When I first moved into this apartment , I went upstairs to introduce myself. There are only 3 apartments in my building and I’m from the South, so this seemed like the proper thing to do. I discovered the husband, a black lawyer, is married to a teeny Japanese housewife/artist and they have a daughter . They were nice and their apartment was huge and sparely furnished. The more room for the munchkin- -about five at the time-- to run around in, I guessed. The furniture they do have is heavy and rustic and amazingly suited for their sprawling living room, which is the size of my entire apartment. (They have the entire top floor.)
Anyway, I introduce myself and I never see them again except for the rare encounters in the hallway where we give each other brisk hellos. I never hear from them again until one night almost a year later when I’m washing my hair in the sink and I hear what sounds like a country thunderstorm occurring in my living room.
I look up at the ceiling wondering if it’s about to fall in. Then I hear a scream. No words. Just a scream. A primal scream of anguish, but not distress. And then another one. And then a man’s voice, but I can’t make out the words. Then another rumble.
A long silence.
I debate calling the cops. I mean, he must be hitting her, right? I don’t want to get in other folks business, but I’m not going to let some woman get her ass beat in my building and just do nothing. She’s a little woman. He’s not that big, but still, he’s a man.
I can’t figure out what’s going on, so being the almost-official New Yorker that I am, I decide to mind my business. I go back to the kitchen to rinse out my shampoo. Mid wash, I hear a man yell, “Stop tearing up the house! Stop it!” It takes me a minute to identify it as the man upstairs. I’ve seen him. He’s black. But there is no base in the voice I’m listening to. All Black men have bass, right? Is that… the husband?
It has to be. I stand upright and as the suds run down my neck , it hits me. “Did that bitch throw the furniture?” I do a mental recap of their apartment and decide that yes, it was the chair that went rumbling across the floor. That’s the only thing that would make that much noise.
She starts shrieking gain.
“Put the knife down, [Wife]!,” the husband yells. (Their kitchen window is above mine and I can hear all conversations they have in there with alarming clarity.) “Put the knife down!” I hear a noise I can’t identify. Another scream. “I don’t care if you’re not stabbing me. Don’t stab that either.”
Maybe I should call the police to protect him? More long, loud screams. Some words I can’t identify, but something about she broke the digital camera, some vases and dishes. Then I hear their daughter crying. Then more primal screaming as she seems to be moving further into the living room.
I go into the hallway to hear them better and ring my across-the-hall neighbor’s bell. We sit on the stairs and listen to the people upstairs, debating whether it’s serious enough to call the cops.
Madgie is a lot more world-savvy and jaded than me. “They just threatening to fight," she determines in less than 60 sexonds. "If someone was going to attack, they would have done it by now.”
We listen some more and try to make out what the argument is about. The wife doesn’t speak English very well, but from what we can tell, some woman called the house looking for the husband. She thinks it was a mistress, which he denies. He says it’s a co-worker. But it’s the same woman who called when he was at the old job and they were living at the old house. How did she get the new number? And this isn’t the first time it happened. He tells her to go back to Japan if she’s so unhappy.
This isn’t enough drama for Madgie so she goes back inside to catch the end of Desperate Housewives. I don’t want to sit in the hallway by myself, so I go back to the kitchen to get the rest of the shampoo out of my hair.
They argue for awhile longer, but there’s no more rumbling and crashing or stabbing by the time I finish twisting my hair and go to bed.
For months, they’re pretty quiet. Well, not really. There was time when the kid wanted to do something—I think go for a bike ride—and the Dad said no. She proceeded to scream like the mother. I shook my head. Apples don’t fall far from trees. And if she’s starting this now, can you imagine what she’s gonna do when she’s a teenager? I actually feel a little sorry for the husband. Shoulda married a Black woman. (Half-joke.) There were a couple other times the wife shrieked a bit, but not as bad or long or loud as that first time.
Anyway, nothing major-beyond some screaming here and there-- until last Friday. The rumble wakes me up from my dream and I sit up in the bed when I realize what’s going on. They are louder than they’ve ever been. He’s yelling, she’s screaming, there’s crashing and rumbling and stomping all at once. I can’t really make out what they’re saying, but they are arguing right above my bedroom . All I hear is voices at first.
“Will you look at this place?” he half-yells, half begs. These are the first words I can make out. “How could you do this? Why do you do this to our home?” He sounds like a defeated man.
She says nothing that I can hear.
“Look at this, [Wife]!” he yells. “Look at what you’ve done.” Pause “Why? Why?!!! WHY?!!!!”
She shrieks in response. More rumbling. Then I hear her footsteps storm down what must be their hallway. A door slams. I must be catching the last part of the battle.
All is silent. I hear him walking around above me. I hear a thump. I guess that he’s fallen on his knees. “How could she do this?” I hear him say in his bass-less voice. “What did I do? God, what did I do?” He sounds like he’s crying.
I hear what sounds like glass moving against wood. Is he sweeping it up? Gathering it with his hands. I don’t know.
I go to the kitchen to make some decaf tea. It’s 5 am and I am wide awake cause these folks want to yell for 2 hours in the middle of the night. As I sit on the counter and sip, I think about the happily married woman’s advice. I may not be married, but I am more than qualified to tell the people upstairs they need to call it quits.