To The Man Who Lives In The Building Next Door


I do not know your name, but I feel like I know you.

I know you are a hard worker, you have two jobs. I have seen you in your uniform for a popular Southern restaurant. Most of the time, you carry your folded apron with you to the car. I didn’t know for sure where it was you worked until the day you left your apartment wearing it. We have that in common. Years ago, I worked for the same chain. I know your torment.

Then there is your second uniform, the actual job is still a mystery to me. All black. A bit dressier, but slightly baggy on your stocky frame. Is it because you don’t care? I doubt that, I think there is some other reason.

How did I come to that conclusion?

Your car.

That is how I first noticed you. It has been five or six years since I have lived in an apartment. In that time, I have lived in houses that are either secluded or in quiet areas. Any time a car was pulling up, they were coming to my house. It just became standard practice to peek and see who was driving up. The reflex remains, except no one comes to see me most days. Without fail, when I hear a car creeping into the lot, I run to the window to see who is there. Naturally, I have observed the comings and goings of our neighbors, but you pique my interest much more than they do.

Your car is a well kept, basic model, American car of a recent year. The steely metallic grey color suits you. It is nice, but not too nice. I wonder if it matches your personality. I think it does. I’ve seen you cleaning it. This is a part of why I think you care. I swear that one time it was not even “dirty”, but there you were, ensuring you car was as nice as the day you first got it. I was there on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. Not even twenty feet away, only hiding behind my fluorescent green sunglasses. You never noticed. You usually don’t. You live in your own world.

I see a lot of you in me.

You smoke. Newports. Gross. Is it stress? Or just a bad habit you cannot escape the clutches of? It is a bit of both for me, I think so for you as well.

The first time I saw you outside of work clothes (which was after well over a month of seeing you around, adding to my hard working theory), I noticed your tattoos. I have yet to see them up close, but the intricately winding outlines with bursts of colors interspersed intrigue me. I take it you are a rebel, too. Maybe even a creative spirit. I could see you being a musician. Strumming your guitar to get the pain and feelings out.

How do I know something plagues you?

Your face.

It took some time before I could catch a good look. The night’s shadow would cover your face at night. Or you would have one of your many baseball caps on with your faded jeans and well worn T-shirts. When the day came, I was surprised. You are a bit older than I imagined. Your hair still has more pepper than salt. Those slightly salty locks stylishly peak around your furrowed brow, surrounding the biggest tell of them all.

Your scowl.

That all too familiar “Don’t fuck with me” scowl. Not because you are bitter. I think you are just over it all. Plus, it helps keep the world at arm’s length. I get how insufferable the average Joe is. I hate them all too.

Ever since I was a small child, I loved watching people. Parks, malls, cars, sidewalks. Everywhere. There is just something so fascinating watching candid interactions. Or what people do and how they behave “alone” in public. When I began writing a short while later, I would watch and make up stories about people based off my observations.

You are different. I don’t want to write your story. I want to KNOW your story. I bet you have lots to tell.

I can tell that like me, you are lonely. I have witnessed every neighbor around us have some kind of visitor, but not you.

I just cannot bring myself to break down that wall and say “Hello.” It all seems so weird. Three months I have been here and we have exchanged glances and even a wave or two, but not a single word. I think it would feel awkward talking to a stranger that I know so much about. How would I even start?

featured image – Matthias Rhomberg