Carla Bruni-Quelqu’un m’a dit)

***

Liv briefly made an effort to rent out Kara’s room short term to recoup the money she was out for August and we had a parade of people coming into the apartment looking for both long and short term living. The apartment felt constantly in flux between potential renters and visitors of either mine or Liv’s.

My friend Rowan came and stayed with me for a weekend; we had a youtube dance party in my bedroom to the same dark wave songs that had been playing at the bar I’d taken her to as soon as she’d dropped off her suitcase. By Sunday night I  had the place to myself again, but the space felt like mine for the first time since Maeve had gone, because I’d shared it with someone else.

One night Liv’s friend Starla, who is a professional clown teacher, crashed with us after an audition. She was slender and animated and we got along easily. She made a lot of intense eye contact and gave me the slightest hint of flirtiness, but in the morning she was on a train back to someplace upstate and I’m not sure if I’ll ever see her again.

The following evening, a dancer from my home state came to stay. I  thought she’d be there for two weeks, but upon arrival she informed us that she was hoping to her manifest a move  to New York by having shown up on a whim for an addition. At the end of the day she came back hammered and ate an entire large dominoes pizza by herself, so neither Liv or I were surprised to see she left the keys on the nightstand without a goodbye.

Continue reading