The moderator shunts tracks. She points her pristine nose towards Mario, the Italian plumber. He wears a mustache on his face. And not the pubey kind. He lives alone in a high rise condominium with a view of the ocean.
Most will think Mario is happy. This makes sense because everyone who knows him outside the walls of this circle knows him as a happy man of outstanding health and common sense.
After all, Mario has everything in the world to be happy about. Well, everything apart from a lifelong partner. Someone he can share his life with. He doesn’t have her.
He did have her though.
They lived happily and together.
But then something happened.
Something with his memory. Or hers. He doesn’t quite remember. All he knows is that one day he went to sleep without her. Which doesn’t make much sense to him because he was deeply in love with her.
He always wonders, How could I have fallen asleep without her? After so many nights with her sleeping next to me, how could I have managed to get to sleep without her? You would think falling asleep without her would’ve been damn near impossible. I’m an emotional man! Yes, I’m sensitive! And what are you doing to tell me about it if I tell you that I could never have fallen asleep without her!? Unless. Unless something happened. Something with my memory. Or hers.
The moderator interrupts Mario’s recurring, interior monologue to ask how he’s been since the last session. Mario primps his mustache with forefinger and thumb:
Lonely. Confused. But I think I’ve been making progress in coming to terms with the idea that someone can be living so close to me and yet I don’t know anything about her. Until just recently I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of someone living within arm’s reach and me not knowing the first thing about them.
Not even their first name. Let alone what kind of past they’ve had. Until recently, it was completely unreasonable to expect me to live so close to someone and not know what kind of person they had been before I knew them.
So what if they’re living close to me now? That doesn’t mean anything. They can be living close to me now and still have come from the most depraved lifestyle. Maybe even an unimaginable lifestyle.
You’ve got to be kidding me. You expect me to sleep so close to someone who could have been the seediest, most vile person this side of the Mason Dixon. That’s how I use to be until just recently.
The moderator nods. She wants Mario to see the treetops.
I know you all think I’m talking about a girlfriend. I’m intentionally being ambiguous because I want you to think I’m talking about a girlfriend, but I’m not.
I’m talking about my next-door neighbor. A girl, but not a girlfriend. You know how I live in a high rise? Well, I have a next-door neighbor I know nothing about.
I hear her comings and goings right through the wall. Even though it’s twelve inches thick, I hear the smallest details of her daily life. Things I don’t want to hear, like her music, her tv, her chair, her microwave. I hear the toilet flush, the shower running. I hear her filing her nails, blow drying her hair.
She lives so close to me. Goes about her entire life within arms reach, that is, if I had the ability to reach through walls. And yet I don’t know the first thing about her. This complete stranger in such close proximity has been bothering me ever since the day she moved in several months ago.
Funny how the old man who lived there before her I was all right with. I didn’t know the first thing about him either, but tha never bothered me. One day he just wasn’t there anymore, and she moved in shortly after.
I guess it all started when I heard the sounds of her lovemaking. I wanted to bang on the wall. Tell her to simmer down! But I heard her banging back. I heard her yelling, What, Mario, you’re not comfortable with sex? What are you, a child?
I didn’t want to seem naïve – I’m Mario – so I went into another room. I refrained from banging on the wall, thinking this would somehow fix everything, but her sounds pursued me. I moved onto the balcony and listened to the ocean. But her sounds found me out there, too. That’s when I made a concerted effort to listen to the waves. I closed my eyes and zeroed out her moanings, her scratchings, her desperation. Instead I listened to the sound of waves, and I felt myself getting better.
Now I’m beginning to understand that if I want to be sane, if I want to be happy, optimistic, I have to pick and choose the sounds I let myself hear.
The moderator nods. She encourages his interaction with the sound of waves.