Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hello, Alice.

I can hear someone crying in the next room.

It is a very uncomfortable situation to have to listen to someone crying and not be able to find out why or make them stop. I was stuck in a particularly difficult problem with the code I was working on when I first heard it. At first there was that distracting buzz in the back of my mind that ripped me away from what I was doing, then there's the recognition of the sound of sobbing, and finally my ears search for the source of the whimpering and locate the room- this time it's the one above me.

There is an unwritten rule in this dorm that we all follow. It's very simple- don't butt in. I can count the words I've spoken to the girls in this dorm with my left hand. Instead of speaking we simply smile, nod, or ignore each other as we pass by on the stairs or the hallway. Most girls here are juniors or seniors in college who picked singles for a reason- we want privacy. There are no parties, no groups of obnoxious students sitting in the common room and laughing at Youtube videos, and no need to awkwardly explain to roommates that they are being sexiled because of a visiting boyfriend. There is really no need for me to concern myself about a neighbor crying. Except I can't concentrate. If I took ten minutes away from my work I could go upstairs and comfort her, but social norms in this dorm won't allow me to knock on her door and ask why she's slobbering.

Nope. There's nothing for me to do except to shut her out of my mind.

My eyes are back to the computer and I look intently at the code, trying to find the problem. The whimpering turns into murmurs and then back to more whining and sobbing. She's probably crying in the phone to someone. I wish I had my head phones so I could at least escape that horrid sound, but I lost them this morning. My eyes could burn a hole in the screen, but it's no use, there's something enchanting about the sound of her suffering. It's like an imbedded chip that activates in my brain and makes my muscles tense, pushing me to do something. I can't do anything though, except listen.

Slowly, my brain is lulled into silence. My mind wonders again into that world I've tried so hard to forget for the past three months. That world of empty subway trains and streets flooded with Asian eyes. That world of blue lakes and white sheets, wet autumn leaves on pebbled streets, loud music and soft moans, and the background chatter of a coffe house. The receding sound of someone crying is the only signal that I'm leaving this room, that I'm falling down again. Down, down into the rabbit hole.

"Hello, Alice," I hear a familiar voice say from the bottom of darkness. "It's been a while."

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