Despite my initial reticence to call our new apartment home, I do like apartment living.
Elise probably summed it up best when we first walked down the hall to our new home, "I forgot how much I hate the smell of other people's cooking." When you walk down the hall around the dinner hour, between five and six in the evening, you are made the recipient of an array of both aromas and odors, foreign (not in the xenophobic sense, but in the unfamiliar, unidentifiable sense), exotic, nauseating, sublime, and lovely. You would also hear the sound of a frying pan rattling on a burner, the sizzle of something cooking in oil, the thwack of a dull knife against a plastic cutting board. One of the greatest things about my job is that it draws not only from all over the United States to fill its vacancies, but as those employees go out into the world to work they bring that world back to the United States. This is no more evident than during this time of night when you hear, too, the conversations taking place in kitchens, over ranges, running concurrent to cooking, in many tongues, most of which are completely alien to me.
When I leave our apartment in the morning, after saying goodbye to everyone and trying to steal goodbye kisses, I have to race Clementine to the door, then, sadly, shut it closed quickly behind me so that she doesn't follow me out into the hall. She has been known to make a break for it then crawl, Usain-Bolt-like, down the hall, no doubt singing, "Freedom! Blessed freedom!" in her head.
I have to leave hearing her on the other side of the door, either pounding on it with her tiny fists, crying, or often both. As I walk down the hall to the garbage chute, I again hear many days beginning, alarm clocks bleating, the frenzied garble of CNN or CNBC, and dogs barking, ready to go out. At night, after the chaotic din in our own house finally subsides, eerily you can hear other babies crying through the walls and ceilings. Elise and I steal glances at each other, noting that at other moments of the day, their parents may be enjoying a moment of peace and quiet while it is our own children who are doing the shrieking, but mostly grateful that, for the moment, all is calm in Casa Hanna.
I won't go so far to say that I love the smell of other people's cooking, but I am intrigued and fascinated by the fact that so many lives can exist in such close proximity, with each apartment the stage for its own comedic drama, their own sit-coms, that all these lives can exist and unfold in parallel, often never intersecting with the other lives despite sharing the same firmament, like cell phone calls that never overlap but doubtlessly occupy the same air space at the same time.
It is only when I am outside the bubble that encapsulates our own drama that I have the time to appreciate the dramas unfolding, in parallel, around us. When I think of Sam coming out of his room after nap wanting to show me his feet, because he just noted that there are tiny hairs growing on them....not on the toes mind you...but on the top of his feet..."Like a hobbit?" I ask him.
"What's a hobbit?" he squints his eyes at me curiously.
"A short person with hairy feet. Like you."
He glares at me, patently a Sam look; I honestly don't know where he learned, because, regardless of how upset Elise has ever been with me, I have never seen her glare at me quite like this kid does.
"No!" he insists, already exasperated by me. "Like your feet."
When I think of this exchange unfolding in our own home, I have trouble imagining what could be playing out in the apartments next door and across the hall, or in Building A or C.
Or when I come home and hear that Elise and the kids spent the afternoon, "Playing kitty," with Elise as the Mama Kitty and Clementine as the Baby Kitty and Sam and Pete as other (presumably child kitties), I have trouble picturing the hilarity that must surely also be playing out in the stories being written around me.
Our stories are our own and that's what makes them special. Our's is a good story, and I hope our neighbors' are, too.
In the afternoons, when the kids return from school, they often pour into the courtyard between the buildings, playing games-without-rules on the tennis courts (definitely not tennis) and crowding the playground like a shrewedness of apes. Often, they are accompanied by their parents, and a rare moment of intersection happens, when vortices not meant to touch diverge. I search for smiles and mostly find them.
Except when I don't.
And it makes me appreciate that in the volumes of stories in the compendium that is Oakwood, I live in my story, a very good one.