At the end of the agreed-upon year; I stood in the hall and looked down at my hands. My fingers were almost entirely foreign to me. Jesus, I thought, I look like I’ve been crawling around on glass covered pavement. Ragged, bleeding (more than usual), and almost no nails to speak of. This is the worst it has been in years. I’ll admit I have a habit of gnawing on my fingers. Some people nibble, bite, I chew. It’s a disgusting nervous twitch that worsens with stress and has an annoying side effect of causing my fingers to bleed almost all of the time. You would think this would be quite common but no, not the case according to my dermatologist. My eczema flares, I bite, scratch and twitch while it would appear that I am eating my hands for lunch. Bite, chew, maybe it will stop. I scarcely notice until it’s too late. Shirts spotted, papers smudged with reddish brown dots; oh I’m sorry! I have a habit. I know, it’s disgusting, I’m aware. Lovely.
Generally, I keep it under control, I try. I do. Until I start to lose sleep, insomnia kicks in, we have a show is going up or I have to move…hey, it’s better than smoking right? It was moving that did it this time. I look around, pick at my hands again, what am I forgetting? Right then, my mother’s voice comes through, clearly in my mind, don’t destroy yourself over this place! Just leave! I throw the keys on the counter, exit the building without locking up and cry with relief all the way down 45th street. I could care less about getting our deposit back. Bite, chew, maybe it will go away.
It was so loud. The walls shake, constantly. There is no escape from the noise. The shower is nice, for a few minutes while the water is running down over my ears, it is peaceful. Until the thuds of techno-dubstep and electronic nightmares come roaring back. Raving like a lunatic, beneath me, he is hitting the walls in a drugged up impassioned frenzy, calling out to a higher power feels he can connect to if only he alerts those living directly upstairs. When there are more than two people joining him in his temporary ecstasy, it is unbearable. Above me, there is domestic abuse, shouts, thuds, screaming in the night. Outside, up and down the block; there is chaos. Broken bottles and light bulbs glitter in the morning sun outside our door, a rush of endless traffic never leaves my ears. I used to love that, the sounds of the city. Now it is our nightly soundtrack that we cannot pause if we tried. Bite, chew, maybe it will stop.
We hear every siren, watch people shoot up, fight, start fires in the bushes below us. Blood and human feces are everywhere, most of the time you can see the event happening live at 9am- right on the corner. It’s not the animal mess that is the problem, but that too piles up and attracts vermin of all kinds. Most of this is cleared away maybe once every other month, if the landlord pays for landscaping maintenance. I never thought that the mess would end up in the residential elevator though, smeared on the doors like hieroglyphics- but it does. What are they trying to tell us? I wonder aloud, hitting the button for the 2nd floor with my shoe rather than finger, for fear of contracting some odd disease. My rational thinking partner says does it even matter? Yes! To me, it does! There was intention in this; I mutter half-heartedly, someone had to do this with their hands! What are they trying to say? I’ve read about this for home visitations…someone could be trying to say something….Looking intently in my eyes, he says gently, knowing my concern and fascination at how utterly weird, fascinating and terrible this place is, No babe, it is what it is; shit on a wall. He is right. It doesn’t mean a thing. But what if it does?! I want to know, the creator in me wants to know who this was, if we were in another place maybe we would know this person. We live in the same building for Christ’s sake! But we don’t know neighbors here. No one says hello, no one looks at anyone else. Just get in and get out, unseen, quiet until they are inside. Bite, chew, maybe it will go away.
We step out of elevator carefully, to avoid a dirty needle, a rusty spoon, stepping to the side to make sure we don’t trod in a pool of dried blood. I am so thankful for a roof over our head, I know in my heart that it could be worse but I feel as though this place is killing me from the inside. I cannot create here. I call the cops at around 2 am for the third time that month. Bite, chew, maybe it will stop. It takes 340 days before I realize that I will not shrivel up and die from insomnia. I will get out. There is light away from this place. 340 days of loud, manic energy that I cannot corral, 340 days of no sleep, 340 days of heart numbing negativity. The guilt I have for hoarding these feelings inside me is intense. It burns. I should not be complaining. I have a residence, we are fucking lucky. I cry constantly, try to think of situations, far worse than this, I am privileged, I should not be complaining, first world problems; yeah, that classic fucking guilt. Bite, chew, maybe it will go away. Then I walk through the door and it hits me hard in the face. This was not the worst situation I will ever be in, there might be far worse ahead and yes, far worse has happened to other people. But these last 340 days were a real struggle.
At the end of that year, in the final five minutes, I do my best to cleanse the space we inhabited. I leave it in better condition than when we moved in. I wipe everything down and with each stroke, each scrub, each sweep; I say thank you. I thank the space for being available when we needed it, for letting us struggle only as much as we had to in order to get where we are going, for being warm, for being as stable as possible, for being cheap. I try to muster enough positive energy to leave some behind for those that move in. I do what I can, look down at my hands, throw the keys on the counter and exit the building.
We head east, the sun is setting as we pull up to the curb, there are friends waiting on our doorstep. I put my hand to my mouth out of habit, and pull it back.